One of NCDC’s founders, James Shellow, died on October 29, 2022 at his home in Milwaukee, WI.

Jim was one of the most well known criminal defense lawyers in the country. He began practicing in 1961 after careers as an engineer and an accountant. While at Marquette University law school, he published an article, The Teaparty Theory of Conspiracy, 44 Marq. L. R. 73, 84 (1960), about a conspiracy trial of Mafia members in New York. Jim read the 7,000-page trial transcript, and was convinced the verdict was based on insufficient evidence and went far beyond writing a law review note. He took the time to meet with and ultimately persuaded the defendants’ appellate lawyers (who were some of the best known names in criminal defense at the time) to adopt his theory of the case; as a result they won the appeal and their clients were freed.

Jim was known for taking on political cases for progressive activists in the 1960’s; he represented Milwaukeeans charged with burning draft board files in anti- Vietnam war and the well known Milwaukee anti segregationist Father James Groppi. He along with Al Krieger traveled to South Dakota and organized the legal defense for members of the American Indian Movement charged in the uprising in Wounded Knee South Dakota.

It wasn’t long before Jim’s reputation grew from being considered the best criminal defense lawyer in Wisconsin to one of the best in the nation. He served as the 16th president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers from 1975-76. He along with Deryl Dantzler, Al Krieger and several others founded the National Criminal Defense College; he served on the faculty for decades, was on the Board and sent two Wisconsin lawyers to the college annually.

Jim became known for his grasp of cross examination and his lectures on the subject, particularly for cross examination of drug chemists in cocaine cases, pointing out that cocaine has several isomers and only one was illegal. His methodology lives on in his book, The Cross Examination of an Analyst in a Drug Prosecution (now in its 2d edition). Jim was also well known for his grasp of evidence and was counsel in numerous appellate cases in Wisconsin and the federal courts and argued twice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jim’s entire family were lawyers; his wife Gilda was a respected criminal defense and family lawyer, his daughter Robin, who predeceased him, was known for her unique approach to working with clients and creative sentencing memos, and his oldest daughter Jill practices criminal defense in New York. Once Jim retired, he gave to his profession by mentoring younger lawyers, holding regular meetings with them in what became known in Milwaukee as “Shellow school”, training young practitioners in both private practice and the federal defender office.

On a more personal note- I first heard of Jim Shellow as a law student at UW Madison, where watching his cross examinations and jury selection tapes were part of the curriculum. I recall as a young lawyer how members of the defense bar would crowd into courtrooms to get a chance to see him in trial. Judges were terrified of him; they knew he was smarter than them, that he’d leave no stone unturned in the defense of their clients and they had to be on their toes when he came into their courtrooms. Jim taught in the early years at the Wisconsin Public Defender trial skills program, and the public defenders were eager to learn from him. Jim was personally very generous to me, sending me to NCDC on a scholarship and it was an honor to later become a member of the faculty and be able to teach the same weeks as he did.

The practice of criminal defense and representation of the accused are better off for Jim Shellow’s contributions. We at NCDC are grateful for his enormous contributions to the College, the gift of his time and his generosity for so many years.

– Deja Vishny

Read more about Jim’s work here.