U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur wrote more than 11,000 opinions during 37 years on the federal bench, an output Chief District Judge Ruben Castillo called “a small reflection of his dedication to the rule of law.”
“In addition to this work, Judge Shadur has mentored a number of judges throughout his career, including me,” Castillo said in a statement Tuesday. “Judge Shadur will be remembered for his passion — his passion for his wife and his family, the law and the Northern District of Illinois.”
Shadur, 93, who presided over a pivotal Chicago school desegregation case and a long-running lawsuit over severe overcrowding at Cook County Jail, died Monday after complications from surgery at JourneyCare hospice in Glenview, according to his daughter Beth. He was a resident of Glencoe.
“Judge Milton Shadur devoted his life to upholding justice, to his country, and to his family,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “He served the country bravely in uniform in World War II, honorably for 37 years on the bench, and will long be remembered for his sharp legal mind, independence and integrity.”
After a long career in private practice, Shadur was nominated to the bench in 1980 by then-President Jimmy Carter. Not long after that, he oversaw the court-ordered desegregation plan for Chicago Public Schools. Also during the 1980s, he approved a consent decree ordering the county to improve conditions at Cook County Jail, calling for the release of prisoners to curtail severe overcrowding.
Shadur was among the first federal judges to explicitly acknowledge abuse by Chicago police, using strong language to describe allegations of torture by officers in the 1990s.
“It is now common knowledge,” Shadur wrote in 1999, “that in the early- to mid-1980s, Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and many officers working under him regularly engaged in the physical abuse and torture of prisoners to extract confessions.”
Shadur continued to oversee significant litigation, including a class-action lawsuit filed by the Chicago Teachers Union against Chicago Public Schools, which alleged discrimination against black teachers.
“He was truly a titan of fairness and decency on the bench, and ruled on a number of cases that materially advanced the cause of educational justice for our students, and fairness and dignity for our members,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said in a statement Tuesday. “While our union has not always agreed with Judge Shadur, we knew that we could always count on his fairness, his integrity and his decency in the courtroom.”
Born in St. Paul, Minn., Shadur grew up one of four brothers in Milwaukee, where he lived on the same block as former congressman, presidential adviser and federal Judge Abner Mikva, according to Shadur’s daughter Beth. At 18, he graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics.
He went on to serve as radar officer in the Navy during World War II and eventually earned the rank of lieutenant. While on leave, he was introduced to a friend’s cousin, Eleanor. He purposely left a pair of opera glasses at the family’s home to speak with her again.
“The second day he saw her, he told her, ‘I’m going to marry you,’” Shadur said.
Though she dismissed it at the time, Shadur made good on the promise, and the couple were married for 72 years. She survives him.
After his military service, Shadur, who was convinced he would be a math teacher, was encouraged by a relative to enroll in law school. He returned to the U. of C. and obtained a law degree before working at a private firm from 1949 to 1980.
After he was recommended for a federal judgeship, Shadur made the move to the bench even though he was taking a substantial pay cut. “I thought it was something you could contribute to society on,” he told the Tribune last year.
Shadur, who described himself as a child of the Great Depression and “compulsive” worker, would joke that his version of a half day was 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Even after he became ill in June, he couldn’t shake his work ethic as he issued numerous opinions and orders from home.
After complications from surgery last year, he announced he would step aside in September, but he never officially retired. Instead, he continued to work on cases from his hospital bed. In the last two weeks of his life, he continued to work on a class-action lawsuit, only recently passing it off to another judge, his daughter said.
“He left a legacy of public service and justice for all,” his daughter said. “He would say it doesn’t matter if someone was disenfranchised or poor or didn’t have opportunities, he wanted them to have the same legal representation.
“He taught our whole family the importance of taking care of others and taking a stand on things.”
Shadur also is survived by a son, Robert; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Karen.
A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Congregation Am Shalom, 840 Vernon Ave. in Glencoe.