Joseph Martin (1878-1946)
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice (1934-1946)
"He was a powerful and most interesting speaker on political questions, having spoken in almost every county in the state of Wisconsin, and whether there were seven or eight people or whether there were thousands, his talk was delivered in the same vigor and seriousness." - G.F. Clifford, Martin's memorial service (1947)
Joseph Martin was born May 12, 1878, in Rockland, Wisconsin. He graduated from West De Pere High School in 1897. He attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, but never graduated. His brothers, who were lawyers, helped him prepare for the bar exam, which he passed in 1903. From 1903 to 1904, he served in the Wisconsin Assembly and later became a partner in his brothers' law firm in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Martin took an active interest in civic affairs on both the local and state level. He was a longtime member of the Green Bay School Board and the Elks and Lions clubs. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he was active in the Democratic Party and served as the state party head.
Martin was a respected trial lawyer. He forged ties with his clients, professionally and socially. He thought of his law practice not as a money-driven business, but as a way to help people. He often provided his services free of charge. G.F. Clifford said of Martin: "It was hard for many of his friends, after he became a member of the Supreme Court, to refuse to take their problems to him. He still was their friend and counselor, and while he had to inform them that he could not advise them on legal matters, he still had his office swarming with people who wanted to come in to talk things over."
Martin was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1934 by Governor Albert G. Schmedeman, a close friend. He hesitantly accepted the appointment, worried that he could not adopt the temperament necessary for impartial judicial decision-making and abandon his many years as a partisan, aggressive trial lawyer. Although he expected criticism of his appointment, he was surprised to find that those who questioned his ability became supporters when he successfully sought election in 1937.
It was said that his strength on the Supreme Court was not opinion writing, but he had a deep understanding of human nature and the problems of the ordinary man. He served until his death on March 19, 1946, at age 67. He and his wife Mildred Wright had four children.