Patrick Willis (judge)

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Patrick (“Pat”) Lee Willis was born in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on Feb. 1, 1950, and currently serves as a Circuit Court Judge in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. Judge Willis gained US national recognition when he presided over the highly publicized Steven Avery homicide trial; his rulings regarding the admissibility of certain key pieces of evidence were frequent sources of news stories. He and his wife, Jean L. Willis, reside in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and have three children; Amanda (Willis) Page, Ben Willis, and Carly (Willis) Powers.[1]

Early life[edit]

Judge Patrick L. Willis grew up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin with his parents Hubert and Liz Willis, his brother Michael, and his sister Colleen. He graduated in 1972 with an honors degree in history from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Judge Willis then attended law school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, graduating with a law degree in 1975. During law school, he served as an editor of the Law Review and his Comment “Informal Administration of Decedents’ Estates in Wisconsin” was published in the Law Review in 1974.[2]

Legal career[edit]

Willis was admitted to the State Bar of Wisconsin In June, 1975.[3] [4] His first job as an attorney was for the law firm of Muchin & Muchin in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In May, 1977 he was hired as the City Attorney for the City of Manitowoc. During his tenure as City Attorney, Willis helped bring the S.S. Badger car ferry back to Manitowoc, and was instrumental in the revival of the Burger Boat Company thus saving hundreds of local jobs.[5] [6] He also served as a legal advisor to the mayor and the common council. He is recognized throughout the Midwest as an authority on trial procedures, and has been a noted speaker at judicial conferences. [7] Judge Willis has been conducting trials of the "Three Little Pigs" for the past twelve years to commemorate Law Day and teach children about the justice system. He was recognized recently for hosting his 10,000th second grader for the annual event. [8]

Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson appointed Willis as Manitowoc County Circuit judge in 1997 to fill a vacancy left by Judge Allan Deehr.[9] Upon completion of his interim term, Judge Willis successfully ran for the same position in 1998, receiving more than 80% of the vote.[10] Upon Willis’s retirement as City Attorney to become a circuit judge, he was given a key to the City of Manitowoc in appreciation for his twenty years of service.[11]

National recognition[edit]

Judge Willis presided over the highly publicized Steven Avery homicide trial.[12] The Avery trial was also covered by national news services, including MSNBC [13] and Nancy Grace on CNN.[14] Court TV planned to televise the proceedings, until it was determined that the trial would last five full weeks which would exceed the amount of time Court TV could devote to it.[15] Judge Willis' handling of the Avery trial was discussed at law schools outside the state of Wisconsin as a study in trial procedure.[16]

Unreasonable Inferences is a true crime book about Steven Avery's rape conviction and its tragic aftermath. The book was written by Michael Griesbach, a prosecuting attorney in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin.[17]


  1. ^ Young, Rob. "Life Behind Bench New for City Attorney", Herald Times Reporter, 1997-07-03.
  2. ^ 1974 Wisc. L.R. 581
  3. ^ Wisconsin State Bar number:1016344
  4. ^ WisBar | Lawyer directory
  5. ^ Young, Rob. "Life Behind Bench New for City Attorney", Herald Times Reporter, 1997-07-03.
  6. ^ Resolution adopted by the Manitowoc Common Council on Aug 4, 1997.
  7. ^ Wisconsin Judicial Conference Officers and Standing Committees
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Manitowoc City Attorney Pat Willis Named the new Circuit Court Judge", Lakeshore Chronicle, 1997-07-20.
  10. ^ Pankratz, Pat. "Patrick Willis Wins Circuit Court Seat By Landslide Over Grieg", Herald Times Reporter, 1998-04-08.
  11. ^ Resolution adopted by the Manitowoc Common Council on Aug 4, 1997.
  12. ^ Appleton Post-Crescent: Your Fox Cities News Source - Avery trial to start as scheduled in February
  13. ^ Man cleared of rape charged with murder - Crime & courts -
  14. ^ - Transcripts
  15. ^ "Court TV Backs Out of Avery Trial", 2006-12-21.
  16. ^ Civil Procedure Lecture, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii, Apr. 2006
  17. ^