Hugh R. O'Connell

Hugh R. O'Connell (July 22, 1919 – June 30, 1987) was an American attorney and judge from Wisconsin who served as Milwaukee County District Attorney from 1964 to 1968. In 1968, O'Connell was elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court and served as a circuit judge until his retirement in 1983.

Hugh R. O'Connell
Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge
In office
April 1968  September 30, 1983
Preceded byJudgeship created
Succeeded byRussell W. Stamper, Sr.
Milwaukee County District Attorney
In office
November 1964  April 1968
Preceded byWilliam J. McCauley
Succeeded byDavid J. Cannon
Personal details
BornJuly 22, 1919
Butler, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedJune 30, 1987 (aged 67)
Political partyDemocratic

Early life and career

O'Connell was born in Butler, Wisconsin.[1] He graduated from the Arizona State College before receiving a law degree from Marquette University Law School in 1952.[1] Following his graduation, O'Connell worked as an attorney for Northwestern Mutual, a Milwaukee insurance company.[2] From 1954 to 1964, O'Connell worked as a Milwaukee County prosecutor, eventually serving as a first assistant district attorney under longtime district attorney William McCauley.[1][3] When McCauley died in 1964, O'Connell was named to replace him on the Democratic ticket, edging out the party's preferred candidate, Donald W. Steinmetz. O'Connell was appointed interim district attorney by Governor John W. Reynolds shortly thereafter and was elected to the office in the November general election.[3]

Tenure in elected office

O'Connell served as district attorney until 1968, when he sought election to a criminal judgeship on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. In the general election, O'Connell faced Dominic Frinzi, a prominent attorney and politician who had represented underworld figure Frank Balistrieri; asserting his opposition to organized crime, O'Connell handily defeated Frinzi.[4] As a judge, O'Connell was praised as a "superintellect" and as a fair decisionmaker.[1] The Milwaukee Journal contrasted his moderate judicial philosophy favorably with the conservatism of fellow judge John L. Coffey, who was later appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.[5]

Although respected as a jurist, O'Connell was criticized for his own ties to the Milwaukee underworld.[2] In 1988, after his death, the Milwaukee Sentinel asserted that O'Connell's career had been "filled with links to crime figures", citing, among other incidents, a mob figure's recorded remarks that O'Connell was "one of the judges we've been talking to for 10 years".[6] The Sentinel also noted that, three years after defeating Frinzi, O'Connell appointed Frank Balistrieri's son Joseph as a court commissioner.[6]

O'Connell retired from the bench in 1983, citing his growing frustration with his criminal calendar and his desire to write spy fiction.[2] He died four years later, in 1987, of spinal cancer.[1]


  1. "Hugh O'Connell dies; was retired judge, former DA". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 1 July 1987. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  2. Fauber, John (15 August 1983). "Judge to hang up his robe for a pen". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  3. "Democrats Rally Support For O'Connell for DA Post". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 2 November 1964. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  4. Shaver, John G. (3 April 1968). "O'Connell Big Winner Over Frinzi". The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  5. "No Theatrics From O'Connell". The Milwaukee Journal. 12 November 1974. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  6. "Judge's career was filled with links to crime figures". The Milwaukee Sentinel. 1 November 1988. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
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