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Harlow S. Orton: Wikis


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Justice Orton.

Harlow S. Orton (1817-1895) was a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1878 to 1895, and chief justice for 1894-95. He is chiefly remembered as the author of Vosburg v. Putney (1890).

Orton was born in Niagara County, New York on November 23, 1817 and educated at the Hamilton Academy and then at Madison University (which later changed its name to Colgate University). In 1837, Orton moved to Kentucky, where he spent a year as a school teacher, before joining his brother Myron, who was a lawyer, in Indiana. Harlow Orton was called to the bar in 1838. Orton practiced law for five years. In 1843, Indiana Governor Samuel Bigger (a Whig) appointed Orton circuit judge for Porter County, Indiana.

Orton served as an Indiana judge for four years. In 1847, he moved to Milwaukee, in the Wisconsin Territory, and again set himself up as a private lawyer. In 1852, Orton moved to Madison, Wisconsin to serve as legal counsel and private secretary for Whig Governor of Wisconsin Leonard J. Farwell. He was subsequently elected as a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1854.

In the 1855 Wisconsin general election, Republican Coles Bashford narrowly defeated Democrat William A. Barstow. Barstow sued and was ultimately successful in having the Wisconsin Supreme Court declare him the winner of the election. Orton was Bashford's lawyer in this proceeding.

In 1859, Orton was appointed judge for the 9th Judicial Circuit to fill the vacancy left by Luther S. Dixon, who became a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice. Orton resigned as circuit judge in 1865 and returned to private law practice.

He was elected again to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1869 and re-elected in 1871. He ran for Congress in 1876, but was defeated by a narrow margin. Orton served as dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School from 1869 to 1874 and served one term as mayor of Madison in 1877.

In 1877, Wisconsin amended its constitution to create two more seats on the Supreme Court and Orton was elected. Orton became the chief justice when Chief Justice William Lyon retired in 1894.

Orton was on the Supreme Court until he died July 4, 1895. He and his wife Elizabeth Cheney had four children.

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