Former Circuit Court Judge Richard Celello dies

Former 41st Circuit Court Judge Richard Celello died Saturday.

MENOMINEE—Retired 41st Circuit Court Judge Richard Celello of Iron Mountain, who served the court for decades, died Saturday at age 73.

He was born Aug. 13, 1948, in Chicago to Dorothy (Roberts) and Joseph Celello, but lived for most of his life in Iron Mountain, where he served as an attorney and judge.

“Judge Celello was a gregarious gentleman, and a gentle man,” said Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Rogg.

“He appreciated the role of the lawyers who appeared before him as advocates, considered our respective arguments, and used his wisdom and experience to make an appropriate and just decision. He was even respected by the defendants whom he sentenced,” Rogg said.

At his passing, Celello was surrounded by daughters and his wife of 51 years, Kristi (Johnson) Celello. He graduated from Michigan State University in 1970 and from Marquette University Law School in 1974.

He joined the law firm of Brouillette and Brouillette and was appointed Iron Mountain City Attorney. Then he was elected Prosecuting Attorney. He was appointed Dickinson County’s first full-time Prosecuting Attorney and Friend of the Court. In 1978, Gov. William Milliken appointed him to the District Court bench, and he was elected to serve a six-year term.

He resigned from District Court in 1983 to start the law firm Mouw & Celello with John Mouw. For 17 years, he tried cases in the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.

In 2000, Gov. John Engler appointed him to the Circuit Court bench, and he subsequently was elected to three six-year terms. He presided over criminal proceedings and civil cases, conducted jury and bench trials, and wrote opinions in hundreds of cases, including many heard and upheld by appellate and state supreme courts.

In an obituary Celello’s family provided to the funeral home, they wrote of how he “understood and took seriously that in every professional interaction he had, he was meeting someone on what was likely the worst day of their lives. He strove to see the basic humanity in every single person he met.” It wasn’t uncommon for him to receive Christmas cards from individuals in the county jail, the family said.

Former Menominee County Prosecuting Attorney William Merkel said, “He was a good family man and served his community well as a lawyer and judge. You know he was well respected within the legal community when Governor Engler appointed him to the bench even though he hadn’t applied for the vacancy and was an active democrat. He will be missed.”

Celello retired in 2017 from the 41{sup}st{/sup} Circuit Court bench. His family said he spent his time away from the Dickinson County Courthouse playing golf at Pine Grove Country Club in the summer and in Arizona in the winter. He also enjoyed traveling to De Pere and Madison to spend time with his daughters and their families, including his four grandchildren.

Merkel recalled Celello’s fondness for golf. “My favorite Judge Celello quote occurred during a PTC (pre-trial conference) when he decreed, ‘I respect the sanctity of the tee time’ after Jon Sbar and I informed him that his proposed hearing date and time conflicted with our tee time.”

Celello wasn’t known for spotless shirts or a disciplined diet, his family said. But they recalled “his infectious laugh, keen sense of fairness and thoughtful, curious probing of personal, political and global issues.”

Rogg said, “The judge was also a good-humored man with a jolly laugh, ready with a joke and able to find the bright side of our often difficult work. He was intellectually curious and could discuss the issues of the day and historical facts with great aplomb. I will miss knowing he is around, making the world a better place, which is his legacy.”