Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 152, page(s) 758-759


Justice William J. Shea, who died at his home, in Manchester, February 5, 1965, was born on April 4, 1900, in Vernon where he spent the early years of his life. After being graduated from the Rockville High School, he attended Trinity College, in Hartford, and Catholic University, in Washington, D.C. He was graduated from Catholic University Law School in 1925. Long afterward, in 1960, he was given the first annual award for outstanding achievement in the field of law conferred by his law school.

He was admitted to the bar in 1926 and immediately entered the practice of law in Manchester. This practice he continued, with outstanding success, until his appointment to the Superior Court, effective December 5, 1942. On October 15, 1930, he married Miss S. Frances Spillane. She survived him, together with their two sons, William J. Shea, Jr., an attorney in Hartford, and Brendan T. Shea, of Trumbull, engaged in the insurance business in Bridgeport, and their daughter, Maureen S. Shea, now Mrs. Arthur A. Charlebois, of Manchester. Two sisters, Catherine C. Shea and Mary Z. Shea, and two brothers, John F. Shea and Walter T. Shea, all of Manchester, also survived him.

Justice Shea was elected as a representative from Manchester to the 1937 session of the General Assembly, where he served as a member of the Judiciary Committee. Thereafter, he was twice elected to the Senate, serving in the sessions of 1939 and 1941. In the 1941 session, he was the minority leader and was named by the Capitol Press Corps as the outstanding legislator in the Senate.

Justice Shea was a conscientious and indefatigable worker, gifted with a clear, well-organized mind, stored with a thorough knowledge of the law. These qualities assured his success as a lawyer from the onset of his career. They also assured his success as a judge of the Superior Court and as a member of the Supreme Court of Errors, to which he was appointed on July 24, 1959.

Perhaps it is for his service on the court of last resort that he will be most lastingly remembered. He was at home in the meticulous detail called for by the work of that court. His opinions were phrased with a clarity which made them ready guides to bench and bar alike. His conscientious character made him ever mindful of the responsibility of the position. He not only realized the necessity of keeping abreast of the workload but also realized the necessity of having the output of the highest possible quality. Only long hours of what today, in any other field, would be treated as "overtime", enabled him to keep pace with the volume of cases to be decided while at the same time sacrificing nothing in quality for the sake of productivity. So diligent was his research that Saturdays and even Sundays found him at work, his desk covered with authorities. The results speak for themselves. The opinions which he wrote, reported volume 146 through 152 of the Connecticut Reports, provide incontrovertible proof of the quality and character of his judicial ability.

Yet he was no mere cloistered scholar, living aloof from the world about him. He was a devout Catholic and a faithful member of St. James Church in Manchester. He had a high sense of the duty which he owed to his fellowmen. He was active in the Boy Scout movement. From an early date he was prominent in the Knights of Columbus, in which he was a State Deputy from 1935 to 1941. He was actively interested in the Manchester Memorial Hospital, and for some thirty years was a member of its board of trustees. He long served as a director of the Manchester Savings Bank and was chairman of its board of directors at the time of his death. He was active in organizations and activities having as their objective the improvement of the law and the making of it a more nearly perfect instrument for the resolution of disputes and disorders in the complex and highly competitive society in which we live. He was an active member of the Manchester, the Hartford County, the Connecticut and the American Bar Associations. He was a member and a director of the American Judicature Society. He also worked most assiduously as a member of the Judicial Council of Connecticut. Even after the illness which ultimately proved fatal had disabled him from longer performing his duties as a member of the Supreme Court of Errors, he continued, as chairman of the Judicial Council, to work from his home on the current biennial report, which appeared in December, 1964, less than two months before his death.

His keen sense of humor and considerate nature forestalled all rancor in the arguments in the conference room which are inseparable from the work of a court of last resort. Because of the labor which he expended on the opinions of the Supreme Court of Errors, he had a firm grip of each case before he entered the conference room. While he stood by his convictions, he was always open minded and patient in weighing the reasons of members of the court who on some particular point disagreed with his own views. He had no stubbornness or pride of opinion and if convinced that he had been mistaken, he was never unwilling to change his mind.

It is impossible, within the limits of an obituary sketch, to do justice to a man of the breadth of interest and diversity of attainments of this calm, quiet, kindly and unassuming man. Not only the Supreme Court of Errors but the community and the state, as well, sustained a great loss in his passing.