He was a big man and easy to pick out of a crowd – particularly with his beard dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day – but his colleagues said the biggest thing about Judge Jim Lannon was his heart.
The Honorable Richard J. Lannon Jr. died Friday at age 89. Attorneys and judges from the circuit that includes La Salle County mourned a peer who practiced more than 60 years at the La Salle firm he co-founded, now Herbolsheimer Duncan Eiten Hintz and Klinefelter.
John Duncan III, who became managing partner at Herbolsheimer after Lannon became a judge in 2011, said Lannon later resumed his practice and “came in every day” right until the end.
“You couldn’t have found a better mentor,” Duncan said, “or a more enjoyable person to be around.”
Despite his experience and command of the law, Lannon was noted for his humility.
“Jim was a gentleman, a gifted attorney and a strong advocate for his clients,” said La Salle County Judge Michael C. Jansz, who had also worked with Lannon at Herbolsheimer. “He was a highly respected member of the La Salle County legal community, and he will be missed.”
Lannon graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Illinois before returning to earn a law degree. He was admitted to the bar in 1960. While at Illinois, he served in ROTC and was an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1956 to 1974.
Former partners remembered him warmly. La Salle County Judge Karen C. Eiten called Lannon “a good mentor and my resource in the firm.”
“I had a particularly challenging case with a difficult opposing counsel and judge,” Eiten said. “I asked Jim to be my second chair, believing that his presence would help the case. Looking back now, I see how cheeky that was – a junior partner asking the senior partner to sit second chair.
“Jim, characteristically, did what was best ‘for the good of the order.’ I am certain that his presence fueled the victory in that case.”
Ottawa attorney Michael Reagan, a partner of Lannon’s for 30 years, said Lannon “never strayed far from his accounting background.”
“He could do more mental math looking straight at you than most people could accomplish in that time with a calculator,” Reagan said. “With that skill, he could efficiently steer interactions toward quicker resolutions.”
Reagan said he also tried cases with Lannon at the opposing table.
“Throughout it all, he was unfailingly objective and fair,” Reagan said. “Everyone could count on him to be that way, and to look towards the greater common good.”
That was one of the qualities that caught the attention of Tom Kilbride, former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, who appointed Lannon to La Salle County Circuit Court following the retirement of Chief Judge James A. Lanuti.
Lannon was seated shortly before his 77th birthday and was told he’d be a “caretaker” until the 2012 general elections.
The job wasn’t without its stresses – Lannon was dismayed by the volume of foreclosure cases – but he loved his stint as judge.
“I knew I would enjoy it, I just didn’t know how much I would enjoy it,” Lannon said at his retirement from the bench. “It’s amazing how many facets of the law I didn’t run into during my private practice, even though I did almost entirely civil litigation. I’ve learned a lot.”
Lannon made it a point to praise his fellow judges, and was particularly encouraging to his successor, Circuit Judge Troy Holland.
“I will always appreciate how helpful Judge Lannon was to me when I was elected to the bench in 2012,” Holland said. “Jim was a zealous, well prepared advocate as a lawyer but maintained civility to get legal matters resolved. He brought those same qualities to the bench.”
Hurst Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.