Joliet native and federal judge Harry Leinenweber dies

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber talks with reporters after a jury returned its verdict in the trial of Chicago businessman Tahawwur Rana on Thursday, June 9, 2011 in Chicago. A federal jury convicted Rana of helping plot an attack against a Danish newspaper that printed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad but cleared him of the most serious charge accusing him of cooperating in the deadly 2008 rampage in Mumbai. The jury reached its verdict after two days of deliberations, finding Rana guilty of providing material support to terrorism in Denmark and to the Pakistani militant group that had claimed responsibility for the three-day siege in India's largest city that left more than 160 people dead, including six Americans. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Harry D. Leinenweber, who served nearly four decades as a federal judge, was a rising political force in Will County before being tapped for the bench.

Leinenweber, a Joliet native, died Tuesday at the age of 87

His wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, was reportedly with him when he died in their Chicago home. Leinenweber had been diagnosed with lung cancer, according to news reports.

As a U.S. District Court judge, Leinenweber presided over several recent famous trials, including the R. Kelly case and the ComEd bribery case known as the “ComEd Four.” He was appointed to the Northern District of Illinois Court in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan.

Before then, he was a state legislator representing a Will County district from 1973 to 1983, as well as an attorney in private practice in Joliet.

Leinenweber’s life and work was remembered with accolades from colleagues in the federal judiciary as well as lawyers in his home town.

“He was one of the giants of Will County law,” retired Joliet attorney Michael Hansen said. “He was an outstanding lawyer and an extremely fair and intelligent person, and very courteous.”

Leinenweber was the brother-in-law of Tom Dunn, a former state senator credited with bringing two casino licenses to Joliet. Leinenweber and Dunn once worked in a law firm with Dunn’s father, Francis Dunn, that was called Dunn, Leinenweber and Dunn.

“He was very well known, very well respected,” Tom Dunn said of Leinenweber.

Moira Dunn, Dunn’s daughter and Leinenweber’s niece, said she counts Leinenweber, her father, and her grandfather, Francis Dunn, as influences on her own legal career.

Dunn worked as a prosecutor with Will County State’s Attorney’s Office and chief of staff for the Will County Board. She currently works as a felony trial prosecutor for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“It’s been really rewarding to be able to be a prosecutor and to be able to watch him on the bench in federal trials being so knowledgeable about about the law,” Dunn said.

Dunn said Leinenweber was “extremely generous” and someone who lived “such a great life.” She said he was also a University of Notre Dame diehard.

Leinenweber was a Notre Dame alumnus.

“We’ve been so amazed at the outpouring of the love he received,” Dunn said.

Joliet attorney Richard Kavanagh remembers working with Leinenweber on election campaign in the 1970s.

“He was very well respected,” Kavanagh said. “He was a quiet guy. He was a very good legislator.”

Leinenweber also was a “solid supporter of Reagan,” having worked for Reagan in his unsuccessful primary challenge to then President Gerald Ford before the 1976 election and again when Reagan prepared for his successful run for president in 1980, Kavanagh said.

“He introduced me to Ronald Reagan,” Kavanagh said.

He got a call from Leinenweber to come to a hotel near O’Hare International Airport in 1978 to meet someone. That someone turned out to be Reagan.

“We talked for maybe an hour – me doing very little talking,” Kavanagh said. “Harry and Reagan talked about putting together teams and getting ready to run in 1980.”

Leinenweber was born in Joliet on June 3, 1937, and attended Joliet Township High School.

His father, Harry Dean Leinenweber, was a history professor at Joliet Junior College and was head of its social studies department when JJC moved to its main campus on Houbolt Road in 1969.

After graduating from high school, Leinenweber attended the University of Notre Dame where he graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in history, according to his biography on the United States District Court website. He went on to earn his juris doctorate from Notre Dame in 1962.