chicago politics

Chicago's judicial community, local officials pay tribute to federal judge Harry Leinenweber

Leinenweber presided over the trials of R. Kelly and the "ComEd Four"

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Chicago's judicial community is mourning the loss of a well-respected federal judge who presided over several very high-profile trials.

U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber died from cancer Tuesday night. Perhaps best known for presiding over the trials of R. Kelly and the "ComEd Four," Leinenweber maintained an active caseload until the end of his life. The longtime jurist, who had been working up until several months ago, recently celebrated his 87th birthday with his family.

“I never heard a harsh word from him or about him. And I think that says a great deal because judges are in difficult situations and often are in situations where harsh words are said,” said Chief Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer from the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois.

In the 33 years Pallmeyer knew him, she called him a mentor and a friend. She admired his quiet, cheerful and diligent approach to the cases he judged. A Joliet native, Leinenweber was appointed to the court in 1985 and became a senior judge in 2002.

“It wasn't unusual at all for him to take a trial for a colleague and handle a trial because he loved being in court and he was very good at it,” Pallmeyer said.

Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot paid tribute on social media, writing, “I had the honor of appearing before the Hon. Harry Leinenweber many times over the course of my career as both an AUSA and in private practice. It was always a pleasure. He was a judge who clearly loved his job, even after many years on the bench and he respected litigants.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives with Leinenweber’s wife, Lynn Martin, who is also a former U.S. secretary of labor. Durbin extended his condolences to Leinenweber’s family and said he lived “an exemplary lifetime of public service.”

“Judge Harry Leinenweber was respected for his knowledge of the law and his reputation for fairness. I always knew that he would bring that reputation to every assignment. He never disappointed,” Durbin said in a statement.

Leinenweber is survived by a large family. Pallmeyer thanked his family members for sharing him with the court for more than 39 years.

“Many of us would like to grow up and be Harry Leinenweber. That's the kind of person he was. We'd like to have the kind of reputation that he has. His whole family seems to be very strong and to have treasured the life that he gave us,” Pallmeyer said.

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