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Post Judge George Neves Leighton Dies at 105
Created by John Eipper on 06/10/18 8:40 AM

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Judge George Neves Leighton Dies at 105 (David Duggan, USA, 06/10/18 8:40 am)

While the world rightfully mourns the loss of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, apparently by suicide, both before they became eligible for Social Security, I thought I would alert WAISers to the death of one of the grand men of the bar, no matter what state, no matter what specialty, no matter what era: the Hon. George Leighton, at the age of 105 of natural causes.

Judge Leighton, as he was known even after retiring from the federal bench in the 1980s, was a native of the Portuguese-speaking area around Bedford, Massachusetts, where he spent his early years as a stoop laborer in the cranberry bogs and learned to play the guitar. His name had been anglicized from Leitão, his parents having immigrated from the Cape Verde Islands. After working on some oil tankers, he attended Howard University, graduating in 1940. In the wake of the 1937 "great debate" between black Wiley College and the University of Southern California (not Harvard as depicted in the movie), Harvard's law school dean invited Leighton to interview, and admitted him on the spot. His legal education was interrupted by service in World War II, where he received the Bronze Star for his valor at Guadalcanal and was promoted to Captain. He finished Harvard Law School in 1946.

Though he had no ties to Illinois, Judge Leighton moved here in the late 1940s and immediately became involved in Democratic politics and worked to integrate Cicero, a white ethnic suburb more noteworthy for being one of Al Capone's hangouts. He was indicted for causing a race riot by advising black clients that it was OK to move there. Represented by Thurgood Marshall, Leighton was exonerated, although the charges would occasionally follow him as he sought public office. Leighton was elected to the state court bench in the mid-1960s, elevated to Illinois' intermediate appellate court and appointed to the federal bench in 1976 by Gerald Ford, at the age of 63 when most lawyers are looking forward to retirement. He was the second black judge on the federal bench in Illinois, and remembered, "When the president of the United States asks if you'd like to be a federal judge, you say yes."

After his retirement, Judge Leighton became a senior statesman lawyer at the offices of Earl Neal, another prominent black lawyer, who with Eugene Pincham (appellate court judge), Harold Washington (mayor), and Jim Montgomery (corporation counsel), constituted a black legal establishment that was not shunted off to divorces, residential closings, bankruptcies and street-level criminal work. Some 20 years ago, I was appellate counsel for a man convicted of having been the financial arm of an illegal betting operation, and Judge Leighton represented the Chicago outfit's second-in-command, James Marcello, a relative of the New Orleans Marcellos who run the town. He liked my work trying to argue that there was no interstate commerce in extending private loans to people who wanted to bet on football. My client later had the back of his head air-conditioned.

The Cook County Criminal Courts Building, known as "26th and Cal" to the cognoscenti, was named for Judge Leighton on the occasion of his 100th birthday in 2012. This Depression-era monolith, one of the largest court buildings in the country, is where such notables as rapper R Kelly and former congressman and Bill Clinton crony Mel Reynolds were tried for sex offenses. George Leighton finished his years in a retirement home in his native Massachusetts, playing chess, which he had done competitively as a younger man.

George Neves Leighton, RIP.

JE comments:  What an icon, and a most welcome tribute from David Duggan.  Leitão (lechón in Spanish) is suckling pig--delicious, but not the best name for a lawyer.


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