U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber dies at 87

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber dies at 87

U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, the Joliet native who served in the Illinois legislature before being nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 87, according to his family.

Leinenweber, who just celebrated a birthday last week, had kept a very active schedule before announcing an illness earlier this year, presiding over the high-profile trials of singer R. Kelly in 2022 and the “ComEd Four” political corruption case last year.

In January, Leinenweber delayed sentencing in the ComEd Four case in part due to his health issues, which he said would keep him away from Chicago for a month or two.

He is survived by his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, who confirmed her husbands passing to the Tribune, and seven children.

Known for his calm temperament and friendly demeanor, Leinenweber was respected by lawyers on both sides as a considerate jurist with an impeccable knowledge of the law.

He was born in Joliet on June 3, 1937, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1959 and earned his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1962.

Leinenweber formed his own private practice in his hometown and served as town counsel for several area cities until being elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1973.

Two years after returning to the law in 1983, Leinenweber was preparing to take a deposition when he got word from his secretary that the president of the United States had called and asked to speak with him.

“I direct dialed the President of the United States,” Leinenweber told his son, Justin, for an article in the Illinois State Bar Association in 2014. “President Reagan said ‘Harry, I was about to sign a commission appointing you as a federal district judge for the Northern District of Illinois, but I thought I better get your permission first. Do I have it?’ And I stumbled out ‘yes you do.’”

Leinenweber was confirmed as a district judge in December 1985. Over his nearly 40 years on the bench, Leinenweber oversaw many of the city’s most significant trials, from political corruption to terrorism and gang cases like Gangster Disciples boss Larry Hoover.

In 2013, Leinenweber sentenced David Coleman Headley to 35 years in prison for his role in planning the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and a would-be attack on a newspaper in Denmark.

Last year, Leinenweber sentenced Kelly to 20 years in prison for his child pornography conviction related to the videotaped sex abuse of underage girls.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com