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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Judge Joseph Leeson: The Quiet Man

Over three decades ago, a group of recent law school grads traveled to Philly every day, in a broken-down car, to study for the bar exam. That crew included noted child advocate Phil Hof, District Attorney John Morganelli, Superior Court Judge Jack Panella, and now, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Joseph "Jay" Leeson. Before a standing-room only crowd at Northampton County's historic Courtroom No. 1, Leeson took the oath on a bible held by his wife Loretta. After being sworn in by Presiding Judge Legrome D. Davis, Leeson put on his black robe for the first time, assisted in the task by his children Maureen, Kathleen, Joseph, Patricia and Robert.

Nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, Leeson was overwhelmingly confirmed by the United States Senate in December 2014. He was the second Lehigh Valley resident to be so honored last year. Judge Edward Smith was also elevated to the District Court. Judge Smith's chambers are in Easton, while Judge Leeson will preside at the federal courthouse in Allentown.

During a time when partisanship blocking of judicial nominations has become routine, Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey have somehow come up with a way to ensure that nominations in Pennsylvania have been successful. In the Eastern District, 21 of 22 authorized judgeships have been filled.

Unlike most federal judges, who have first served as state judges, Judge Leeson practiced law. He represented the Diocese of Allentown, which was obvious by the number of priests in attendance at his investiture. He also served Bethlehem, both as its Solicitor and as a City Council member.

Though comfortable discussing fine points of law in a courtroom, Leeson could also be seen on hot summer nights, sitting on a blanket in the grassy area behind center field at Irons Pigs' home games.

One of Leeson's closest friends, John Morganelli, believes the judge's whole approach, both personally and professionally, is akin to the admonition Franklin Delano Roosevelt once gave about public speaking - "Be sincere, be brief and be seated." Morganelli was asked by a reporter to recall some "colorful" or "fun facts" about Leeson.

"There aren't any," he replied.

His favorite book?

"The Bible?" Morgenlli guessed.

Lehigh County President Judge Carol McGinley agreed with other speakers who praised Leeson's legal acumen and integrity, but added he has the "inscrutable" face, like his father before him, that will make him a perfect judge. "I extol his face," she joked.

Judge McGinley also offered a brief prayer for Leeson. "Lord, give me courage to follow the Constitution and not my heart," she began, but then added pleas that had everyone laughing, like asking that the Congress see the wisdom in keeping family disputes out of federal court. "Please give him cases that are interesting, but not so interesting that they end up on the Drudge Report," she concluded.

Calling Leeson a man of "quiet and excellence," Judge Davis told Leeson, "You distinguish this bench by your presence."

Overwhelmed, Judge Leeson had a difficult time responding to the tributes paid to him. With his voice breaking up, the quiet man responded that he is "filled with gratitude for all that life has offered me and given to me.He concluded that he is honored to participate in "the greatest judicial system in the best country the world will ever see."


Anonymous said...

Another class act and well respected judge! He has a wonderful reputation and he and his fanily, have not been controversial with any groups in this county. Well deserved Judge Leeson.

Unknown said...

I was Joe's dorm neighbour at CUA; he was always your classical "Great-Guy" and "Foreman material" and destined for greatness! Ad multos annos Joe!