Street and California Avenue Criminal Courthouse in his honor.
Leighton, 99, a revered civil rights attorney, was “satisfied” of the honor.
“I don’t have any proud moments, there’s no room for pride. I’m not proud, I’m satisfied. It’s a manifestation of appreciation. It’s good to know that someone appreciates the things I did,” the New Bedford, Mass. native said to hundreds who came to the courthouse to congratulate him on the honors.
The Cook County Board voted unanimously in March to rename the building after the legendary judge. Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans was a student of the Leighton’s when he taught at John Marshall Law School.
Leighton, who didn’t complete elementary school, later earned degrees at Howard University (Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1940) and Harvard Law School (1946).
In 1942 he served in the U.S. Army during World War II as an officer in the 93rd Infantry Division. He rose to the rank of Captain and earned medals, including the Bronze Star.
Leighton left an indelible mark in the legal field as a civil rights attorney. He represented those who were charged with serious crimes and a large portion of his practice was as court-appointed defense counsel for indigent defendants. In 1961, he garnered national attention as an attorney for alleged mob figure San Giancana. Leighton got a rarely-granted injunction restraining the FBI from alleged invasions of Giancana’s civil liberties while under surveillance.
After serving on the state bench, he was elected a Circuit Court of Cook County judge. He later became the first Black to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court and was later named a federal judge.
Leighton retired from the bench in 1987 and returned to private practice. He retired from private practice last year at age 98.
Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender