Former Southern District Judge Peter Leisure, who retired in 2010 after 26 years on the bench, died Tuesday. He was 84.
Leisure heard several high-profile cases in his career. For example, he presided over an antitrust case brought by the now defunct United States Football League against the NFL. In that trial, the USFL persuaded a jury that the NFL was an illegal monopoly but only received $1 in damages.
As a judge, Leisure always made sure trials ran on time, said Robert Fiske, senior counsel at Davis Polk & Wardwell who knew Leisure since their undergraduate days at Yale University. Fiske represented the NFL in the case. The trial lasted 42 days, during which the opposing sides would sometimes take turns filing reply briefs well into the evening.
"He would stay up at night and he would come in the next morning having read everything, and he'd listen to a short argument and make a ruling before starting court for the day," Fiske said. "Despite the enormous stress of that case, he maintained his calm and composure, and it was a pleasure to try it in front of him."
"To the extent that lawyers pay attention to judges' temperaments, they just don't get any better than Judge Leisure," he added.
In another particularly high-profile ruling, Leisure in 1999 ordered the release of transcripts of Richard Nixon's testimony to a grand jury during the 1949 espionage trial of Alger Hiss. The U.S. government had managed to keep the transcripts secret for decades. But Leisure ruled that "the public has significant interest in disclosure of Nixon's testimony" and ordered the documents be made public because of their "inherent and substantial historical importance."
Leisure was born in New York and grew up in Manhattan and Armonk. He was the third of four boys, three of whom became lawyers. All three served stints as assistant U.S. attorneys for the Southern District, though never at the same time.
Their father was George Leisure Sr., cofounder of the now-dissolved white-shoe firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, which he started with William Donovan, who led the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA, during World War II.
Leisure's marriage to Kathleen Blair in February 1960 marked the bridging of two of the city's most prominent legal families: her father, Edwin Foster Blair, cofounded a firm that later became part of Hughes Hubbard & Reed.
Leisure earned his bachelor's degree from Yale in 1952. He then served for three years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, artillery. After that he enrolled in the University of Virginia Law school, where he got his LL.B. in 1958.
Leisure worked in private practice as an associate for Breed, Abbott & Morgan from 1958 to 1961. From 1962 to 1966, he served in the criminal division of the Southern District U.S. Attorney's Office under Robert Morgenthau.
When Leisure left the U.S. Attorney's Office, he joined Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle as a partner, working there until he left for a partnership at Whitman & Ransom in 1978.
In 1984, Leisure left private practice for good when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the federal bench.
Leisure is survived by his wife; two daughters, Mary Blair Adelfang and Kathleen Leisure; and one grandson.
A private funeral will be held this Saturday. Friends and colleagues are invited to a memorial at 12 p.m. on Nov. 8 at St. James Church, 865 Madison Ave. in Manhattan.
Editors' Note: This item was updated to reflect a Correction.