On April 30, the sophomore De La Salle Scholars traveled to the US Courthouse to meet with Senior Judge Richard J. Leon. This field trip was one of their field experiences, through which they work on becoming more active learners by visiting many locations in the DC area. Earlier in the year, they conducted a forensic lab at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
During their recent trip to the US Courthouse in downtown DC, the Scholars heard firsthand about the challenges and rewards that come with being a judge in a US District Court.
Judge Leon explained the difficult journey to becoming a senior judge. He talked about how you have to do really well in law school and have a political backing for it to even be an option. Later, he opened up the floor for questions. Students were very curious about the path to becoming a judge and the different cases he has worked on in the past. Scholar Tess Bayles ’21 said, “He was very enlightening and I never knew how hard it was to become a judge.” Judge Leon made it clear that there’s a lot of work that comes with his job. Nikolay Winslow ’21 said, “It gave me a newfound respect for many people in the law industry.”
When asked why he decided to become a judge, Judge Leon said that he “clerked for many judges before and found the work challenging, interesting…and psychologically rewarding.” His grandparents were from Portugal and Ireland. His father was a carpenter. Judge Leon was the first person in his family to go to college. He tells the immigrants that he swears in: “only in America can you go from a hammer to a gavel in one generation.”
He shared his path in becoming a judge with the Scholars. He was a senior prosecutor in the Justice Department, and then he was recommended to work for Congressman Dick Cheney as a deputy council in 1987. On September 10, 2001, he was nominated for his current position.
Judge Leon told the Scholars about some of his most challenging cases. One was the merger between AT&T and Time Warner. The case included a record of 180,000 pages. He said he felt a lot of pressure during this case, and the case was the “hardest intellectually.” However, the “hardest judgmentally” was a Guantánamo detainee case. He said, “I had to balance the liberty rights of enemy combatants with national security.”
Aside from his own stories, Judge Leon shared some life advice. “It is not enough to be smart and work hard; you got to be lucky.” Another key to success that he shared was happiness. He said that it is very important to enjoy what you do. Judge Leon shared that he always has confidence in his decisions. “There are going to be people that love them, there are going to be people that hate them.” He said he always does what he thinks is right and disregards criticism from others.