Leonard P. Walsh, 75, a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and a former chief judge of the old D.C. Municipal Court, died of an internal hemorrhage Wednesday at Georgetown University Hospital.
Judge Walsh was appointed to head the bench of the Municipal Court, now D.C. Superior Court, by president Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. At that time, the court faced an enormous backlog of cases and other problems. Judge Walsh, who subscribed to the view that justice delayed is justice denied, was credited with turning this situation around so that the court became a model for the country.
Because of this success, preisdent Eisenhower promoted Judge Walsh to the U.S. District Court in 1959. Then as now, that court decides some of the most far-reaching cases in the federal judicial system. This is because its location in the nation's capital makes it a convenient place to litigate cases arising from new laws and other issues with nationwide implications.
But when Judge Walsh joined the court, it also had jurisdiction over almost all major criminal and civil matters arising in the District of Columbia. These functions have since been transferred to D.C. Superior Court.
Judge Walsh enjoyed the work of a trail judge. He was known as a hard worker, who sometimes decreed tough sentences, and a man of great affability.
Among the cases over which he presided was that of Irvin C. Scarbeck, an employe of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, who was convicted of passing secrets to the Polish government. Judge Walsh sentenced him to 30 years in prison, a punishment that was criticized in The Washington Post and elsewhere for its severity. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the conviction and sentence were upheld. At that point, Judge Walsh reduced the penalty.
Judge Walsh took senior judge status in 1971 because of failing eyesight. Senior judges work part-time but can carry out all the functions of regular judges. He continued to do so until he was injured in a fall in his Washington home about four years ago.
In addition to his work on the bench, Judge Walsh had been a noted athlete in his youth, a onetime coach of the George Washington University football team in the 1930s, a lawyer with a private practice in Washington before he was appointed to the Municipal Court, a former president of the D.C. Bar Association, and a founder and past president of the Touchdown Club. He also was a former chairman of the D.C. Armory Board, which was established in the 1940s to allow citizens to make greater use of the armory a a sports center.
Leonard Patrick Walsh was born on March 10, 1904, in Superior, Wis. He graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he was a varsity football player. He came to Washington in 1928, and some of his first work here was on Capitol Hill. He was a friend of the late senator Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin.
He earned a law degree at the old National University law school in 1933, and was admitted to the D.C. Bar that year. He engaged in a general law practice here until he was appointed to the bench.
As chief judge of the Municipal Court, Judge Walsh set up a system that allowed him to keep track of the court's load of cases. He then used his formidable powers of persuasion to get his colleagues on the bench to help clear up the backlog.
It was Judge Walsh's view that it was the Municipal Court, which had jurisdiction over traffic cases, domestic matters, misdemeanors and small civil claims, which provided most citizens with their only experience of the judicial system. He believed that that experience should be an exposure to efficiency and common sense as well as justice. It was with this end in mind that he improved conditions at the Municipal Court.
Judge Walsh's first wife, Dorothy Lloyd Walsh, died in 1959.
Survivors include his wife, Bronia, of Washington; two children by his first marriage, Dorothy Lynn Uffner of Lebanon, Pa., and William L., of Bethesda; a stepson, Tobey W. Kaczensky of Bethesda; four sisters, Verne Doyle of Minneapolis, Rene Householder of Kansas City, Mo., Virginia Walsh of Cleveland, and Margaret Gogins of Seattle; a brother, retired Navy Capt. Ned Walsh of San Francisco, and five grandchildren.