Judge John Heyburn

Following is his obituary. I just want to say that whatever you felt about his rulings, he was fair and followed the law, which is exactly what a judge is supposed to do.


Heyburn, The Honorable John G. II,

66, United States District Judge, whose passion for the rule of law, wisdom, joy and kindness enabled him to rise to national leadership in the governance of the Third Branch of the U.S. Government, passed away peacefully on Wednesday afternoon, April 29, in his beloved home surrounded by his family and God’s Heavenly Country.

He was born on November 12, 1948, in Boston, MA, to Henry Reuter and Frances Starks Heyburn. Judge Heyburn graduated from Milton Academy (1966), where his track records remained unbroken until they were retired upon the building of a new track; Harvard University (1970), where he earned varsity letters all four years as a member of the decorated and undefeated Harvard track team led by the legendary Coach Bill McCurdy , as well as the Cross Country team; and the University of Kentucky College of Law (1976). In law school he was a member of the National Moot Court Team, a runner-up in the Sixth Circuit Moot Court Competition and a member of the Order of Barristers, an Appellate Advocate Honorary Society. He later served his alma mater as president of the Law Alumni Association and established the Henry R. Heyburn Alumni and Public Service Award there. In June, he is to be inducted into the College of Law’s Hall of Fame, the highest award given by the law school presented to alumni who have distinguished themselves by contributions in their own field of work or in the betterment of humanity. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1970-1976; he retired as a first lieutenant with an Honorable Discharge.

He began his legal career as an associate and later partner at the firm then known as Brown Todd and Heyburn, where he specialized in litigation. His love of politics was manifest in his early work for the 1971 gubernatorial campaign of Tom Emberton, where he made lifelong friends, including Sen. Mitch McConnell, in whose earliest campaigns for Jefferson County Judge/Executive he worked and for whom he consulted during Sen. McConnell’s tenure as County Judge. He also ran two campaigns for public office himself, for Jefferson County Attorney in 1981 and for Jefferson County Judge/Executive in 1989. Like his father and grandfather before him, Judge Heyburn was a leader in civic life. From 1983-1986 he served as chairman of the Louisville- Jefferson County Crime Commission. He served as a director of the Louisville Bar Foundation (1986-1988, 1994-1999), and director of Kentucky Citizens for Judicial Improvement (1975-1976). He served on a wide variety of boards including Cave Hill Cemetery, Inc., Louisville Committee on Foreign Relations, Louisville Free Public Library and Cedar Lake Lodge. He enjoyed memberships in a wide variety of professional, personal and sports related clubs , including The Royal Dornoch Golf Club in Dornoch, Scotland, the U.S. Seniors Golf Association, and Salamagundi, a Louisville speaking club over 100 years in continuous existence.

In 1992, Sen. McConnell recommended him to President George H.W. Bush for appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. In an unusual show of bipartisan support, Sen. Wendell Ford also endorsed Judge Heyburn’s nomination. Twenty-three years later, he has demonstrated clearly to all his unbiased commitment to accuracy in the application and interpretation of the law. He is remembered as a master of the courtroom, a delightful colleague and an artful chief judge of the Western District, who was known for his depth of preparedness, wisdom, humor and kindness.


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