Civil Rights Activist and Former Judge Dies

April 3, 2008

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Eugene Pincham (AP Photo/Brian Kersey, File)
Former judge and renowned Chicago defense attorney R. Eugene Pincham died today after a long illness. He was 82.

Judge Pincham made a career of trying to help people caught up in the criminal justice system. Particularly African Americans. A circuit judge and later a justice on the Illinois Appellate Court, Pincham also had private practice stints during his long law career.

With his Southern drawl and powerful charisma, Pincham commanded courtrooms.

One of his most famous cases was defending two boys wrongly accused in the 1998 slaying of 11-year-old Ryan Harris. The boys—ages 7 and 8 at the time—were the youngest murder suspects in U.S. history.

Four months out of law school, Berve Power worked on the case with Pincham. The elder became a mentor to the young attorney. Last summer Power went to Pincham for financial help on a complicated case.

POWER: Judge Pincham he said well, 'How much do you need?' And I told him how much I needed. He just literally reached for his checkbook and wrote a check for a considerable sum. He said, 'Listen, if you don't win you don't have to pay it back.'

Judge Pincham grew up in Alabama and graduated from Tennessee State University in 1944. He earned a law degree in 1951 from Northwestern University, working his way through school by waiting tables at the Palmer House Hotel and shining shoes.

He resigned from the Appellate Court in 1989, and then ran unsuccessfully for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He also sought to be mayor of Chicago on an independent Democratic party ticket.

Local historian Timuel Black said Pincham's legacy is …

BLACK: …one of independence, scholarship and a love of his people, his country and of course his profession.

Eugene Pincham's charm extended outside of the courtroom. Power says at Pincham's 80th birthday party about 20 women lined up to dance with the judge.

He gladly obliged.

I'm Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio.