Attorney Who Fought Against Illinois Patronage Hiring Dies

Dec 13, 2012

Mary Lee Leahy
Credit Illinois State Bar Association

A Springfield attorney who helped lead the fight against patronage hiring in state government has died.   Mary Lee Leahy died early Wednesday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. 

Leahy was the lead attorney in what became known as the Rutan case.  A group of state workers argued they were denied advancement based on politics.  The U.S. Supreme Court agreed.  That case led to more protections for workers and banned most political hiring in the state.

In an interview a decade ago, Leahy talked about the changes that resulted from the court decision...

 "Years and years ago I took a deposition of someone who worked in the 1950's.  He said the day after the election, we just left our jobs because we knew a new administration was coming in.  And we was talking about, I think, a highway maintainer position.  So yes, things have changed very much since then."

  -Mary Lee Leahy

Mary Lee Leahy was 72.  She also spent time working in state government, serving in former Governor Dan Walker's cabinet. 

Illinois Public Radio contributed to this report