William C. Lee

Former federal judge dies at 85

William C. Lee, a Fort Wayne native whose law career spanned more than 50 years in northeast Indiana, has died at the age of 85.

Lee, who died Saturday, January 20, 2024, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to be the U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Indiana in July 1981. He was sworn in as a federal judge in August.

“I guess you could say I’m very pleased,” Lee told The Journal Gazette after being nominated. “This community has meant a lot to me and has been good to me.”

Lee was born Feb. 2, 1938, in Fort Wayne and graduated from North Side High School in 1955. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1959 before getting his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1962, according to a profile Lee submitted for his 50th class reunion at Yale.

He married Judith A. Bash on Sept. 19, 1959, and the couple were together until she died July 4, 2019. The couple have three children together – Catherine, Mark and Richard.

After graduating from law school, Lee returned to Fort Wayne to open his law practice. He served as a deputy and chief deputy prosecutor from 1963 to 1969, appointed by Allen County Prosecutor-elect Walter P. Helmke in 1962.

Lee served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana from 1970 to 1973, before returning to private practice as a partner for Hunt, Suedhoff, Borror, Eibacher & Lee firm until 1981.

“He’s the hometown boy who, as the saying goes, made good,” The Journal Gazette wrote about Lee in 1981.

Lee was named Indiana Trial Judge of the Year in 1988. He also received the National Conservation Award from the Izaak Walton League of America in 1972; Fellow of American College of Trial Lawyers in 1979; Doctor of Laws from Huntington College in 1999; Sagamore of the Wabash in 2001; and Ove Jorgensen Spirit of Leadership Award and Niemen Citation for Excellence and Professionalism in 2005, according to Lee’s Yale reunion profile.

In addition to judicial and legal work, Lee served on boards for Fort Wayne Community Schools, Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Rotary Club, Civic Theatre, Legal Aid of Fort Wayne Inc. and Fort Wayne Ballet. Lee also performed in various theater productions.

Lee partially retired from his federal judge position in February 2003, and he was still a judge when he died, according to the United States District Court website.

“Northeast Indiana can be grateful that (Lee) is not rushing to end his outstanding career on the bench,” The Journal Gazette editorial board wrote on June 6, 2002.

Lee told The Journal Gazette in 1996 that he would like to be remembered as “a good husband and father and a person who made a contribution to the community.”

From JournalGazette.net
This story has been updated to correct the name of Walter P. Helmke.