NEW YORK — Peter K. Leisure, a federal judge in Manhattan who oversaw high-profile business disputes, trials of Mafia chieftains and political controversies in 26 years on the bench, died Sept. 17 in Manhattan. He was 84.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, his judicial assistant, Gloria Rider, said.
In 1986, Judge Leisure oversaw the antitrust jury trial pitting the upstart United States Football League against the National Football League.
The USFL, which claimed that the NFL had established a monopoly and persuaded television networks not to broadcast USFL games, won a partial victory but was awarded only $1 in damages.
He also presided over the 1993 racketeering and drug trial that led to the convictions of three members of the Gambino crime family.
Among Judge Leisure’s more controversial decisions was one related to the McCarthy era. In 1999, over objections from the US government, he ordered the release of secret grand jury testimony in the investigation of Alger Hiss, who was accused of being a Soviet spy and had been convicted of lying to a congressional committee.
The records included testimony by Richard Nixon, then a representative and a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
“The court is confident that disclosure will fill in important gaps in the existing historical record,” Judge Leisure wrote. “The materials should languish on archival shelves, behind locked doors, no longer.”
The transcripts showed that Nixon had lobbied grand jurors to indict Hiss and offered suggestions on witnesses to subpoena and questions to ask.
Peter Keeton Leisure was born in Manhattan on March 21, 1929, and graduated from Yale and the University of Virginia Law School. His father, George S. Leisure, was a founder of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine, a prominent New York law firm that is now defunct.
Judge Leisure worked as a federal prosecutor in the US attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York under Robert M. Morgenthau. A burly, congenial man who stood 6-foot-6, Leisure worked in private practice after his stint as a government lawyer. He was a partner at the firms Whitman & Ransom and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle.
President Ronald Reagan appointed him a federal judge for the Southern District in 1984 on the recommendation of Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato. He retired in 2010.
He leaves his wife of 53 years, Kathleen Blair, as well as two daughters, Mary Blair Adelfang and Kathleen Leisure, and a grandson. A third daughter, Lucille Leisure, predeceased him.