J. Rich Leonard (born circa 1949) is a U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina and a former federal judicial nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Born in North Carolina and a native of Welcome, North Carolina, Leonard earned a bachelor's degree in 1971 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was a Morehead Scholar and where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Leonard earned a master's degree in education from UNC in 1972, and then earned a law degree from Yale University Law School in 1976.
From 1976 until 1978, Leonard worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Franklin T. Dupree, Jr. He then worked briefly in private practice from 1978 until 1979 before becoming clerk of court for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina in 1979.
In 1981, Leonard was appointed to be a federal magistrate, a position he held until becoming a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge in 1992.
On December 22, 1995, President Clinton nominated Leonard to be an appeals-court judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Leonard was appointed to a newly created post. Almost immediately, Leonard's nomination ran into opposition from North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, who was angry that Clinton refused to renominate Helms' preferred candidate, Terrence Boyle. President George H.W. Bush had nominated Boyle to that Fourth Circuit seat in 1992, but the U.S. Senate never acted on the nomination, and the nomination lapsed with the end of Bush's presidency.
The U.S. Senate did not hold a hearing or a vote on Leonard's Fourth Circuit nomination during 1996, and Clinton did not renominate him to the Fourth Circuit after his second term began in January 1997. That seat on the Fourth Circuit eventually was filled by Roger Gregory, whose nomination by Clinton was never acted upon by the Senate. Clinton subsequently installed Gregory on the Fourth Circuit in a recess appointment in December 2000, and President George W. Bush gave Gregory a permanent appointment to the seat the following year.
On March 24, 1999, Clinton nominated Leonard to be a U.S. District judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Leonard was nominated to fill the seat vacated in December 1997 by W. Earl Britt, who took senior status. The Raleigh News and Observer reported on March 25, 1999 that the nomination was made at the request of then-Sen. John Edwards, who is a close friend of Leonard. Helms then announced his opposition to Leonard's nomination on the grounds that he had wanted to shift that open seat to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.
The Senate also did not hold a hearing or a vote on Leonard's District Court nomination in 1999 or 2000, and the nomination lapsed with the end of Clinton's presidency. Leonard remains a federal bankruptcy judge to this day.