Changing Lives Through Law

Bill Leone

Trans-Colorado Airlines Flight 2286 made headlines in 1988 when it crashed in Bayfield, Colorado on its way to Durango. What didn’t make headlines was what happened to one of the grieving families after the crash. Bill Leone (’78), represented the surviving family of one of the deceased passengers. His efforts in and out of the courtroom led to a substantial settlement for the family, placing much of it in a trust for two young daughters to ensure their educational future was secure.

Leone hadn’t thought about that case in years until he received a surprise phone call from a law school student preparing to graduate. The woman on the phone had been three years old at the time of the plane crash. It was the passenger’s daughter. She was calling to say ‘thank you’ for all of Leone’s work and to share how the settlement enabled her to pursue her dreams of becoming a lawyer.

“Important cases aren’t just those that involve a lot of money or end up in the newspaper. Important cases help people through difficult times in their life,” shares Leone.

It is cases like this that have driven Leone’s passion for law and highlight a distinguished career in law that started at Colorado State University.

Bill Leone presenting at Project Safe Neighborhoods Conference
Bill Leone hosting the Project Safe Neighborhoods Conference in Denver in 2006, which was attended by nearly half of U.S. Attorneys.

Leone had little exposure to the field of law before attending CSU. Instead, he was passionate about debate. A member of his high school debate team, Leone enjoyed the entire process of debate from researching the topic to the cross examination. It was CSU’s debate program, run through the Department of Communication Studies, that stood out from Leone’s other higher ed options.

While at CSU, Leone took pre-law courses and saw direct connections between his debate experiences and the skills needed to be a successful lawyer. He was guided by Professor Bob Lawrence and Professor Roy Meek, whose constitutional law classes helped students prepare for law school. Leone traveled all over the country for highly competitive debates with other universities, including Harvard and UCLA. The debate topics were often on a legal topic, and Leone was able to prepare for law school through the consistent process of researching for his debate topic argument and presentation.

Upon graduation from CSU, Leone attended the University of Colorado Law School where he graduated Order of the Coif (top 10% of the graduating class) in 1981. In private practice, Leone began his career at Ireland Stapleton, leading to partner positions at increasingly larger firms, such as Cooley LLP and Faegre Baker Daniels. In 2001, just a few weeks after the attacks on 9/11, Leone joined John Suthers at the United States Attorney’s Office as First Assistant United States Attorney. In 2006, Leone was appointed United States Attorney for the District of Colorado. There, among other cases, he led the successful prosecution of seven Qwest executives for securities and accounting fraud.

As a trial lawyer and litigator, Leone has represented people and companies from all walks of life. One of his high profile cases included representing Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp in a billion-dollar dispute with the DISH network over a failed merger. He also represented Colorado families, including the families of four security guards who were killed during a bank heist at United Bank of Denver. Leone brought a lawsuit alleging negligence in the design of the security system; the resulting settlement helped support the struggling families.

“I’ve always found people interesting, and [I] enjoy hearing their stories. In law, it doesn’t matter which side you are on. Everyone has a story and every story needs to be told. Law is about learning those stories and figuring out how to present them in the most favorable light,” explains Leone.

"In law, it doesn’t matter which side you are on. Everyone has a story and every story needs to be told."

— Bill Leone

In 2011, Leone joined Norton Rose Fulbright as a litigation partner, the head of their New York White Collar practice, and co-head of their New York litigation practice. Recently, Leone and his team were awarded the Investigations Team of the Year at the annual Transatlantic Legal Awards for their work on the highly publicized “London Whale” case. Leone represented a JPMorgan employee who was charged with fraudulently mismarking investments to conceal $6 billion in company losses. After more than four years, all criminal and civil charges against his client were dropped.

Bill Leone and Bill Ritter
CSU Career Distinction in Law award winner, Bill Leone, '78, and former Governor, Bill Ritter at Rams JD's annual dinner.

From cases that took Leone around the world to representing Colorado locals, Leone has taken his political science degree and made a significant impact on the lives of others. Leone was named the recipient of the College of Liberal Arts’ 2019 Career Distinction in Law Award in honor of his many years of service to the community and his professional impact on the field of law.

“It is an honor to receive the Career Distinction in Law Award, especially when there are so many distinguished graduates from CSU,” says Leone, who shared a dorm floor with the likes of Bill Ritter, Penfield Tate, and Phil Parrott. “I’ve always been grateful that CSU is where my career started. The Department of Political Science encourages its students to live lives of substance and meaning.”

For those eager to follow in his footsteps, Leone has some advice.

“Use your time at CSU to build your toolkit of writing, speaking, and critical thinking. This is the time to devote yourself to building that toolkit that will serve you for the rest of your life. If you learn how to learn and how to communicate, you’ll be successful not matter what you do,” says Leone.