Joan and Michael Lefkow have been part of the Chicago legal community for more than three decades and, according to one close friend, lived a storybook life.
Very much in love--neighbors often saw them together, holding hands--the two managed to make time in their lives for their four daughters while at the same time growing their careers.
Friends described Michael Lefkow as a passionate attorney who felt compelled to fight for the underdog throughout his career.
"He was a spiritual person," Hess said. "I think [he was] just a person who kind of has a clear vision of right and wrong and always believed that he would fight for what was right."
Chicago attorney Barbara L. Holcomb knew Michael Lefkow, 64, for about 20 years.
"This is such horrible news," she said late Monday. "Mike was one of the most decent and honorable people I ever met."
Describing Lefkow as "just a very engaging guy," Chicago Reader senior editor Mike Miner, a friend since the late '70s, recalled that Lefkow enjoyed flamenco music.
According to Lefkow's personal biography posted on his law office Web site, his parents were law school classmates, and he was the third of seven children.
Lefkow obtained his bachelor's degree in history in 1962 from North Central College in Naperville and earned his law degree in 1966 from Northwestern University, where his wife also attended law school.
During college, he worked a variety of jobs, working as a grocery store clerk, a bus driver, a substitute teacher, a welfare caseworker and a taxi driver. Eventually, Lefkow opened his own practice in Chicago, specializing in employment law.
Neighbors said the Lefkows were friendly and always willing to get involved in block parties and other events. Michael Lefkow recently helped shovel snow in front of several homes.
Their lives changed sharply in 2003 when Matthew Hale, the 33-year-old founder of the World Church of the Creator, was charged with soliciting Judge Joan Lefkow's murder a month after she had held him in contempt of court on a separate civil suit.
After Hale's arrest, Lefkow, 61, chose to stay on as the judge over the lawsuit that had so engendered Hale's hatred. Despite the alleged death threats, the judge said removing herself from the case would only pass along Hale's hatred to another judge.
Kathleen Markle, a neighbor, said the Lefkows did not talk about the threats. Several neighbors said they didn't notice the threats affect their lives. "Even when the police were watching them, they went about their own business," Markle said. "We would see him walk to the `L' or jump in a taxi and I would see him shop at Jewel by himself."
Hess, who had lunch with Michael Lefkow a couple of weeks ago, said the family had not expressed any security concerns. "Everything seemed great," Hess said.
Ilana Rovner, a federal appeals judge in Chicago, said she has known Joan Lefkow since 1975. "They were a loving couple," Rovner said. "You always saw them together and holding hands."
In court, Joan Lefkow is soft-spoken and shows deep concern for the welfare of defendants. She is known to get personal at sentencings.
During a sentencing last September, Lefkow rebuked an ex-supervisor at a secretary of state licensing facility for passing unqualified motorists on road tests.
"I have four children who are out on the highway," Lefkow told Fernando Murillo in sentencing him to 15 months in prison.