INTERVIEW BY KAREN AVERAGE AND LISA DOUGLAS OF JUDGE GESELL
FOR CIRCUIT NEWSLEITER
FEB. 1991, AS EDITED BY JUDGE GESELL
Judge Gerhard A. Gesell is an active and illustrious member of the District Court bench, as
well as a devoted, longtime resident of Washington, D.C. Al the same time, he maintains a farm in
Loudoun County, Virginia, contributes his time and expenise to legal and educational programs, and
manages to escape. for rare moments of peace, to an island retreat in Maine.
Judge Gesell was born in Los Angeles in 1910 and raised in New Haven. Connecticut; his
father was a professor at Yale University and an eminent physician and child psychologist. Judge
Gesell graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, and renirned to New Haven to attend Yale. He
continued his education at Yal.e Law School and received his J.D. in 1935. Judge GeseU spellt his
summers earning part of his college and law school tuition by sailing boats. He t0ok time to visit
and “walk across Europe” as well. At Yale Law School, be directed the Legal Aid Bureau; during
those years of widespread financial adversity. over 1800 clients received assistance.
Upon graduation, Judge Gesell moved to Washington, D.C. for “six months experience .. .!
haven’t decided if rve had six months experience yet,” he q u ips. Fie accepted a position at the
Securities and Exchange Commission, where he worked in Various legal capacities for five years.
In 1936. Judge GeseU married Peggy Pike. He now says, “We are still married … our golden wedding
was some ,cime ago.” Judge Gesell comments: ‘T haven’t done much shifting around,” in reference
to his years of residence in Washington, D.C. and his enduring marriage.
In 1940, Judge Gesell left the SEC to join Covington & Burling as a partner. He remained
at the firm until his appointment to the Court in December IQ67. During his years at Covington &
Burling, Judge Gesell was a litigator, and now admits he occasionally misses the excitement a trial
lawyer experiences in a bard-fought case. He also served as Chief Assistant Counsel for the Joint
Congressional Committee on the Investig11tion of Pearl Harbor Attack (1945-1947) and Chairman
of the President’s Commission on Egual Opportunity in thcAnned Forces (“I 962-1964). Judge Gesell
notes, “I have had 27 years of public service and 27 years of private service,” and has operated in all
branches of the government. Judge Gesell credits Doris Brown, his secretary, for her skill in helping
the management of his cases and who takes full blame for his mistakes. Doris worked with him for
Fifteen years at Covington & Burling, and accompanied him to the courthquse when he was
appointed to the b.ench.
Judge GeseU enjoys the atmosphere of the courthouse; he has long held an “interest in the
court system” and in the “history of the Circuit.” He recalls the restructuring of the D.C. Court
system in the 1960’s, As chairman of the judicial conference comminee monitoring 1he
reorganization. he recalls working with Judge Wald, Judge Pra(t, Judge Flannery, Judge June Green
nnd Judge Parker, among others; who were then leaders of rhe Bar. “The people who were brought
together on that committee” worked together on the bench as well: they shared “intetest in thecoun
system, and the reorganization brought several of us to this Circuit.”
An active member of the co mmu nit)• before coming to the bench. Judge Gesell made a
particular contribution in the arc.a of education. ‘Tvehad a lot to do with educallon all my life,” Ile
remarks. Judge Gesell h,1s taught classes at the University of Virgmia Law·School an.d lectured at
Yale Law School. In addition, he served as Chairman of the Board of Saint Alban’s School for Boy.s
and on the board of the Madeira School For Gi rl s . Judge Gesell also served on the board of
Judge Gesell considers Washington, D.C. his home. His grandfather practiced law in the
District, and he himself has been a member or the Bar for over ufly years. “I love Washington.” he
says, and asserts lie has long been and continues to be an advocate of Home Rule.
Nevertheless, Judge Gesell does not neglect his Virginia farm. He and his wife raise cattle
and hogs, and grow soybean,s, corn, hay and wheat. Those who enjoy honey can sample some of
Judge Gesell’s special brand; he is a beekeeper and tends 10 sixteen hives.
While not at work as a judge or a farmer, Judge Gesell enjoys spending time with his wife.
Peg. and their two children Peter Gerhard Gese.11 and Patncia Pike Gesell. Peter is a political figure
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has long worked with lhe mentally handicapped. Peter has three
children: Sabina, who attends Vassar College: Alexander and Justine, who are students in Germany.
Pa1sy lives in New York and works for a computer company.
Judge Gesell is an avid reader; be recenllycompletedHedrickSmith’sThe New Russians and
Thomas L. Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, and enjoys Tony Hillerman’s dctec1ive novels as
well. When asked about his hobbies, Judge Gesell notes “three hobbies I don’t have: I don’t talk to
newspapers, I don’t give speeche.s. and I don’t write articles.”