Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the
District of Columbia Circuit
United States Courts
District of Columbia Circuit
Interviews conducted by:
William W. Ross, Esquire
April 23 and April 26, 2002
May I, May 10, and May 17, 2002
June 3 and June 25, 2002
The following pages record interviews conducted on the dates indicated. The interviews
were electronically recorded, and the transcription was subsequently reviewed and edited
by the interviewee.
The contents hereof and all literary rights pertaining hereto are governed by, and are
subject to, the Oral History Agreements included herewith.
© 1998 Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
All rights reserved.
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Oral History Agreements
Honorable Stanley S. Harris . Ill
William W. Ross, Esquire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . v
Oral History Transcript of Interviews on:
April 23, 2002 …………………………………………….. 1
April 26, 2002 . . . . . . . ………. 18
May 1, 2002 …….. . …………. 43
May 10, 2002 . ……….. 66
May 17, 2002 ……………………………………………. 88
May 22, 2002 …………………………………………… 110
June 3, 2002 ……………………………………………. 132
June 25, 2002 …………………………………………… 156
Index & Table of Cases …………………………………………. A-1
Appendix – 1g96 Oral History of Judge Harris …………………………. B-1
Biographical Sketches
Honorable Stanley S. Harris . ………………………………… C-1
William W. Ross, Esquire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . C-3
The goal of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
Circuit is to preserve the recollections of the judges who sat on the U.S. Courts of the District
of Columbia Circuit, and judges’ spouses, lawyers and court staff who played important roles
in the history of the Circuit. The Project began in 1991. Most interviews were conducted
by volunteers who are members of the Bar of the District of Columbia.
Copies of the transcripts of these and additional documents as available- some of which may
have been prepared in conjunction with the oral history – are housed in the Judges’ Library
in the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. Inquiries may be made of the Circuit Librarian as to whether the
transcripts are available at other locations.
Such original audio tapes of the interviews as exist, as well as the original 3.511 diskettes of
the transcripts (in WordPerfect format) are in the custody of the Circuit Executive of the U.S.
Courts for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Such original audio tapes of the interviews as exist as well as the original 3.5″ diskettes of the
transcripts are in the custody of the Circuit Executive of the U. S. Courts for the District of Columbia
Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Oral History Agreement of Stanley S. Harris
I. In consideration of the recording and preservation of my oral history memoir by
the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit, Washington, D.C., and its employees
and agents (hereinafter “the Society”), I, Stanley S. Harris, do hereby grant and convey to the
Society and its successors and assigns all of my rights, title, and interest in the tape rec.ordings,
transcripts and computer diskette of my interviews as described in Schedule A hereto, including
literary rights and copyrights. All copies of the tapes, transcripts and diskette are subject to the
same restrictions herein provided.
2. I also reserve for myself and to the executor of my estate the right to use the tapes,
transcripts and diskette and their content as a resource for any book, pamphlet, article or other
writing of which I or my executor may be the author or co-author.
3. I authorize the Society to duplicate, edit, publish, including publication on the
internet, or permit the use of said tape recordings, transcripts and diskette in any manner that the
Society considers appropriate, and I waive any claims I may have or acquire to any royalties from
such use.
I B,,1,’ct ay of 9’t&1 ‘\,:;, 200’.J . ‘
. f’ d,v, -v l0uj_(ftt—‘4
• · Notary Public
My Commission expir..M!(Commlssion Expires 12/14/07
?- — ·
.St-eP\W-<-3’. Poll oJ.:,
ACCEP Dthis ‘i) -dayof b.j,.,,, ,2003 byF Bai±dtPrettymon,Jr,.
President f ·storicaJ Socie the District of Columbia Circuit.
1 “”‘”” -le,,, BctMI ? – ,,.,
Schedule A
Tape recording(s) and transcript(s) resulting from -?8- interviews of
Stanley S. Harris on the following dates:
Date {Month, Dar, Year) & Title Number of Tapes
April 23, 2002 I (Side A)
April 26, 2002 (Side B)
May I, 2002 1 (Side A)
May 10, 2002 (Side B)
May 17, 2002 l (Side A)
May 22, 2002 (Side B)
June 3, 2002 l
June 25, 2002 l
The transcripts of the 8 interviews are contained on _5_ diskette( s ).
Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Oral History Agreement of William W. Ross
1. Having agreed to conduct an oral history interview with Stanley S. Harris for
the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit, Washington, D.C., and its employees
and agents (hereinafter “the Society’1), 1, William W. Ross, do hereby grant and convey to the
Society and its successors and assigns, all of my right, title, and interest in the tape recordings,
transcripts arid.coinputer diskette of interviews, as described in Schedule A hereto, including
literary rights and copyrights.
2. I authorize the Society, to duplicate, edit, publish, including publication on the
internet, or permit the use of said tape recordings, transcripts and diskette in any manner that the
Society oonsiders appropriate, and I waive any claims l may have or acquire to any royalties from
suCh use.
3. I agree that I will make no use of the interview or the information contained
therein until it is concluded and edited, or until I receive permission from the Society.
SWORN TO AND?CRJBED before me this s;QB day of · £ 1 , 200.3..
My Commission expires–‘D”—-‘q-‘;’-o_,ct_o..cLr:o….._
Tape recording(s) and transcript(s) resulting from __ 8?_ interviews of
Stanley S. Hanis on the following dates:
Date (Month, Day, Year\ & Title Number of Tapes
April 23, 2002 I (Side A)
April 26, 2002 (Side B)
May I, 2002 I (Side A)
May 10, 2002 (Side B)
May 17, 2002 1 (Side A)
May 22, 2002 (Side B)
June 3, 2002 1
June 25, 2002 1
The transcripts of the 8 interviews are contained on _5 _ diskette(s).
An Oral History of Judge Harris was taken in April 1995 by the Historical Society of the
D.C. Circuit. Seven years later, Judge Harris agreed to give a more expansive Oral
History, which was recorded in eight sessions beginning in April 2002 and ending in June
2002. The history taken in 2002 follows. The earlier history, taken in 1995 in one session,
is included as an appendix.
Oral History of STANLEY S. HARRIS
April 23, 2002
This is the first session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral history
project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is Stanley
S. Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross. The date
is April 23, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Excuse me, Judge, I want to go over this material with you. You said
you were born in 1927 in the District of Columbia. Could you tell me about your father and
Judge Harris: My father was Stanley R. Harris, better known as Bucky Harris,
who spent his entire adult life in professional baseball. He was born in Port Jervis, New York, in
1896 and came to Washington with the Washington Senators as a young second baseman back in
1919. My mother was Mary Elizabeth Sutherland. Her parents were Howard and Effie
Sutherland from West Virginia, although originally her father, Howard Sutherland, was from
Fulton, Missouri. He was a two?term Congressman at large from West Virginia from 1913 to
1917. He served one term thereafter in the Senate of the United States. That was from 1917 to
1923. He later became the Alien Property Custodian following World War I, and that’s about all
I can really recall of his professional career.
Mr. Ross: Did you know him?
Judge Harris: Yes, he lived in Washington during the entire time of my youth.
He died at age 84, in 1950, when I was in my junior year at the University of Virginia, and so I
was able to share a reasonable amount ofmy youth with a good awareness of him and a good
relationship with him.
Mr. Ross: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Judge Harris: I have a younger sister. My sister, Sally, is three years younger than
I. She now lives in Orlando, Florida. She was going to become a registered nurse and started
nurse’s training in Baltimore, but developed tuberculosis from one of the patients, presumably,
and had to drop out of nursing school. My younger brother, Richard, is five years younger than I.
He went to Wake Forest University for several years, but turned professional to play baseball
before graduating. He played baseball for three years professionally. He always set three years
as the target to make the big leagues, did not make the big leagues, and so he went on to, first, the
front office of a baseball team in Wilson, North Carolina, and then became a stockbroker.
Mr. Ross: His first name was Richard?
Judge Harris: Richard, yes. He had played at Charlotte, which was a Washington
Senators’ farm team.
Mr. Ross: Right. Do you have grandchildren?
Judge Harris: We have none as yet. I did not get married until I was about thirtys1x.
My oldest son did not get married until he was about thirty-six, so our first grandchild will
be born in just about two months, with the expected due date being June 13th of this year.
Mr. Ross: Congratulations!
Judge Harris: Thank you.
Mr. Ross: Where did you live, say during the first five, six, seven or eight years
of your life?
Judge Harris: I’ve had a little trouble reconstructing those first few years. We
lived, I think, on Connecticut Avenue, not far from the Taft Bridge, but I’ve had trouble pinning
that down. When I was five, we moved into Spring Valley on Hillbrook Lane. I can remember
that rather clearly because that’s about when one’s recollection begins to be recallable. And we
lived in Spring Valley until about my sophomore year in high school, when we moved to 44th
Place in Wesley Heights.
Mr. Ross: R.jght. What sort of house did you have? You had a house in Spring
Valley, did you?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr: Ross: And then a house in Wesley Heights.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Were these suburban? Do you cal1 them suburban houses?
Judge Harris: Well, Wesley Heights and Spring Valley at the time, I suppose,
were among our more upbeat communities on the northwestern edges of town and comfortable
homes, but not at all ostentatious or sprawling.
Mr. Ross: During this entire time was your father managing the baseball team
Judge Harris: My father managed major league teams for a total of twenty-nine
years, and he had three tours with the Washington Senators, two with the Detroit Tigers, one with
the Boston Red Sox, one with the Philadelphia Phillies, one with the New York Yankees. I must
confess I’m a little hazy on the details of how all of the twenty-nine years were spent with which
cities. He also was general manager of the Red Sox for a period of time. He was assistant
general manager of the New York Yankees before he became their manager in 1947, during
which year they won the world’s championship.
Mr. Ross: Did your family reside in Washington during all or part of this time,
even though he was working out of the city?
Judge Harris: Professional sports in general and, l think, baseball in particular can
be very difficult on marriages, and my father, who started managing here in Washington in 1924,
ended up going to Detroit in 1928, I believe, and as time went on the family always stayed here
in Washington, and the separations between my mother and my father became longer and more
difficult as baseball took him more and more to other cities, and ultimately they became divorced
in the mid-1940s, although they remained throughout their entire lives very devoted to one
another, indeed, occasionally, considered the possibility of remarrying, although each of them in
the meantime following their divorce from each other, each did marry someone else one time.
Mr. Ross: So, you had a stepfather.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: How old were you when that marriage took place?
Judge Harris: That was after I got out of the service. My mother was married to a
man named Louis Allen, who was a television weatherman for WMAL-TV here in Washington,
a station which coincidentally I later became a lawyer for. Louis was a fine fellow and I enjoyed
his company.
Mr. Ross: Give me a little bit of a feel, if you can, as to what it was like to be a
ten-year old, letl’s say, and then a teenager– you lived in these three places in Washington, the
two later ones particularly you can remember. What was the feel — your father was away a great
deal of the time?
Judge Harris: Yes, even when he was managing here, of course, fifty percent of
the season was spent on the road.
Mr. Ross: Right.
Judge Harris: And, as a youngster, he invariably, that is, every day that I wasn’t in
school, would take me to the ballpark. I always had a uniform of the home team. I traveled with
the clubs that he had once a year typically. I remember, for example, as an eleven-year old taking
a road trip with the Washington Senators, and that would have been in 1939, and that particular
trip was rather memorable in that we ended up in Yankee Stadium on July 4th of 1939 with
Washington playing the Yankees that day, and that happened to be the day on which Lou Gehrig
gave his rather immortal retirement speech, dying of ALS and stating quite memorably that that
day he considered himself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Mr. Ross: What were the things that interested you most in the experience of
being associated with your father and with the team?
Judge Harris: I suppose thinking back on my childhood, that it revolved so
closely about the family and my father’s ball clubs and my school, whatever school I happened to
be in at the time. The players who played for my father were just great with me as a kid. For
example, I was a left-handed first baseman as a young man and never had to buy a glove.
Mickey Vernon always gave me his once he was through with them. Ifl took a road trip with the
team, in order to give my dad a night off from looking out for me, I would be taken to dinner by
the likes of Shirley Pavich, one night, or Bob Considine, another night, or Francis Stano, another
night, with those of course being very well-known sportswriters of the day.
Mr. Ross: I’m interested particularly in y our accounts of your father to see
possibly what extent they come forward in time reflected in you.
Judge Harris: Well, I suppose there’s a good and a bad side to everything. My
father was of necessity one who did not pennit himself to become too close to his players,
because had he permitted. himself to do so and had he been forced to cut a particular player, tell
him he was through, it would have been much more difficult ifhe had been too c1ose to them.
And, somewhat of that reserve carried over into his relationships with his children. And, having
grown up with that sort of a father, and he was a great guy, I often fear that I’ve had a little bit of
the same sort ofreserve with my children. I don’t know whether it’s been appropriate not to try
to overly direct what they’re doing or whether I should have been more controlling, but we are
what we are.
Mr. Ross: I suppose one of the things one can learn if one chooses to in later
years is the impracticality of trying to assert some kind of ultimate control over children.
Judge Harris: Yes, I’ve always had the fear ifl attempted. to exert too much
influence towards one of our sons and lead them in a direction that they ultimately found
themselves unhappy in that I would bear some negative feelings about that. For example, our
oldest son, who is now a lawyer, I neither encouraged or discouraged to go to law school. I
simply told him that ifhe decided to become a lawyer, he’d be a very good one and let it go at
Mr. Ross: So, you were very much absorbed in the team, and I guess you would
have gotten to kriow pretty well any nwnber of people who were involved with the team, the
players and coaches and so on.
Judge Hanis: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Did you ever meet Walter Johnson?
Judge Harris: I met him but I did not know him. Walter’s playing days ended the
year I was born. He pitched in the 1924 and ’25 World Series; that was pretty much the twilight
of his career. I was not born until 1927. so by the time I was able to relate to Dad’s players,
Walter Johnson was no longer in the picture.
Mr. Ross: The Johnsons were neighbors of ours and we saw more of his mother
than we did of their family because they lived further out, but a childhood playmate of mine was
one of his sons. We used to hunt together. I had a memorable occasion when that boy said, “Do
you want to catch Pa?” And, I said, “What?” And he said, “Pa’s out there. Let’s go on out.” So
we went out, and I had, of course, seen Mr. Johnson around and said, “How are you, Sir?” and so
on. So, he said, “Sure.” So, Pug, this is what I called him, got a catcher’s mitt, and Johnson
went in and came out with baseballs, and he could hold a large number of baseballs in one hand,
and Pug– there was sort of a pitcher’s mound there outside of their house and a home plate, and
so on — and so he said, “Now you squat down like this,” and he put a mask on me and said,
“Hold your glove and for God’s sake, don’t move it.” So, then Pug came behind me, you see,
and Johnson wound up and let loose. There was a kind of hissing sound, you know, and then
something I couldn’t see came right at me. He threw about eight or ten balls at me and each one
hit this little spot just like that, you know, so I “catched” Walter Johnson. He was a very taciturn
man, friendly, very nice man, but not one to engage in long conversations with small boys.
J1.J.dge Harris: I later had some modest contacts with his daughter, Carolyn, and
his son, Walter, but I never really lmew him anywhere near as well as many of Dad’s players.
Mr. Ross: So, you were involved with the team, and, of course, you were
involved with your family. Did you like to hunt or hike or fish?
Judge Harris: No, I was never big on that, and I think back on one occasion on
– 7-
which my father, who did like to hunt and later came to like to fish, took me to a fann, and there
was a rabbit along a hedgerow, and I was encouraged by some of the adults there to shoot that
rabbit with a shotgun. The rabbit was not moving, and I was not very pleased with what I had
done after I had done it, and I haven’t done much in the way of hunting ever since except for
occasionally blasting a dratted crow.
Mr. Ross: Did you have aspirations about playing baseball as your brother, for
Judge Harris: I played all of my life in school, in the service, in college, a little
semi-pro, but while I think I could field well enough to play in the big leagues, I certainly could
not hit well enough to play in the big leagues. And if you ‘re not going to make the big leagues,
to me, pursue an education and let the baseball go by the boards after you’ve had a lot of fun with
Mr. Ross: Were you a reader?
Judge Harris: Not extensively. I think my family generally is not among the
world’s most rapid readers, and I’ve read some, but I would not say I’m a voracious reader.
Now, of course, professionally I’ve had to do an awful lot of reading, enough so that recreational
reading did not have as much appeal to me as ifl had some other way of making a living.
Mr. Ross: Spending the day with the statutes at large is not conducive to spending
an evening with Plato or Shakespeare.
Judge Harris: Particularly since the advent of television, which makes it a lot
easier just to sit down and relax.
Mr. Ross: Tell me about your mother.
Judge Harris: My mother was a marvelous woman, a lovely woman, a very fine
person, who maintained a loving home for all three of us. And, as I said, she and Dad had a great
relationship that did deteriorate some as can happen, but aU my memories of her are very fond.
She later developed cancer of the tongue and jaw and died at seventy-three in 1978 about a year
after my father died on his 81 st birthday.
Mr. Ross: She came from partly a political background.
Judge Harris: Yes, she came to Washington when her father was elected to the
House of Representatives, and the family stayed here from then on.
Mr. Ross: Did you pick up on that political scene at all at that time? Did you
have associations with your grandfather and perhaps other relatives?
Judge Harris: Oh, I remember other members of the Senate that would socialize
with my grandparents, and I came to know some of them as a little kid being with others.
Washington was quite a different city, of course, in those days, and Calvin Coolidge was quite a
baseball fan when he was President. And when my mother and father were married, the
Coolidges were invited to the wedding and came. And some years later after my mother died, I
went through her papers and was intrigued to find a handwritten letter signed by Grace Coolidge
saying the President and l accept your kind invitation to the wedding of Stanley Harris and
Elizabeth Sutherland. The wives of Presidents in those days did not have staffs and took care of
their social obligations on their own.
Mr. Ross: Where did you go to school?
Judge Harris: I began at Horace Mann Elementary School, which is on New
Mexico Avenue, roughly between Spring Valley and Wesley Heights, so it is essentially the same
school district. After going through that elementary school, I went to Landon School in
Bethesda, Maryland, for the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. The life of a baseball manager is
an insecure one. If a team does poorly, you cannot fire the players, so you fire the manager. So,
while he managed for twenty-nine years, which was more than any man in the history of the
game who did not have an ownership interest in his team, with those two other men being Connie
Mack of the Philadelphia Phillies and John McGraw of the New York Giants, still Dad ended up
being fired a nwnber of times and one of those firings coincided with the time to pay the Landon
tuition, and so I left Landon and went to Woodrow Wilson High School here in Washington,
where I finished in 1945.
Mr. Ross: Woodrow Wilson was a fine school in those days.
Judge Harris: It certainly was, and one of the things people so seldom talk about
in this era of women lawyers and women doctors with the limited professional opportunities that
women had back then, the terribly, terribly, bright female teachers that we had in public high
schools in those days were just pretty mind-boggling. They were wonderful.
Mr. Ross: That certainly is true, isn’t it? That’s an interesting observation.
Judge Harris: With teaching and nursing being the principal occupational
opportunities for bright women in those days.
Mr. Ross: So, you went on to the University of Virginia.
Judge Harris: Well, when I graduated from Wilson in 1945, World War II was
stil1 going on. I was seventeen. I enlisted in the Army Specialized Training Reserve Program
and was sent to VPI, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in Blacksburg, Virginia, for a number of
months before going on regular active duty with the Anny. 1 spent two years in the Anny, most
of which was spent as an instructor at the Engineering School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. I was
discharged in 1947 and then entered the University of Virginia.
Mr. Ross: What kind of a college was undergraduate college? What kind of a
place was the university?
Judge Harris: I absolutely loved it at the time, and I think that the total student
body when I was there, when I began in 1947, was only about 5,000 students. It was not yet
coed. The Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the Mary Washington
College of the University of Virginia. That happens to be the college to which my wife went,
although I did not know her at that point. She’s fourteen years younger than I. Virginia was a
wonderful school at that point. Charlottesville, much like Washington, was a relatively sleepy
community, grown considerably since.
Mr. Ross: You think you got a good education there?
Judge Harris: Yes, very much so. I had an unlikely pair of objectives when I got
out of the Army and began to pick a school. I decided upon Virginia because I thought it had the
ideal combination of a first-rate varsity baseball team and a first-rate law school. Not denigrating
the undergraduate school which was very good, but the law school, I think, was higher ranked
nationally and it had a superb baseball team, so the two appealed to me greatly.
Mr. Ross: And it worked out?
Judge Hanis: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: As a boy who had grown up in Washington, did you feel comfortable
with an atmosphere, the culture of the university, accepting of it?
Judge Harris: Yes, although at that point there’s no question but that some of the
students, and again they were all males, some of the students from more southern jurisdictions
were more segregationist than I at that point, but there always is going to be a mix of viewpoints
at any institution.
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Judge Harris: And, you didn’t have to go very far south to encounter that, a lot of
the folks from Richmond were still quite of the segregationist orientation.
Mr. Ross: Do you remember a teacher that made the strongest impact on you?
Judge Harris: No, the undergraduate professors from whom I took courses were
not really known to me. I personally never developed any relationships with them. The law
school faculty I thought was outstanding, and there with a smaller community and sharing more
social events I came to know a number of the professors reasonably well and had very high
opinions of all them with whom I dealt, no particular one, with the possible exception of a man
named Hardy Dillard, who later became Dean and later served on the Court of International
Justice in the Hague and was my contracts professor and was quite an extraordinary individual.
Mr. Ross: What sort of girls did you date when you were in, say, college and law
Judge Harris: Nice girls, attractive girls.
Mr. Ross: Mary Washington girls?
Judge Harris: I think I did date one Mary Washington girl before my wife went
there, but I tended to be more of a somewhat serial dater of nice young ladies who were
integrated into my family as friends of everybody and never quite got around to manying any of
them until falling in love with my wife.
Mr. Ross: One might say you were fortunate.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: Did you write anything that you can recall or you have retained during
those years? Did you try your hand at different kinds of writing?
Judge Harris: No, nothing beyond what I had to do for school, with the first
significant writing coming, of course, after I had entered law school, writing for the law review,
but essentially not doing anything other than that.
Mr. Ross: Theatrics?
Judge Harris: Yes, I did some theatrics at Landon. I was part of the group that
would put on plays. With Landon being a boys’ school, when I was there in the seventh, eighth
and ninth grades, I was smaller and younger than the high-school age guys, so in a couple of their
plays it fell my lot to play the role of the female. And in law school we put on what was called
the Libel Show every year, my legal fraternity which was lampooning law school life i n general
and the faculty in particular, and I was quite active both in writing and acting.
Mr. Ross: I went to St. James School and we played Landon in sports at that time
Judge Harris: I might add that my principal cohort in law school and in writing
and acting in what we called the Libel Show was my classmate and life-long friend, Barrett
Mr. Ross: Yes. Barrett Prettyman, Sr., and my father were very close friends. I
knew something of Barrett when we were boys, although he was older than I was, some few
years. That makes a big difference then.
Judge Harris: The senior Prettyman, Judge Prettyman, was very gracious to me,
having gotten to know him through his son, Barrett. He always invited me to the Circuit Judicial
Conference and proposed me for membership in the Chevy Chase Club and in general was just a
marvelous guy and very supportive ofme. I was very fond of him.
Mr. Ross: Did you get to lrnow Bo Laws, who was very close to our family?
Judge Harris: Not well. My later law partner, Frank Reifsnyder, manied Nancy
Lee Laws, one of Bo Laws’ daughters, and I knew his son, Bolitha, Jr.
Mr. Ross: Bozie.
Judge Harris: Bozie, well, but I believe that the timing of Judge Laws’ death was
such that I was very young in the legal profession when he died of what I believe was a brain
tumor. I had met him, but did not really know him.
Mr. Ross: And Nancy Lee was a brilliant young woman. I remember her
wedding so well to Frank, and then her youngest sister, Ileta, Leta Laws, was a beautiful woman.
Judge Harris: Yes, still is. I just got a letter from Frank Reifsnyder saying that
Nancy Lee’s health is not that great.
Mr. Ross: I had heard that. I saw him six months ago. Did you like Landon?
Judge Harris: Yes, but I’m one of those folks — toss me in any pool and I’m
happy in it. I enjoy whatever surroundings I happen to find myself in and look for the bright side
of things rather than for the negative. I was very happy at Landon, I was very happy at Wilson,
very happy at Virginia. I like the pools that I swim in.
Mr. Ross: Well, for those ofus who had rough edges and dissati sfactions, you’re
almost too well adjusted one might say.
Judge Harris: Indeed, I fairly enjoyed the Anny.
Mr. Ross: Wow! I w as in the Navy in the Pacific on a destroyer being a little bit
older than you. I enjoyed that. We didn’t get hit very hard and that was the important thing.
Judge Harris: In retrospect, I was pretty fortunate in the Army in that I did play
baseball for the Fort Belvoir team, but I did that at a time when I happened to be an instructor at
the Engineering School, which taught not only soldiers who were engineers but also officers
from the armies from other countries. I didn’t realize it at the time but in retrospect, having been
an eighteen-year-old kid and standing up in front of an awful lot of people, having to teach a
relatively complex subject, namely topographic photogrammetry, which is the making of maps
from aerial photographs, was marvelous accidental training for becoming a lawyer.
Mr. Ross: Yes, I would think so, yes. When you graduated from law school, you
went into Frank Hogan and Nelson Hartson’s law finn.
Judge Harris: Correct, although Frank Hogan had died in 1944. Nels Hartson, of
course, I got to know we11, but I did not know Frank Hogan.
Mr. Ross: I notice from the deposition that -Judge
Harris: Randy Norton.
Mr. Ross: Randy Norton’s deposition, I’m having a lapse on George, your
litigation partner there.
Judge Harris: Nubby Jones was the -Mr.
Ross: Yea.
Judge Harris: Edmund Jones was the principal litigation partner.
Mr. Ross: Yes, that was George Homing. I saw a lot of George Homing because
he was involved with energy law, and I remember being out at one of the bar conventions having
a drink with him, and he was a co1orfu1 character.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Could be difficult.
Judge Harris: It was his difficultness that led to El Paso Natural Gas, which was
our principal client in that area, deciding that they would not wish to continue to have him do
their work. George Homing had been an officer in the Navy during the war. He had a tendency
to think that people fit into two categories, either flag rank officers or ordinary seamen.
Mr. Ross: Ordinary seamen.
Judge Harris: And what happens in the business world, of course, is that the
ordinary seaman that you sometimes do not treat so well when they’re kids, ultimately become
officers of your clients.
Mr. Ross: I’ve seen that happen. I was out having a drink with him somewhere.
He had had a drink or two, and he raised his glass, and he said, “Bill, I propose a toast to my
clients.” I said, “Fine, George, we’ll drink to that.” He said, “I love my clients, but next to
loving them, I love the man that sues my clients.”
Judge Harris: Well, your recollection is quite correct in that George did basically
trial work before he got into the work for El Paso Natural Gas. I think of him often when I go
into town and look over at Rosslyn with the practically Manhattan-like appearance of Rosslyn,
Virginia, remembering when it was just a sleepy little area of two-story buildings, one of which
was Homing’s Pawn Shop, for which I assume he was very well paid when they sold it.
Mr. Ross: Good location. Oh, he was a character.
Judge Harris: He loved to go to lunch with associates at the firm, but would very
carefully never pay the sales tax on his portion of the bill.
Mr. Ross: Well, we have been going for an hour and a half roughly, and I think
I’ve done more talking than you have, but that will not be the rule in subsequent sessions. Why
don’t we break now and schedule another one soon if your time permits. This concludes the first
tape of the oral history of Stanley Harris held on April 23, 2002. It’s adjourned.
Oral History of STANLEY S. HARRIS
April 26, 2002
This is the second session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral
history project of the Historical Society of the District of Colwnbia Circuit. The interviewee is
Stanley Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross.
The date is April 26, 2002.
Mr. Ross: I wanted to ask you in this session about your period of private
practice. I believe·you were in practice with one law firm for eighteen years.
Judge Harris: Yes, actually a little over seventeen.
Mr. Ross: A little over seventeen. And that was Hogan & Hartson.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: That was one of the largest law firms in Washington at that time.
When was that founded, do you recall?
Judge Harris: The firm originally functioned as a proprietorship under Frank
Hogan, and officially became a partnership in January 1938.
Mr. Ross: Could you describe the firm to me at the time you entered it?
Judge Harris: Well, at the time, I became the twenty-fifth lawyer in the firm. I
might note parenthetically it now has 945 lawyers. I went to their partners’ dinner just a very few
nights ago at the Shoreham, and it was part of a retreat with partners from all over the world.
Hogan & Hartson has eighteen offices now, and the large ballroom at the Shoreham was
completely packed, including spouses, so it was a far cry from what I experienced. And the firm
had indeed set twenty-five as a theoretical maximum, above which it did not wish to go. So,
when I joined them, they thought that’s as big as they wanted to get.
Mr. Ross: What was their practice in general?
Judge Harris: Well, Hogan & Hartson had the largest trial practice in town, which
was headed up by Edmund Jones. They represented DC Transit, or Capital Transit, l forget
which was the correct name back at that point. And they also at that time represented insurance
carriers, such as Travelers and Liberty Muhl.al. So, they had a lot of trial work. I might say that
later as Hogan & Hartson’s biHing rates increased, they priced themselves out of the insurance
representation, which I resisted when I was a partner in the firm because I thought it was such a
great way to train young lawyers in trial work, and being able to get young lawyers into court is
not simple in law firms these days. But Nels Hartson did tax and trust and estate work; he
headed that up. There was a significant tax department, headed up by Seymour Mintz, and
George Monk also did a lot of trust and estate work, sol would say largely it was
communications, which was the field that I went into, trial work, trust and estates and some
antitrust work and that was principally it.
Mr. Ross: The more prominent partners at that time were the two named partners,
or was Frank Hogan around at that time?
Judge Harris: Frank Hogan died in 1944.
Mr. Ross: So, in addition to Hartson, there was George Monk, there was Nubby
Jones, there was Seymour Mintz —
Judge Harris: Arthur Phelan, Jim Rogers, Lester Cohen-·
Mr. Ross: Who was the principal partner in communications?
Judge Harris: Duke Patrick —
Mr. Ross: Oh, I remember him.
Judge Harris: — who had been the general counsel of the Federal Radio
Commission and had then come to Hogan & Ha rtson, so Duke Patrick and Lester Cohen were the
principal ones in the communications section at that time.
Mr. Ross: About how many lawyers would you say spent a substantial part of
their time in that section?
Judge Harris: About six, six essentially full time.
Mr. Ross: What sort of FCC work did you specialize in?
Judge Harris: Well, at that point in time they were having comparative hearings
for television channels which were allocated to different cities, and those channels obviously
being quite valuable, there was more than one applicant for them in the major cities and there
were a lot of comparative hearings going on to see which company as an applicant would become
entitled to use a particular channel in a particular location. So, comparative hearings took up an
awful lot of the work, along with related appeals taken from the allocation of a channel to one
Mr. Ross: Did you represent applicants for those licenses?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: So, you were in competition with other applicants?
Judge Harris: That’s correct.
Mr. Ross: That must have been an interesting and even rather exciting thing for a
young lawyer to be put into.
Judge Harris: It was, in part, because of where I fit in the structure of the
communications section. Everybody else was meaningfully more senior than I, which meant that
I was basically drafting pleadings for the commission and writing briefs in the Court of Appeals.
And they deferred to me as far as arguing the cases in the Court of Appeals, so as a kid just a year
or two out of law school, I was arguing cases in the United States Court of Appeals, which does
not happen all that often.
Mr. Ross: Almost extraordinary. That gives you a real boost in a career, I think,
if you survive it
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: Could you tell me about your first argument?
Judge Harris: No, they sort of blur together at this point. That’s back in the ’54-
’55 era, and I can’t recall just exactly which one.
Mr. Ross: Were you cahn as can be, or were you all charged up, or do you
remember an incident, for example, in an interchange between yourself and one of the judges on
the panel?
Judge Harris: One thing I remember rather vividly that I’ve since passed on to
virtually every young lawyer whom I’ve had an opportunity to counsel, and that’s been a lot
because by a curious quirk I ended up becoming the key hiring person at Hogan & Hartson at a
very young age. But I learned, and perhaps this may have happened to you also, in my first
argwnent I prepared thoroughly and got in the cab to go to the courthouse and couldn’t remember
a thing about the case, and panicked, and then when I got up and started talking, just all of a
sudden the cloud lifted and I was fine. So, I’ve since told other lawyers to anticipate a
comparable reaction, but not to worry about it.
Mr. Ross: I guess there are lawyers that have that temporary amnesia and it
do esn’t lift, which would be a dismaying experience. Did you enjoy the work?
Judge Harris: Very much. I liked the people with whom I worked. I found the
subject matter interesting and enjoyed the clients that we had.
Mr. Ross: Can you remember a particular client or clients that you worked with
that were most interesting to you, or stimulating, or the aspects of their representation?
Judge Harris: Well, I suppose the most interesting was the group that was
assembled to apply for Channel 7 in Miami, Florida. It was a consolidation of quite fascinating
people. It was Jack Knight, head of the Knight newspapers; Jim Cox, the head of the Cox
newspapers; and a man named Niles Trammell, who was the former president of the National
Broadcasting Compa ny. And they got together to apply for that channel, and they were a
wonderfully talented, interesting group of people with whom to work. And I still remember as a
kid working on pleadings and having Niles Trammell, the former president of NBC, being
around the office and saying, “Stan, can I make Xerox copies of that for you? Is there anything I
can do to help out?” He was such a wonderful, down-to-earth guy.
Mr. Ross: That must have been, even then, a highly competitive situation because
Miami was growing, and the market would have been, I assume, looked on as a very promising
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: So, there was a lot of competition?
Judge Harris: Yes, and we ended up winning in the comparative hearing, but later
there was a member of the Federal Communications Commission named Richard Mack who
apparently had been improperly influenced in some of these comparative television hearings. So
a cloud came over a number of the commission’s awarding of channels and ultimately unfairly,
in my view of course, because no lawyer likes to lose or thinks he should have. They ended up
having the channel taken away from them after a hearing on possible ex parte influence.
Mr. Ross: That didn’t touch the law firm, I take it.
Judge Harris: No.
Mr. Ross: It was something quite behind the scenes.
Judge Harris: Correct.
Mr. Ross: Our oral history project is quite interested in reactions, contemporary
reactions to government process. When you had gotten your feet wet and felt that you knew the
commission, knew its personnel, and knew that seeing the commissioners working and seeing the
interactions, the commission with Congress and the administration, what kind of a view did you
have of that commission at that time?
Judge Harris: I had a good view. We are what we are, and fortunately I’ve always
been one of these people who treats the street sweeper just as I treat the president of a company.
I mean to me everybody’s the same, so I had good natural relations with the members of the staff
at the commission, who seemed to appreciate that, got to know members of the commission in a
favorable way. One, Bob Lee, asked me ifl would ]eave the finn and come be his legal assistant
for a while. I di’d not do that, of course, but I thought by and large, it was a fine group. We did
represent an organization called Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation from its inception, and
Capital Cities ultimately grew enormously and ended up acquiring American Broadcasting
Company. I might interject that at some point ABC offered me the job as its general counsel, but
I turned that down because I didn’t want to move to New York. Capital Cities was then headed
up by a man named Frank Smith, who was the business manager of Lowell Thomas of news
fame. And Frank, and I’m afraid he’s still correct, although he has long since died, made the
comment to me one day, he said, “Stan, you’re a great lawyer, but there’s one thing wrong with
you.” And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “You still believe in Santa Claus.” And what he
meant was that I believed the conunission and every other body would be deciding things on the
merits and proceeded with that assumption. Frank was indicating that everything was not always
decided on its merits.
Mr. Ross: Were you disabused to that idea in time, or did you carry it through all
the way through?
Judge Harris: I still believe in Santa Claus. My hope springs eternal for the
goodness of man.
Mr. Ross: It’s a useful psychological state if you want to practice law on a decent
level. Lee was on the commission a very long time.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: I believe he served as a commissioner on an independent agency longer
than any other person.
Judge Harris: I think you’re probably quite right in that.
Mr. Ross: I remember reading that somewhere.
Judge Harris: And he had a great sense of humor.
Mr. Ross: He was a consummate, I have to be careful with my words, he was
very politically adroit in a good sense, knowing where all the skeletons were and where all the
power lay in a situation, and I suppose was a fine public servant.
Judge Harris: Yes, I think so.
Mr. Ross: What was the atmosphere like, and I’m going to, I should say
parenthetically we get into this all the time these questions of confidentially — I know you’ll be
acutely aware of that, but they are very interested in details about law firm culru.re and the feel of
the experience and how it’s changed over time. And so, I’ll ask you some searching questions,
and you’ll have to demur at times, or you’ll say I can only talk about that in this way. But, one of
the real strengths of this process is you can get details out on the historical record which would
never get into a book between hard covers. Who ran the firm when you came in?
Judge Harris: The firm was run by its three-member executive committee made
up of Nels Hartson, Edmund Jones and Duke Patrick.
Mr. Ross: And, did you have underneath, did you have a democratic process
where the partners would confer, and to what extent was the law firm, how was it structured in
terms of making decisions?
Judge Harris: The executive committee pretty much ran it, and as a youngster, if
there was friction at the higher levels in the firm, I never sensed it. I thought it was a wonderful
group of people that all pulled together for the good of the firm, and it saddens me to talk to
some of my contemporaries who’ve continued to practice during the thirty years or so that I’ve
been on the bench to see that some of that collegiality and pulling for each other has been lost. I
remember one striking illustration. I tried when I had any kind of a lull in the communications
work to work for other sections in the firm, and I helped out different sections, and I did a major
piece of work in an antitrust case in which Pillsbury was our client. And the antitrust section was
headed up by Joe Smith, and one day I got a telephone call from Joe Smith, who asked me to
come to his office and he introduced me to the general counsel of Pillsbury, and said to this man,
whose name was Bradshaw Mintner, “I want you to meet the young man who did that piece of
work that you liked so much.” Well, today I can’t conceive of a top partner in a law firm
bringing in a young associate and introducing him to the client and saying this is the kid that did
that work for you.
Mr. Ross: Right. There was a division in the firm at that time between a partner
and an associate.
Judge Hanis: Correct.
Mr. Ross: Were all of the partners what were called equity partners in the law
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: And in a partners meeting, associates didn’t attend.
Judge Hanis: That’s correct.
Mr. Ross: How many associates did you have?
Judge Harris: My best recollection is that it was split about half and half between
partners and associates.
Mr. Ross: Did most of the associates advance to the partnership?
Judge Harris: Yes, and in part, of course, I think that’s one of the striking
differences between law firms such as the ones with which you and I grew up and the ones of
today. If you take Hogan & Hartson at 25 and liken it to a pyramid growing, almost inevitably if
you worked hard and had ability, you would rise to the top of the firm because the base would
widen as more lawyers came in. Today these kids who join a law firm with 900 lawyers let’s
say, I think the average stay of a new associate at these firms is something like, I was told the
other day, it’s something like two years. They cannot really grow and stay with the firm because
the firms do not grow exponentially the way they did before.
Mr. Ross: That’s an area I want to get into, because parenthetically I’m very
interested in looking at the bar experience from 1953 to 1971, for example, and the changes in the
practice of law during that time. I know you’re looking back at it from the perspective of some
years, but you would have a lot to say about it. Did the firm have a billable hours standard?
Judge Harris: No.
Mr. Ross: Did you bill on a time basis, or periodically or a combination? How
did you bill your clients?
Judge Harris: I could only speak for the communications section, all of that was
done just on a hourly basis.
Mr. Ross: On an hourly basis.
Judge Hanis: And, for example, with Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation,
which I mentioned, it was a new company in the field, although it became enormously successful
and I unfortunately didn’t buy its stock, but the firm carried and didn’t send it any bills for a
couple of years until it really got its feet on the ground and firms could do that and did.
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Judge Harris: In fact, I remember after a couple of years when a very significant
bill was sent to Capital Cities for about two years’ work, the head of the communications section,
Duke Patrick, realized later that a significant block of time had not been billed for, and so sent a
supplementary bill for, as I reca11, about $35,000 or $40,000 and a question was raised by the
client as why this was suddenly being added, and Duke Patrick’s response was, “What’s ten
pounds to a horse?” meaning that the addition to the bill was so relatively minor, why were they
Mr. Ross: You have to have a good relationship with a client. So, you would
submit your time records and they’d be incorporated in the billing, along with the firm’s other
costs, and you told me that you worked on pleadings, you worked on appellate briefs, you were
allowed to argue a number of appellate cases.
Judge Harris: As well as cases before the FCC.
Mr. Ross; Before the FCC. And you saturated yourself in that industry.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: One of the characteristics of this kind of practice is you have to know
the industry as well as you know the law.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: And that’s a part of its interest rather than, say as if you were a litigator
and you have one case in one industry and another in another and it’s — did you find that
absorbing, being a part of this rapidly moving chain of events in the development of
Judge Harris: Yes, very much so, and I remember a big hearing over the question
of whether a transmitter for a television station permissibly could be moved from one place to
another, which required getting into the technical end ofit to a very high degree, far more than
my knowledge permitted me to function, but working with the radio engineers. This, of course,
is not unique to communications law, all lawyers who get into technical areas have to do this, but
I remember writing one pleading on the propagation characteristics of certain transmitters under
certain circumstances and writing a very erudite pleading, which a year later I could not even
understand. I had learned it enough to be able to deal with it, but then couldn’t retain it.
Mr. Ross: Lawyers have to empty their minds out. Would you say you were
given a lot of responsibility ahnost from the start?
Judge Hanis: I would say it was almost extraordinary. Duke Patrick, head of the
communications section, had a great deal of faith in me and also was at the point in his career
when, I think, he didn’t want to get into a lot of the details, and so the two meshed together to
result in my having a unique amount of responsibility at a young age. I also learned though that
some of the senior folks with whom young lawyers deal often were willing to have a fresh mind
make a decision for them, so that they didn’t have to make one. I remember at one point we were
representing CBS, and the general counsel of Columbia Broadcasting System, a man named Julie
Brauner, telephoned Duke Patrick to get an answer and Patrick was not there, and he talked to
me. I explained that Duke Patrick was not in, and could I take a message, and he said, ..N o, I just
want an answer to this one question,” and laid it out and he said, “What do you think?” and I told
him, and he was very happy and did what I said. I thought he wanted somebody else to be able to
tell him what to do, so that if it worked or didn’t work, he didn’t have to make the decision
himself as to which route to follow.
Mr. Ross: You must have had a lot of self-confidence, a lot of confidence in
Judge Hanis: Yes, I like to think without being burdened with any undue ego, but
I did have confidence in what I was doing.
Mr. Ross: And that projected, it projected to your partners and to your clients.
Would you say that that characteristic of yours which is dear today was a help to you in law
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: That’s the kind of softball question that you can hit out of the stadium.
Judge Harris: An illustration of how law practice was at the time — when I came
with Hogan & Hartson, obviously just a kid out of law school, although I had spent a couple of
years in the Army before going to law school, but at that time when people would apply to the
firm, a given letter applying for a position as an associate might go to Partner A, then the next
letter would be given to Partner B, and the next letter to Partner C, and so there was an
inconsistency in how job applicants were handled. After observing that, I went to the executive
committee, and I said in today’s legal climate a firm cannot function this way, it’s got to be
centralized from a standpoint of processing applicants to be able to hire the best possible young
lawyers we can get. And much like the Anny, they said, “Fine, you do it.” And so, for quite a
number of years, I, as a fresh-scrubbed kid, was the key person in hiring new associates at the
Mr. Ross: What were you looking for as a new lawyer? What were the qualities
that you were seeking — how would you characterize it?
Judge Harris: Well, maybe I might answer in part by explaining how I happened
to go to Hogan & Hartson. At the time I was — my mother and father were divorced when I
graduated from law school, and I gave serious consideration to practicing in New York where my
mother had a sister and a brother-in-law to whom she was very close. I thought that she might be
happier there. and certainly there are a lot of legaJ opportunities in New York. I interviewed
firms in New York. I had written to Hogan & Hartson, and I had gotten the kind of a letter back
that typically is a turn.off. It said we don’t have any openings, but if you’re ever around, we’d be
delighted to talk to you. Well, I took that communication at face value and assumed they didn’t
have anything. One ofrny close friends was Paul McArdle, who was at Covington & Burling,
having practiced in New York, and I’d made arrangements to meet Paul McArdle at the Old
Ebbitt Grill one afternoon at the end of the workday. Paul McArdle, of course, became a
Superior Court Judge and was just a superb all•around lawyer, probably the best lawyer
Covington ever had that didn’t become partner in the firm. But I must confess I went to the Old
Ebbitt Grill, and I got the Evening Star, and I sat down because it was early, and I believe I had a
beer as I sat there and read the paper. It was still r.vo hours before I was going to meet Paul
McArdle. And I thought this is silly, I’m not going to sit in this bar for two hours. Hogan &
Hartson said to come by ifl was in the neighborhood. I was only a half block away, so I called
Edmund Jones, who had written me that letter and went by basically sort ofto kill time, and
walked out with an offer and then met Paul McArdle later and said, “What’s wrong with Hogan
& Hartson?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “!just went in there, and they interviewed
me and made me an offer.” And Paul said, “In my opinion, it’s the best firm in town. Grab the
offer.” Of such •tittle things are careers shaped.
Mr. Ross: They certainly are. When you came into that firm, it was not
customary, almost universally not customary, for quality law firms to hi.re many, if any, women,
and I’m not putting the focus on Hogan & Hartson as such. I’m thinking about the overall
practice in the District of Columbia, which is one of the things perhaps our oral history could
-3 I·
reflect. Did you consider women applicants seriously?
Judge Hanis: J don’t recall any. fumy law school class at Virginia?- J entered
there in the fall of 1950 and graduated in ’53 — I don’t think we had — J remember one woman on
the Law Review. There were a handful of others in the class, so that purely as a matter of
statistics, there were so few women lawyers that there were very few women applicants for a
given law finn.
Mr: Ross: Was there a woman associate during the early years working with you?
Judge Harris: No. I don’t believe the first female associate joined the firm until
the ’60s.
:Mr. Ross: When you considered applicants what were the things that in practice
you focused on, for example, like personality and quickness of mind, and what were the things
you looked at?
Judge Harris: I suppose I’ve been kidded a little bit about starting a bit of a
revolutionary idea at Hogan & Hartson. I had the feeling that somebody could be a very nice,
likable person and still have a lot of talent, so I looked for people with the requisite talent and
credentials, but then thought hey, if we’re going to hire them, it ought to be somebody that we’re
going to like working with and that ow clients are going to like having them work for them, and
so J put a lot of emphasis not just on academic achievement and intellect but on the whole
Mr. Ross: You didn’t hire by resume?
Judge Harris: Correct.
Mr. Ross: I remember I was in on one of the committees. I was a senior partner
words “pernicious oversimplification,” I think it took about eight seconds to find the location of
that language that I anguished over for hours and hours trying to find.
Mr. Ross: Do you remember the Decennial Digest?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Going back and back and back.
Judge Hanis: Yes, and I also remember, as doubtless you do, too, the number of
times that I felt that Providence had led me to just the right thing because research just was not
that precise, and sometimes you would just stumble across exactly what you wanted, and you
didn’t know really quite how you had gotten to it.
Mr. Ross: And then there was the dread thought that you might not find the thing
that was there despite diligence and being advised about it in an oral argument or in somebody
else’s brief. When did you become a partner, roughly?
Judge Harris: By the time I became a partner — of course the partnership track
was longer in those days, and I always felt quite well compensated, but by the time I became a
partner, the finn had gone to a two-tiered partnership track. They had the so-ca11ed limited
partners and equity partners, and I first became a limited partner and then a fuH partner with a
couple of years in between. My best recollection is that it was eight or nine years before I
became a partnet.
Mr. Ross: So, it would have been the tum of the 1960s, probably ’61, ’62,
something like that.
Judge Harris: Yes. I paid very little attention to that which may seem odd, but I
always felt that things were going very well with the firm, that things would work out. I never
felt as though I was falling behind in any way and so I was perfectly happy and didn’t keep track
from a chronological standpoint as to what was happening.
Mr. Ross: Did you continue to work at communications, primarily, during this
period, or did you broaden out?
Judge Harris: I continued to work in communications despite occasional forays
into antitrust and personal injury cases and helping out the trial section now and then and just
trying to broaden my knowledge basically and be of help to other parts of the firm that needed
help. But, then after thirteen years of concentration in the communications field, a very unusual
thing happened in that our principal energy client, El Paso Natural Gas Company, became
dissatisfied with the senior partner who had been in charge of their work and there were a couple
of other lawyers who had been doing it, and they were not satisfied with the whole package, and
because the president of El Paso at the time was a man named Howard Boyd, who had been a
Hogan & Hartson partner, rather than simply taking their business elsewhere, El Paso told the
firm that if the firm would reconstruct its power section, not with kids but with partners, that they
would stay with the firm. And I was among those, along with Jerry Collins, who is now with
Williams & Connol1y, and Frank Reifsnyder had been doing power work, so Frank Reifsnyder
and Jerry Collins and I became the newly constituted power section of the firm. In retrospect, I
put the good of the firm ahead ofmy own interests, and it probably was a mistake for me to have
done that because the communications section kept calling on me for help from time to time, and
I had to become expert in a new field which was probably more technical on a day-to-day basis
than the communications field was. At the time I was the only person who happened to have
been a member of the Federal Communications Bar Association and the Federal Power Bar
Association, and I sort of drove myself up the wall trying to keep up with two federal regulatory
fields simultaneously.
Mr. Ross: I can imagine, particularly those two. So, you represented the pipeline,
El Paso. Would you get involved in pipeline rate cases before the FPC?
Judge Harris: Yes, the work was basically before the FPC, but much as had
happened to me in earlier years when there were comparative hearings for the right to use a
particular television channel, there were competitive hearings for authorization to build a
particular pipeline. Pipelines, of course, are massive and expensive, and I remember one very
long comparative hearing between Transwestem Pipeline Company and El Paso Natural Gas
Company that took months to try as to which was going to build a very, very major pipeline from
Texas to California.
Mr. Ross: This would involve hearings before FPC trial examiners?
Judge Harris: Correct, administrative law judges.
Mr. Ross: Were they called administrative law judges then?
Judge Harris: They were not. You’re quite correct Hearing examiners.
Mr. Ross: And interaction with the staff. Do you remember the general counsel
of the commission during those days? I know I’m pushing you on that.
Judge Harris: I do not.
Mr. Ross: Is there any FPC lawyer that stands out in your memory, someone you
tried some cases with or othetwise became familiar with?
Judge Harris: Well, I remember one younger lawyer who had gotten into the field
at about the same time I did, Fred Moring, who later became one of the founders of Crowell &
Moring along with Took Crowell, whom I had known since law school. Charlie Shannon was
one of the deans of the power bar at that point in time, which had an odd twist in that the home in
which I grew up on Hillbrook Lane in Spring Valley later was purchased by Charlie Shannon for
his family.
Mr. Ross: Fred became an associate in our law finn and worked with me in the
utility section for many years and had quite a success afteiwards. I knew Charlie quite well.
Judge Harris: A number of lawyers in that field at that time were with Texas
firms, and I’m hazy on who they are.
Mr. Ross: Right. If you look back over time, if someone were to ask you, let’s
say, to write a piece on comparing law practice in l 953, that era, and comparing it twenty years
later, which is when you left the practice to go on the bench, what would say were the
differences? And answer this in any way you want and in as much detail as you want. What
were the changes in your law finn? I know they would have come about more or less
imperceptibly over time in many cases. You almost don’t notice them, but they cumulate.
Judge Harris: Well, it’s difficult to answer because I think when we’re young we
adapt so well to whatever we find ourselves in and I absolutely loved the early days of Hogan &
Hartson, the people, the work and everything about it. We went from 25, since I was the twentyfifth,
I can remetnber that number, and I forget the number when I left, whether it was 80 or 90,
but even at those numbers which are small by today’s standards, you no longer could really get to
know everybody in the organization well and you didn’t have the feeling of total law firm
camaraderie which is so great when a finn is smal1er. One thing I remember is standing at the
elevator through the years on a Friday evening, and in the early days at Hogan & Hartson, if you
were going down on the elevator with a particular friend and were going to a dinner party that
night, you were virtually certain that that particular lawyer was also going to be there, and you
could say, “I’ll see you later.” And, then as the furn got bigger you knew that there would be a
lot of selectivity exercised in social functions, and so you had to be very discreet about what you
were going to be doing that night if it involved somebody else from the finn. But no
organization can stay the same. You either are going to grow and succeed or you ‘re going to
shrink and fail, and the firms like Hogan & Hartson and Covington & Burling were all growing
and succeeding and the atmosphere within them was changing.
Mr. Ross: As you observed it, your relationships with your fellow associates and
the younger partners were in the very early years collegial and pleasant, I take it from everything
you’ve said?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: And did you feel that the atmosphere, culture of the firm, particularly
among the aspiring associates, changed over that period?
Judge Harris: Gee, I’d have trouble answering that. We began to get to the point
at which some associates were going to be weeded out, which contributed to some internal
unhappiness that we typically had not had except very rarely before, and then, of course, as we
got bigger, the questions of partnership shares and their allocation became more controversial
and political, not in the Republican/Democrat sense, but in who’s going to be running the firm so
that some friction set in that had never been there before.
Mr. Ross: When I was a younger associate — I started out in ’51 — and never gave
much of a thought at all to whether you go to another, say, another more senior, associate or
lawyer in the firm and say I’m on the dead]ine, I’ve got this prob]em, I’m having this difficulty
and pick his brain. I noticed in my own law practice as the years passed that the feeling of
complete freedom, willingness to do that and help somebody out or be helped out tended to
change. Did you have that experience?
Judge Harris: I would say yes, that that did grow. In part it was a function of
having more specialized sections within the firm, so that there were more and more of the
lawyers to whom you would not be likely to go in any event because they weren’t working in a
field that could be of help to you or that you could share. But I think that was a phenomenon that
Mr. Ross: One of the comments I’ve often heard from lawyers of our generation
is that over time, particularly in the period from 1970 until 2000 or 1990, a lot of the fun went
out of the practice oflaw for them, and I’ve often wondered whether that was because they were
aging or whether the practice of law was changing. Do you have a thought about that?
Judge Harris: Difficult to pin it down because of the factor that you quite
accurately mentioned. We can’t always isolate one from the other, but the consensus seems so
strong that the practice of law has changed so dramatically in its orientation towards the bottom
line as opposed to doing a good job for your client whether you got well compensated or not.
Mr. Ross: Let me ask you a couple of more specific questions. If Hogan &
Hartson adopted a billing standard for associates and partners for that matter, when did they do
Judge Harris: By that, you mean number of hours, minimum number of hours that
would be expected?
Mr. Ross: Yes.
Judge Harris: They certainly did not while I was there, and nonetheless, there
were some occasional frustrations that would crop up. I, for example, was asked to be the Red
Cross blood donor coordinator, which would take a reasonable amount of time. I was the key
person for many years in associate hiring. Those things and others that escape me but an
occasional pro bono case, where you’d help out someone who had no money, would detract from
the number of billable hours that you could have and I’d find occasionally someone would say,
you haven’t got as many billable hours as somebody does. I’m doing all these other things for
the firm. For a long period of time that didn’t matter. Then, gradually the amount you were
bil1ing began to become more and more important, but we did not go to a minimum number of
billable hours, which I think is an abomination, and I think for one thing it invites virtual fraud in
having young lawyers exaggerate their time, which to me is iirtle more than stealing from clients,
charging them for more time than you actually spent.
Mr. Ross: We had an associate, a young woman, an able young woman. I was
talking to her about her billable hours and some other associates. She was explaining to me just
how she did and what she did and so on, and she said, ”Then, when I go to the bathroom I charge
that to—.” I said, “Why—?” She said, “I don’t like the assistant general counsel I work with.”
I had nothing to’say about that.
Judge Harris: Well, of course, in some situations you could take Hogan &
Hartson and Seymour Mintz and our tax department as an illustration. Seymour was a superb tax
lawyer and if you would go to Seymour with a tax question, I might spend fifteen minutes with
him and I would charge the client fifteen minutes, and Seymour would charge the client an hour.
Mr. Ross: Sure.
Judge Harris: Well, it was probably worth it to the client.
Mr. Ross: But it interrupted him and got him off other things.
Judge Harris: But Seymour would go home at 6 o’clock, and I would go home at
11 o’clock at night, and his chargeable hours would end up being more than mine.
Mr. Ross: Sounds like you’re doing something right there from my perspective
anyway. We are getting towards the end of the tape.
Oral History of STANLEY S. HARRIS
May I, 2002
This is the third session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral history
project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Ci rcuit. The interviewee is Stanley
Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross. The date is
May 1, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Stan, you had an energy — primarily a natural gas — law practice
during the years that you were with Hogan. Could you give me sort of a brief overview of that
Judge Harris: Well, that was just for I guess the last four years I was with the
firm. For the first 13 years it was essentially radio and television work representing broadcast
stations and networks and would-be station owners. And I think I mentioned this in our last
session — yes, I’m sure I did — El Paso asked that the energy section of the firm be reconstituted,
and I joined Frank Reifsnyder, as did Jerry Collins who later left the finn to go to Williams &
Connolly, and we began doing that type of work.
Principally, and I think I also mentioned this last time, the work involved competing
applications for authorization for the construction of major pipeline facilities, and day-to-day
advice to El Paso, particularly, Union Oil of California, those were the two main clients of the
finn in that area; and there were just three ofus doing that kind of work. And I did that for about
four years, but during that period, from time to time, the communications department of the firm
would draft me to come back and help out with particular projects, so I was doing both.
Mr. Ross: And you had the burden of trying to keep current on both the
communications and the natural gas field.
Judge Harris: It was very difficult because one cannot operate in fields like that
without keeping up with developments and the law in those fields and to try to do it in two fields
is far more burdensome than I had anticipated. As I think I also mentioned, I think I was the only
lawyer in Washington who was simultaneously a member of the Federal Communications Bar
Association and the Federal Power Bar Association.
Mr. Ross: Well I was also, as I mentioned, I represented Western Union for many
years. I had all the responsibility for their regulatory work. They had a general counsel’s office
who was involved, and at the same time I represented a number of electric utilities and gas
utilities, and I had to•- of course I had a lot of help — at times it struck me as being too diluting
and difficult.
Judge Harris: Yes. I never felt that I was able to have the degree of expertise that
I wanted to maintain in both fields.
Mr. Ross: Just reading the current materials coming through would have-· it’s
very time conswning. Did you get into a lot of hearing work before the then FPC?
Judge Harris: Yes. One hearing that sticks out in my mind was a hearing in
which Transwestem Pipeline Company and El Paso Natural Gas were competing for a major
pipeline from Texas to California, and to the best ofmy recollection, that hearing took about nine
to ten months. And that time was spent in the lower floor of the General Accounting Office
Building with a windowless hearing room —
Mr. Ross: With inadequate air supply.
Judge Harris: (Laughter). Yes.
Mr. Ross: I’ve seen an older lawyer tum sort of blue down there and had to be
removed (laughter).
Judge Harris: (Laughter). You make me think later when I became the United
States Attorney, it makes me think of the appearance of John Hinckley during his trial because
they started out with Hinckley and bringing him into the courthouse by helicopter every day and
that proved infeasible, so they created a mini-apartment for him down in the cell block of the
United States Courthouse and as a result, Hinckley during the trial was about as pasty-faced as
anybody could possibly be because he’d never got —
Mr. Ross: Never saw daylight.
Judge Harris: Never saw daylight. That’s correct.
Mr. Ross: Well, those hearing rooms really were inadequately ventilated, and you
were before a trial examiner at that point. Do you recall the names of any of them?
Judge Harris: I don’t. I should remember someone that I spent that much time
with, but I’m pulling a blank.
Mr. Ross: A man by the name ofSwerdling was the Chief Trial Examiner. Did
you run across him?
Judge Harris: The name of course is very familiar to me and I’m sure I did, but he
didn’t have that case, I don’t believe.
Mr. Ross: Did you appeal-? l know you go to the commission from a trial
examiner’s decision. Did you go to the Court of Appeals on any of these matters?
Judge Harris: [ don’t have any clear recollection of doing so. I don’t think so. [
had quite a number of appeals that I handled in the communications area, but that was earlier and
I don’t recall any appeals in the energy field.
Mr. Ross: Maybe this will stimulate something. I handled many appeals in both
electric company and natural gas matters from FPC decisions. I usually had to argue the case
before a court of appeals. Many here in the District of Columbia, the U.S. Court of Appeals and
also around the country, the Fifth Circuit in particular. Always had a great deal of difficulty with
the judges understanding what was going on — they could have boned up on FPC law, you
know. And the terminology is all foreign. You never studied it in those days in law school and
they might have known much about (a) public utility law or (b) about the arcane aspects of the
Natural Gas Act and the Federal Power Act. And you get up to argue a case before them, usually
rather convoluted and obscure and complex and technical, and you confront three men, there are
usually three men, who didn’t have a clue, and some of those oral arguments were Alice in
Wonderland, you know.
Judge Harris: Which is one reason that I always felt whenever I had to write a
brief in a court of appeals in these specialized areas that I would write the brief as though I were
writing for a high school student with just a primer so that they could understand.
Mr. Ross: Little footnotes that explain what this is. One time I had a federal
judge — I can’t remember which circuit it was, I was bottom side for the commission in those
days and he said, “Counsel, before you start your argument, will you please tell me what Mcf
means?” I figured I was in trouble, right there. He wasn’t joking. This was a gas case. Did you
enjoy that practice?
Judge Harris: I did not enjoy the natural gas area as much as I had the
communications area. I found it much more technical and more tedious than the
communications practice.
Mr. Ross: I can appreciate that. I suffered it for many years. Do you remember
any particular case or individual or episodes that can bring some of that time to life as they might
come to you?
Judge Harris: No. El Paso also was represented b y a lawyer from Brobeck,
Phleger & Harrison in San Francisco named Tony Dungan, and I remember one case being
argued in the Supreme Court which Tony Dungan was arguing and Bill Douglas was still on the
Supreme Court, although his health was not good, and the question of transporting large
quantities of gas to California was at issue, and at one point, Justice Douglas asked the question.
He said, “Well now, I understand how the gas gets to California, but how does it get back?” And
I thought that was one of the more difficult questions a lawyer could be faced with because it was
indicative of the fact that Justice Douglas really should have retired at that point and did not
understand that the gas was consumed in California. And I remember thinking I’m not sure of
the best way to answer that question.
Mr. Ross: Did you appear before state agencies or state bodies on natural gas
Judge Harris: No. It was all federal entities.
Mr. Ross: And it was a question of certification authorization under the Natural
Gas Act, not as much questions of pricing I take it?
Judge Harris: That is correct. Although some pricing problems arose, but most of
it was certificate work.
Mr. Ross: Yes. The pricing stuff is more tedious, I will tell you, than the
certificate work.
Judge Harris: I did enough of that to share your conclusion completely.
Mr. Ross: Were you involved in any Congressional dealings and representations
in this area?
Judge Harris: The only thing that I can recall is being charged with occasionally
following or looking into pending proposed legislation and reporting back to the client on the
status of it, but not ever doing anything like testifying at that point.
Mr; Ross: Did you get — if I might say genera1ly– did you in your law practice,
did you have occasion to get involved in what we used to call Congressional representation?
Judge Harris: No, not really. Hogan & Hartson’s policy was basically to avoid
what might be broadly termed as lobbying, and if a client wanted any done, the finn would
encourage the client to get somebody else to do it.
Mr. Ross: Not all lawyers take that position, but it keeps you out of complexities
and difficulty.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: There was a great deal of talk going on during this period, particularly
at the end ofit, about deregulation of natural gas that earlier had been the controversies about
whether or not the producers’ prices were regulated and then they were starting in towards
deregulation. Did you get involved in any of this? It would have been in the very late ’60s and
early ’70s.
Judge Harris: Well, I left at the end of 1970, and that was sort of a gleam in the
potential father’s eye, but I have no recollection of being active in that.
Mr. Ross: Well, I think maybe we’ve gone over that unless you have some other
things that occur to you.
Judge Harris: No, sir.
Mr. Ross: In 1971 you were asked to become a judge of the Superior Court of the
District of Columbia.
Judge Harris: Actually it was 1970 that I was asked.
Mr. Ross: 1970. And could you tell me first of all, how you think that interest in
you was stimulated. What were the political and other aspects of it, insofar as you knew them?
This is a subject of great interest to the project, that’s why I would like to dwell on it a little bit:
appointment of judges. And what was the scenario that led to your•- of course you had been in
practice for many years and were a very well known, highly regarded lawyer in a prominent firm
and so, of course, you could be considered for a judicial vacancy at any time, but I gather you
didn’t seek this out.
Judge Harris: No, sir.
Mr. Ross: So it just sort of came out of the blue, as it were, and give me a picture
of what happened.
Judge Harris: Well, the District of Columbia prior to 1971 had been a very unique
jurisdiction in a number of respects. The United States District Court for the District of
Columbia was the trial court of general jurisdiction in the District of Columbia, as opposed to the
purely federal jurisdiction that obtained in every other federal district. And the parallel Article I
court system consisted of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as it then existed, which was
small, and the Court of General Sessions, which had jurisdiction only over misdemeanors in the
criminal area and civil cases which involved less than $10,000. From the Court of General
Sessions one would appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and from the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals there was an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the
District of Columbia Circuit. The United States Court of Appeals at that time was considered to
have been rather liberal in the criminal area and the system didn’t make a whole lot of sense
analytically when you compared it with what went on in federal districts in the states. And so in
1970, Congress passed a rather massive court reorganization bill which created for the first time
the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and for the first time made the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals the Article I equivalent of a state Supreme Court, and as the statute
put it, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals then became the highest court in the jurisdiction
so that anything from Superior Court would go to the D.C. Court of Appeals and then to the
Supreme Court, and the United States Court of Appeals was no longer in the posture in which it
had been, and the United States District Court, which basically had had felony jurisdiction over
such things as rapes and burglaries and anned robberies and murders, the only district court in
the country that had that, that jurisdiction gradually was transferred to the newly created Superior
Court. And with that sort of a massive court reorganization there was a need for a total of 18
new judges for both the trial court and for the enlarged District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
And the administration, the Nixon administration, and how it functioned in the judicial selection
area I do not knOw as far as any details are concerned, but then institutionally the administration
made a decision that they wanted to show their good faith and good intentions by recruiting
people of experience and ability to show that this is going to be a good court system. And they
recruited a number of very, very qualified people. Bil) Stewart from the Ga1iher & Stewart law
firm, Paul Mc.Ardle from Covington & Burling. They were both very experienced trial lawyers.
Quite a nwnber of very able people; Sylvia Bacon, and they wanted a mix and one of the things
that they decided on is that they wanted a then young partner from one of the major finns in the
city to be a part of that mix, and I became a bit of a target for that, largely I think because the -gee,
it’s hard to recall titles in the Department of Justice accurately. Looking back, it’s hard
enough to recall in the current time phase — but George Revercomb, whom I had known at law
school at Virginia where we served on the law review together, although I’m hazy o n Geo rge’s
exact years at Virginia and how they overlap with mine because I believe he was called back in
the service during the Korean War which kicked up right about the time that I was first in law
school. But George was then, I think, the Associate Deputy Attorney General and knew me
rather well. I think it was George Revercomb who particularly zeroed the department’s interest
in on me. So I was approached and I think I said no about a hundred times. I was prospering at
Hogan & Hartson and happy at Hogan & Hartson. Although I confess I was slightly less happy
than I had been because I found the natural gas area in
stimulating as I had the communications practice, so I ,
might have been had I been in the communications sect
was well compensated, it’s my recollection that my top,
a 60 percent rate.
Mr. Ross: I remember those days.
Judge Harris: And so while I would have t
income cut, to become a judge, which is pretty significant
e not as
?rable than I
while I
:ed at over
. __ H.., worse with the
passage of time as I look back on it now, with the tax rate that high, making a lot of money, you
don’t end up with much, so there was that factor which contributed to giving consideration to the
possibility to going into the public sector. And as I indicated, I kept saying no and then one
evening I got a telephone call from Dick Kleindeinst who was the Deputy Attorney General and
later became the Attorney General. John Mitchell at that time was the Attorney General. And he
said we are sending the list of new judges to the White House tomorrow and we really would like
to have your name on it. And I found it very difficult to say no faced with that sort of a request.
I thought the objective was good, to have as good a bunch of folks as you could get, and I ended
up saying all right; figuring that okay, I’ll take a shot at it, and if I don’t like it I can come back to
Hogan & Hartson, which of course I never did,
Mr. Ross: Right. Tell me about your first days in that job. You had a new court
and a new kind of law practice. Had you been before the older court?
Judge Harris: I had taken appointed criminal cases principally in the U.S. Court
of Appeals. But I had been essentially a federal regulatory agency lawyer and while I had had
significant experience before hearing examiners which would be sort of equivalent to — could be
in ways equivalent to a non-jury trial — I had not really had any court experience that was
meaningful. I had helped out the trial department in several cases from time to time, both to
broaden my experience and to keep fully occupied. I had done a few other things occasionally,
antitrust work, trust and estate work now and then, helping out the trial department which, I
think, had the lai-gest trial practice in town, larger than Covington & Burling’s, even though
Covington was a larger firm. So I had some exposure, but I certainly was not a trial lawyer and
to go from being a federal regulatory lawyer to a judge on a trial court of general jurisdiction
necessitated a rather steep learning curve at the beginning.
I was greatly helped by a couple of factors. One, the judges such as Tim Murphy, who
had been on that court previously when it was the Court of General Sessions, the judges who had
been there were enormously accommodating and tried to help orient this mass of new judges
coming into the system. Also, I don’t have the kind of ego that prevented me in any way from
when I was handling some matter and turning to the courtroom deputy clerk and saying, “What
do I do now?” And I got great help from the court’s staff personnel. Among the newcomers on
the court, as I mentioned, were very experienced trial lawyers such as Bill Stewart and Paul
McArdle, who were enormously helpful to me. Tim Murphy did something that I have not seen
anybody else do before or since; Tim would call me and say if you’re free, I’ve got this court
proceeding going on at such-and-such a time, and I would sit up on the bench with him. He
would get a second chair and I would just sit on the bench and observe how he conducted it and
that was good. I went on the Superior Court. I finished the year 1970 with Hogan & Hartson and
then on January 3, 1971, I was sworn in on the Superior Court. In about July of 1971, I was able
to go out to what was then called the National College of the State Judiciary out in Reno, which
at that time was a four-week training course basically for state trial judges, but the District of
Colwnbiajudges had access to it as well. And that was an enormously instructive four weeks,
and gradually I learned. But very early on Superior Court I got caught with the arraignment duty,
as it is called on a Saturday. Actually, I think arraignment is probably the wrong term but
presentment wo\lld be technically more accurate because it would involve the initial presentation
or presence in court of those who had been arrested the night before. And with crime being what
it was at that point in the city there would be 60 to 70 defendants who would have to be
processed from the cell block through the court with a determination being made as to whether
they would be released on bond or personal recognizance or held for further proceedings, which
involved pretty sophisticated decision making for people who have to make those choices
because you’ve got to consider the safety of the community and you’ve also got to consider the
rights of the defendant and it’s a tough choice, and this came so soon with virtually no criminal
practice, I was very concerned about how I would process 70 criminal defendants making
decisions that were so vital to them, albeit ones that were not oflong-term consequence. And
when I took the bench, I knew that beside me would be a representative of the Pretrial Services
Agency. And I thought this will not be so bad because this person is obviously experienced and
that person would provide me with all the information on the defendants so that I would know
what sort of a record somebody had, if he was a repeat offender. And so with the first defendant
that I had, I turned to the Pretrial Services representative after he had given me the normal
information and I said, “What do you recommend?” And the response was, “I’m sorry, Your
Honor, we are not allowed to make any recommendations.” Well, rather quickly it occurred to
me that if I rephrase the question, perhaps I could get the assistance that I felt I so badly needed.
So with the next one, I turned to him and I said, “If you were the judge, what would you do with
this particular defendant?” And fortunately the Pretrial Services representative concluded that he
could tell me what he would do without violating the prohibition against his making a
recommendation. And so that permitted us to function in tandem at that very early point in my
judicial career. :
Mr. Ross: Clever.
Judge Harris: I also on that particular day, and this is indicative of the kind of
attitude that those of us who were thrust into that newly-created Superior Court and what we ran
into. George Neilson, who had been on the Court of General Sessions for a long time and was a
very experienced judge, was at the courthouse; although he was in a nearly-retired status, he was
in the courthouse on that Saturday. And he called me in chambers and he said, “Stan, I’m down
here, is there anything [ can do to help you?” And [ said, “That’s very kind of you, but l’ll
muddle through.” Well, the presentment judge not only had to do 60 to 70 adults that had been
arrested the night before, but also had to then go over to the juvenile aspect of it and process the
juveniles that had been arrested the night before. And Judge Neilson volunteered to take the
juveniles for which I was very grateful because that involves another set of standards as to how
they should be processed in a pretrial status. But Neilson was a — that was indicative of the kind
of attitude that those of us who were new to the court were encountering. At every turn,
everybody was so helpful to us. Of course, when you add 15 judges to a court, you don’t have
space for them. So we were in an office building. The court was spread all over. Those ofus
who were new were in an office building and make-shift courtrooms were created down on the
lower floor of — even one or two on the upper floors — of that building. So it was a difficult
period. It was difficult for the marshals, too, because they would have to bring defendants in
handcuffs for about four or five blocks from the cell block of the Superior Court over to this
office building in which many ofus were functioning.
And I remember, for example, later after having tried a particular defendant, I can’t
remember what,’for, and then in due course after a presentencing report had been prepared,
sentencing him, and after sentencing the defendant to a period of incarceration, a far cry from
what we had in the United States Courthouse where the defendant goes out the back door into the
cell block, the defendant came out the same door I did and we shared the elevator riding back
into the ground and me to the floor on which my chambers were located. (Laughter)
Mr. Ross: I hope·he wasn’t six feet five.
Judge Harris: No, there was no difficulty, but I thought what an odd situation to
be in. The marshals by the way in those days when the prisoners were transported by the
marshals on foot from building to building, they were pretty hard?nosed with those defendants
and said, look, you make any move towards a judge or any move towards trying to get away,
you’re going to be shot. That had been reported to me on enough occasions for me to believe it
was true, and I think they took that sort of a stem step to avoid any difficulties, and there never
were any difficulties.
Mr. Ross: So the first work that you did o n the court concentrated in the criminal
law area?
Judge Harris: Yes, although they were rotating assignments on the newly created
Superior Court. The Chief Judge was Harold Greene. Harold was very able. Tne court had a
wonderful clerk, a man named Joe Burton, who was extremely helpful. Harold Greene, with
whom I later served on the district court who became a very close friend and a judge whom I
respected greatly, had one either an idiosyncracy or a failing; however, he would not post what
the assignments of the Superior Court judges were going to be until the Friday before you were
supposed to start into a new area on a Monday. That meant, for example, that let’s say I went
through a period of civil trials or criminal trials, I remember one Friday afternoon getting the next
assignments and learning that beginning Monday morning I was going to be the judge in the
Landlord and Tenant Branch. Well, I didn’t know anything about landlord and tenant law. I
learned on Friday afternoon that I would be handling a landlord and tenant case on Monday
morning. The last thing that any judge wants to do is embarrass himself and to be fair to the
litigants and to the lawyers who appear before you and not knowing anything about landlord and
tenant law and knowing that I was going to start in on that bench on Monday morning, I checked
to see who had the landlord and tenant assignment for the most recent period, and it turned out
that it was George Revercomb, who by that time had been put on the court himself. So I called
George on Friday evening and made arrangements to come out and spend the better part of
Saturday afternoon at his home to get an education on a crash basis as to what to do with landlord
and tenant. [ was perfectly willing, and did that Monday rooming, to go on the bench and say,
look, gentlemen, when the first case came before me, I am not experienced in this area of the law.
It’s in nobody’s interests for either one of you to try to mislead me into a wrong result, so let’s
play this straight up and don’t tty to spin me and we’ll get along a lot better.
Mr. Ross: How did it work out? You had a lot of business in that court I take it.
Judge Harris: Yes, a lot of business. And I asswne it’s probably still going on but
the District of Columbia then had, and I’m sure still does, so many protections for tenants that
any tenant who was months and months behind in his rent and the landlord would want to have
him evicted, the standard practice was simply to allege housing code violations as a defense, and
then you’d end up with a big dispute over whether there were in fact housing code violations that
could justify a withholding of rent. So a lot of just purely deadbeat renters would take advantage
of that system aiid tie up the court with a dispute over whether the landlord was or was not doing
tight by him.
Mr. Ross: Yes. I had some rental properties in the District unwisely at one time
where 1 had some bad tenants and was unable to evict them for quite a period. I couldn’t
understand why it was so bad and I had a friend who had been practicing down there for years.
He kept telling me about these things and I didn’t believe him.
Judge Harris: And I might note that apropos of the Iandlord·and tenant experience
which was quite interesting, some years later I dissented to the imposition of rent control in the
District of Columbia. I did not prevail when the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld
rent control by a two-to- one vote. I felt that it was unconstitutional
Mr. Ross: This was legislation that was passed at that time by the D.C. Council?
Judge Harris: Well, so many things were happening during that period. The
massive Court Reorganization Bill was passed by Congress in 1970, At that point, among other
things, the President of the United States had a free choice as to who went on the Article I courts,
the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the Superior Court. Then in 1974, the so-called
Home Rule Act, and I can’t remember what its technical title was, was passed. And that created
the City Council and gave it significantly broader responsibilities. It also had a very meaningful
impact on the Article I court system in two respects. The first, for years it had been recognized
that the Washington metropolitan area is one big ball of wax and so the residency requirement
for judges to go on the District of Columbia courts, that is the non-Article ID court, one had to be
a resident of the District of Columbia, or Alexandria, or Arlington County, or Montgomery
County, or Prince George’s County– anything contiguous to the District of Columbia. It was
recognized that We have a large bar and that just going home across the Potomac River or across
Western Avenue didn’t mean that you didn’t have any– if you practiced law in the District of
Columbia, it didn’t mean that you didn’t have any connection with the District of Columbia
That was changed in the Home Rule Act. Henceforth to go on the courts, one had to be a
resident of the District of Columbia. That had a significant effect on contracting the talent pool
for available judges. It also created a Judicial Nomination Commi ssion which was created with
the objective of selecting three names to send to the President and the President would have to
select one of those three names for the judgeship vacancy at issue. I have always thought that
that’s of dubious constitutionality, that the President of the United States has the obligation to
appoint a particular judge, that is fill a particular judgeship, I think legally he should be entitled
to pick whoever he wishes and that should not be delegated to an outside body which not only
risked but became rather politicized as it began its functioning. And in my view, the best way to
get good judges is to be able to go to them and say, for example, “Bill, I’d like you to take this
judgeship. Will you do it?” The idea of having to submit your name to a nominating
commission and with the majority of applicants or candidates knowing that they would be
rejected and thereby lose some face with their clients or their law finns is inevitably going to cut
down on your talent pool also.
Mr. Ross: It would seem so. Was that issue settled then, the issue of the
constitutionality of the rent control laws? Was that the way it was left?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Had there been any further challenges or –?
Judge Harris: No, not since I believe certiorari was sought and granted. I’m hazy
on some ofthe5e things, but there was a very notable landlord lawyer named Herman Miller who
was vel)’ short and very rotund and extremely well known. He was a vel)’ unusual character. He
would cite non-existent cases and was — well, he was very diligent in representing a host of
landlords in the District of Columbia and because of his expertise was rather successful. I
believe that the case did go to the Supreme Court, but unfortunately it was argued by Herman
Miller who was not the best person to present the issue to the Court, and I don’t recall exactly
how that worked out except rent control has remained and has had an adverse effect on the
availability of housing in the District of Columbia ever since.
Mr. Ross: So you settled into the various aspects of the work of the court?
Judge Harris: Yes. Always a variety.
Mr. Ross: Did you do work in the family law division?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Tell me about that. That’s a rather special experience.
Judge Harris: Yes it is. [ take my hat off to judges around the country who work
in the neglect and delinquency areas. These problems are so, so difficult to deal with. Juvenile
delinquency is difficult to deal with when kids are charged with crimes, but then you have
dysfunctional families and trying to figure out how to deal with some of these family problems is
emotionally trying as well as legally challenging. I remember in some of these neglect areas and
when I had a case of that type and I would go on the bench about the first thing I would say
would be something to the effect that I do not think I’m going to be able to solve aJI of your
problems. I will do my very best not to make them worse. And working in those areas makes
you want when you get home at night to give your kids a big hug.
Mr. Ross: What other aspects of the court’s work were particularly striking to
you, either things that you enjoyed or like you said difficult for you? Just give a sense of what it
is like to have been a judge during that period.
Judge Harris: WeJI, there was one rather remarkable aspect to it and that was
during the height of the Vietnam War protest period and all sorts of protesters descended upon
Washington and they were numerically quite large and they ran the gamut from really hard left
wingers to a lot of well-intentioned folks who simply disagreed with the policy but thought they
wanted to get into the protest mode also. While I was there on that court, the Superior Court, the
protests reached the point at which there were massive arrests, and the court, for a period of
weeks, how many I can’t recall, functioned literally around the clock to be able to process them
all, and a lot of the people were being detained in RFK Stadium because there was no place else
to put that many people.
I did get a call one day, one of the other assignments you can get on the Superior Court is
Judge in Chambers, a job in which you issue arrest warrants, search warrants, just generally
available so that there is always a judge who can handle miscellaneous matters promptly. J got a
call from Chief Judge Greene asking ifl would take one of these protest cases for trial purposes
and J agreed, and J learned later that the case had 850 defendants. I am not at all sure that I’m noi
the only judge in the country who has had a criminal case with 850 co-defendants, which was a
bit of a nightmare to deal with.
And Judge in Chambers can be interesting. I am still haunted by one visit I had in that
capacity. A woman and her lawyer came to see me. And she and he — the woman and her
lawyer — told a rather alanning story keyed to her fear of her husband, her fear that he might do
her considerabl? harm. And they asked that I issue an arrest warrant. I did issue an arrest
warrant, but I did something which I think was really pretty unusual. I was so concerned by the
facts that were presented to me that on the face of the arrest warrant I wrote out that the
undersigned, being me of course, views this case as extremely serious. And when this man is
apprehended, very serious consideration should be given to not releasing him. Well, of course, I
could not as Judge in Cham?ers bind the judge before whom this man would be brought when he
was arrested. But somehow, and it still haunts me, neither the judge before whom he was
brought nor the United States Attorney’s Office spotted my language on that arrest warrant, and
the man was arrested and released and within a matter of hours murdered the woman that I had
tried so hard to be helpful to. The system in effect failed her.
Mr. Ross: Do you follow in the newspapers or otherwise the progress of that
court and court syStem on a current basis, more or less reading the articles in the Post?
Judge Harris: Yes. And of course I have a lot of friends on the court. I have a
former law clerk on the court.
Mr. Ross: And do you think there has been progress in that court system since the
reorganization in setting it up?
Judge Harris; It is very difficult for me to answer that because the court now has
65 judges, most of whom are not known to me. There are former Assistant U.S. Attorneys whom
I know well that are on it, a terrific bunch. My former law clerk is terrific. There are a lot of
other judges on that court that I know and think very highly of, but I think the present system
with what I consider to be the unfortunate superimposition of the nominating commission on top
of the President’s authority to appoint people to that court has resulted in a mix of some very able
judges and somb that are less able than I think the court deserves.
Mr. Ross: As a matter of comparison, what was the approximate number of the
judges on the court when you were appointed — the new court?
Judge Harris: I wish I could reconstruct that with some accuracy. The court
previously had a juvenile court. There was a Court of General Sessions and a juvenile court.
The Juvenile Court I think had three judges, and the Court of General Sessions had perhaps 15,
something like that, and about 15 were added, so the court was nearly — it was roughly doubled
in size when it acquired the broadened jurisdiction that was created by the Court Reorganization
Mr. Ross: Then it has doubled again.
Judge Harris: It has doubled again gradually through the years.
Mr. Ross: In my practice I’ve had some appearances before the new court. I was
appointed twice as a commentee for mentally disturbed prisoners. I had that experience, which
was quite interesting and I also had some criminal defense appointments, matters where for some
reason or other a judge of the court thought he should make a special appointment. I was for
quite a number of years — I was on the felony list in the federal district court when it was the
principal trial court for the District in criminal and other matters and so I had that experience. I
found that the Superior Court in general, quite surprisingly by and large in talcing it as a whole,
did a somewhat better job than the district court system did on criminal matters, by which I’m not
comparing the quality of the judges, but I’m comparing the whole system, all aspects of it. And I
suspect that was because it was being done by people who were full time at it rather than federal
judges who had their minds often on other things. Could you comment on that?
.fudge Hanis: I’m hazy on the timing. I mean I know when the felony
jurisdiction came over from the district court to the Superior Court. That began in 1971 and
phased in gradually. I forget the details of the phase-in system. At that point, my only
meaningful experience was in the Article I court system, and I felt that they had first-rate deputy
clerks, they were really good quality people running the day-to-day aspects of the court system
that let it function smoothly. I’m afraid there’s been a little slippage there in recent years, too.
Fred Beane at the time was the head clerk of the criminal aspect of it, Joe Burton the overall
clerk, both of them extremely able. All of the components of the Superior Court on the clerk
staff had deputy clerks heading them up who were really quality people.
Mr. Ross: You spent many years on the federal trial court, the district court and
that was at the end of your career. Can you compare that experience with your service on the
Court of General Sessions?
Judge Harris: Well, I would correct you modestly because General Sessions
ceased to exist when the Court Reorganization Bill passed and Superior Court —
Mr. Ross: We’ll say the Superior Court.
Judge Hanis: The Superior Court came into existence. Superior Court was then
and as I assume is now a very difficult court on which to work in part because like all courts it’s
overburdened, but in part because at least from the time when I was there, there was no
individual calendaring such as there is in the district court. That is, a given case would not be
assigned to a particular judge, and if you were assigned to criminal duty in those days on
Superior Court, and if you were to start what you thought was going to be a criminal trial only to
learn that the defendant had entered a guilty plea, you would be expected to take another case.
So, there was alWays — it was a little bit like being in the canyon and having the dam break up
river and the flood was going to come. It was a difficult time and with the individual calendaring
that the district court has had, and I don’t know exactly when that was adopted, but it was
certainly true from the time I went on it in 1983. The individual calendaring lets you control
cases much better. The non-individual calendaring is tough on the judges because you have to
pick up things that are strange to you and suddenly, oops, there is a case, and you take a quick
look at it and figure out what to do with it. And of course, at that point in time, the prosecutors
had the same problem. They rarely could interview their witnesses in advance and they would
have to try cases —
Mr. Ross: When they were first looking at the file. Yes, I’ve seen that. We’re
coming to the end of our cassettes and it’s been an hour and fifteen minutes, an hour and twenty
minutes. I think I’d like to pause now and come back to this. I think we can go into this
comparison between the courts fruitfuUy particularly when we get to the period of your district
court experience. So with your pennission and consent I’m going to stop right now.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir, because we are just about at the point really where it
would be a nah.iral transition into when I was approached about going on the D.C. Court of
Oral History of STANLEY HARRIS
May 10, 2002
This is the fourth session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral
history project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is
Stanley Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross.
The date is May 10, 2002.
Mr. Ross: When we broke the last time, Stan, we had ended up finishing pretty
well your time on the Superior Court. It comes to 1972 when you were appointed to the D.C.
Court of Appeals. We’ve touched on this earlier in your history, but I would like to go over it
again. How did you come to be nominated for, or appointed to, the highest court in the District
of Columbia?
Judge Harris: Well, I had been on the Superior Court for I suppose about a year
and a half when I received a call from Don Santarelli. I had known Don slightly and he had been
a previous director of the LEAA, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which was
allocating funds to various law enforcement agencies around the country and then after Don had
been in that position, he went to the Department of Justice, and I’m not sure which of the
political appointee jobs he held, but there was a vacancy on the District of Columbia Court of
Appeals at the time of course. Andrew Hood, who had been the Chief Judge of the court, made a
decision to retire. Judge Hood was a marvelous person as well as a fine judge. When I first got
the call, I did not know what he had in mind, but he asked me to come to the Department of
Justice and knowing there was a vacancy there, I thought that it might be possible that he was
going to talk to me about that. Well he was. But the purpose of his cal1 was to ask me what I
thought about Sylvia Bacon, who was another judge at that time on Superior Court. She was a
very able woman, among those who had been very helpful to me when I made the transition from
being a federal regulatory lawyer to a trial judge on a court of general jurisdiction. And I had a
very high opinion of Sylvia. And Don asked what I thought about her. I told him I thought that
she was terrific and would be a fine choice. I was a little surprised by that, I don’t know why he
didn’t just ask me that on the phone, but I went to the Department of Justice to have that
conversation with him. And that was the end of it. So I thought, well, I was not going to be
asked to go on the· D.C. Court of Appeals, and as I mentioned earlier, that was a time in which
the Department of Justice and the White House had a free choice as far as who went into the
Article I court system. There was no nomination commission as later was created by the Home
Rule Act. Then a week or so later I got a call from Don again asking me to come back to the
Department of Justice, and I went back, and he said we keep hearing your name. Would you do
it? I said yes I would. So that was it. I’ve had sort of a nutty existence in that I’ve had four
presidential appointments. I have never been active one iota in politics. Each of the four
positions that I’ve had have basically come about by telephone call from somebody asking me if I
would undertake a particular responsibility.
Mr. Ross: How many members did that court have at that time?
Judge Harris: Well, as part of the 1970 court reorganization, the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals had been enlarged from six to nine judges and among the eighteen
new judges that were added to the court system as a part of the 1970 reorganization, three went
on the Court of Appeals. Those three were Gerry Reilly, Hubert Pair, and Walter Yeagley. And
so then it became a nine-judge court which is pretty standard for — that was the same number that
the U.S. Court of Appeals had and that so many appellate courts had, which I think is a good
Mr. Ross: Did the court sit in panels of three?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: What led you to say, “Yes, I will accept the appointment”? You had
an opportunity to think about it, obviously, in some way.
Judge Harris: Well, there is a curious mindset amongst judges. There are a lot of
trial judges who have no interest at all in becoming appellate judges, and conversely, there are a
number of appellate judges who shy away from the opportunity even to sit on a trial court, which
they could do by designation. I suppose because of a lack of familiarity with it. I personally like
both types of work. I like writing. I like researching. I like considering subtle legal problems
and it seemed to me as though it would be a different and challenging shift to make, and so I
readily accepted.
Mr. Ross: Had you had any practice before the Court of Appeals prior thereto?
Judge Harris: Not before that court. That court previously had entertained only
appeals from the Court of General Sessions, which as indicated in our last session, handled only
misdemeanor cases in the criminal area and only civil cases which involved less than $10,000 in
the civil area. And I may have on a pro bono basis done one or two things to help somebody in
the Court of Geiieral Sessions, but certainly I had never done anything before the D.C. Court of
Appeals. But I had had a number of cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Mr. Ross: So, in a sense it was a new venture for you and the other judges?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Tell me about your colleagues as they were when you went on the
Judge Hanis: It was really a very, I thought, terrific group of folks. Andy Hood,
whose seat I took, was still sitting on the court as a retired judge, a marvelous man who had done
a fine job as Chief Judge of the court. The others who were on it when I came on it were
Catherine Kelly, Austin Fickling, Frank Nebeker, George Gallagher, and John Kem. The new
ones who came on that court at the same time I just named, Reilly, Yeagley, and Pair, so it was a
fine bunch and there was a very collegial atmosphere on the court.
Mr. Ross: How did you make the transition from being a trial judge or being a
practitioner who would argue before a court like that and a judge who was hearing appeals? You
had schedules and periods of time when you sat and heard oral argument and so forth.
Judge Harris: It was an awfully simple transition. Simple in one unique way. I
mentioned previously how we had had to function for some time in the early days of Superior
Court out of what was basically an office building that had been remodeled and the way that
permitted some courtrooms to be created. In the meantime while I was, during an early period on
the Superior Court, the old Pension Building had been remodeled to create courtrooms and
chambers, and I moved from the office building on H Street in which we were located to the
Pension Building and the new chambers, but knowing that I was about to go or would be soon
going on the Coitrt of Appeals, I never unpacked my boxes. So during the months in which I
worked in the Pension Building, the boxes stayed packed in anticipation of another move and at
that time, of course, the District of Columbia Courthouse, now the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse,
as it was named after Judge Moultrie from the Superior Court died, that had not been built as yet,
so that there were chambers for a few judges in the old building B of what had been the Court of
General Sessions and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. I moved into the chambers,
which were in another office building at 601 Indiana Avenue, where there were six of us before
the new courthouse was built. I was there during my early time on the D. C. Court of Appeals.
Mr. Ross: Did you find that there was an atmosphere of collegiality on the court?
Judge Harris: Very much so.
Mr. Ross: People got along by and large?
Judge Harris: Yes. It was a fine group of folks.
Mr. Ross: And you didn’t have an ideological split, I assume, or did you on that
Judge Harris: I think at that point I would say definitely not. There was as you
would expect on any court a mix of those who politically would be some Republicans and some
Democrats. That happens anywhere. But everyone took pride in putting their political
predilections aside to the extent to which they could, but they did their best to do the right thing
in the courtroom. It was a very collegial group.
Mr. Ross: What law clerks did you have? You personally? How many?
Judge Harris: Well, at the time that I went on the court, the court was authorized
to have only one law clerk. That is, each judge on the court was. The difficulty that that
presented was an outgrowth of the fact that the jurisdiction of the court grew enormously when it
was officially designated as the highest court in the jurisdiction and all the felony cases moved
from the United States District Court into the newly created Superior Court which created a
significantly larger number of more meaningful appeals in both the criminal and in the civil area.
There was an oddity though in that the number of law clerks which a judge on that court could
have was determined by statute so that it was necessary to go to Congress and get legislation
enacted to change the number of clerks from one to two. So I recall that Geny Reilly who by
then had become the Chief Judge of the court and John Kem and I had to go before a
congressional committee and testify as to our needs to be able to get a second law clerk.
Mr. Ross: You were able to get that I take it from the Congress?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr: Ross: How did you work with clerks?
Judge Harris: I started out with the unrealistic idea that I would be able to write
everything myself, getting guidance from a clerk through memos, and then do all the drafting. I
found it didn’t take long to conclude that that was an idle dream, that the demands on my time
were such that that was infeasible so that I had to go to the result that I think virtually all
appellate judges have had to go to with modest exceptions and that is let your cierk know, or
clerks after we got to the point of having two, which was just a couple of years — I can’t
remember exactly when the legislation was passed increasing the number of clerks from one to
two — but I finally concluded that the only feasible way to approach it would be to have your
clerk or clerks do a draft of an opinion and edit and modify it rather than starting out at the very
beginning and writing it all from scratch. With one exception. I basically always wrote my own
dissents because in dissents you have a particular point of view and you’re speaking only for
yourself and not for the Court and it would be difficult to — I found that it was always difficult to
implant the subtle nature of my thin.king, if I happened to be writing a dissent, into the mind of a
clerk in a way that was satisfactory.
Mr. Ross: The way the court worked, you held scheduled oral arguments and then
you had conferences, I assume.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: And those were held periodically?
Judge Harris: Yes. They would be held right after the oral arguments.
Mr. Ross: Usually after the oral arguments. So it was fresh?
Judge Harris: Right. And then in some cases, in most cases, the panel of the
court could make a determination as to what result it wanted to reach. When I say wanted to
reach, the one that it decided was the correct result. And an assignment would be made as to
whose responsibility it would be to write a draft of an opinion. Of course, things did not always
work as planned. There were a number of instances in which the panel would reach — and this is
true of any appellate court of course — where the panel would reach a conclusion as to how it
believed the case should be decided and then when the authoring judge undenook to write an
opinion, the authoring judge would conclude that it wouldn’t write. That the result that we
thought was correct was not the correct result so you would have to change and go back to the
others and say, “I think we were wrong.” That led me to get quite a bit of criticism in one case,
as a matter of fact. We had one case in which we readily agreed that a conviction should be
affirmed in a criminal case. Because of that, I didn’t give the case a very high priority and
thought it could·be taken care of rather simply and it got put aside because of the more
emergency nature of several other cases. But then, along the lines that I just mentioned, once I
began to really analyze and try to get an opinion out in the case a lot of time had gone by and
concluded that in fact the conviction should be reversed. So I went back to the panel and said, “I
think we’ve got to reverse this.” They agreed. And for that exercise in seeking justice I later
caught hell for — not for reaching the correct result, but for having take n so long to get there,
when all along the reason we didn’t get there was because I thought it was going to an
affi.rmance. So, speedy trial questions were raised when we remanded the case back to the
Superior Court.
Mr. Ross: Did you follow the practice of reading briefs or at least going into them
prior to oral argument or not?
Judge Harris: Yes. I would always read the briefs the day and night before oral
Mr. Ross: I know that there are some judges that don’t do that. The Second
Circuit, for example, is famous for, or in years past, having a sort of tradition that they come
totally virgin to the bench when they are hearing argument and the bar of that court, many, many
were very upset about that. They thought that the court was busily asking rather mundane
questions about what was in the record. But you didn’t approach it that way.
Judge Harris: No.
Mr. Ross: How about colleagues? Did you have any colleagues who didn’t
follow that practice?
Judge Harris: Well, of course one of the interesting things about judging is that
you never really’know quite how your colleagues work. Certainly without exception I believe
that my colleagues understood the issues in the case. Whether they actually read the briefs
themselves or whether they relied on bench memos prepared by their law clerks, there would be
no way that I would know. Certainly nobody went on the bench cold in the way that you’ve
suggested was foUowed by that court.
Mr. Ross: Did yoi.t find the research facilities and support services adequate on
the court?
Judge Harris: Yes. Of course in those days we used only books. Computers were
not used, were not at the point — that was in the early days of word processors as opposed to
typewriters. Those were the days when, among other things, the secretary in a judge’s chambers
had a very critical role because the judge and his clerks would do drafts of whatever they were
working on in long hand, and then convey it to the secretary to type it out. Later, secretaries
became relatively underutilized appendages in chambers and many judges, particularly on district
courts have gone — instead of having secretaries — have gone to having a so-called permanent or
third law clerk person who has administrative responsibilities, and who will answer the telephone
and do that sort of thing, but also will fulfill part-time the role of a law clerk.
Mr. Ross: Right. What’s your feeling about the caliber of the bar, the
characteristics of the bar that appeared before you in appellate court?
Judge Harris: By and large, so much depends on one’s frame of mind, the old “Is
the glass half full or half empty?” Psychologically, I’m one of those who sees it as half full. You
don’t expect everybody to be an Edward Bennett Williams or a John Roberts or a Barrett
Prettyman, but I felt that by and large it was a very capable group. But part of that is attributable
to the fact that iii the District of Columbia area geographically you had a significant number of
defendants represented by the Public Defender Service which had its own appellate section and
those were quality folks. You had of course in that Article I court system, as later I encountered
in the Article ID court system of the district court, you have a number of folks who as the saying
goes who would try cases out of their hats and basically they were trial lawyers who were
comfortable only in the courtroom and did not wish to handle cases that they lost on appeal and
then new people would be appointed. So if you had someone, the lawyer who tried a particular
criminal case did not wish to handle the appeal because they didn’t feel that they had the skills,
the research tools, the writing ability, the court of appeals would appoint a lawyer to handle the
Mr. Ross: Aie there certain appeals that you were on the panel that stand out in
your mind for any reason, whether because they were notorious or because they were interesting
and important?
Judge Harris: Well, there’s an odd factor that operates here and I was comforted
in finding that Gary Gesell, who later became my colleague on the district court, readily
acknowledged the same fact. He would analogize handling cases to a hose and say, “We1l, the
water comes in at one end and it goes out the other, and the hose then is cleaned,” by which he
meant of course that you would be working on a case and focusing on it intently and then later it
didn’t come back to you.
Mr. Ross: Flushed your mind out.
Judge Harris: You tum to the next one and it’s hard to think back. There are a
couple that do stick out in my mind, particularly one that involved a defendant named Keith
Crews, and he had been engaged in robbing women on the grounds of the Washington
Monument in the ladies’ restroom there. The Park Police thought they had apprehended the
fellow who had been perpetrating these offenses, and they had a camera, and they wanted to take
his picture there on the monument grounds, but it had gotten dark, and so they took him to the
police station to photograph him and then promptly released him once they had gotten his
photograph. A number of the victims of this fellow identified him, and so he was tried and
convicted and a motion to suppress had been filed on the grounds that he should not have been
taken to the police station, and that was an unlawful seizure because the police did not have
probable cause at that point to arrest him. Well, to suppress in that case would have meant
suppressing the defendant’s identity, which struck me as rather extreme. It would mean that the
victims of a criminal were in perpetuity precluded from the opportunity to identify the person
who had victimized them. When we had the case on appeal, we had a two-to-one vote. Frank
Nebeker and I voted to affirm his conviction, and I believe it was Catherine Kelly who dissented
— it ma y have been Austin Fickling — in any event, it was two to one. So the panel split two to
one in affirming the conviction. I wrote the opinion, and the court then went en bane, and by
seven to two, overturned the panel. Judge Nebeker and I who had made up the majority initially
suddenly were a two-member minority in the full court. The case then was taken by the Supreme
Court which by a vote of nine to nothing went our way, which is a little on the unusual side from
which we took a certain amount of gratification.
Another case that sticks in my mind was a rate case involving Washington Gas Company
and a rate increase which had been denied and it was an enormously complex thing. You’ve had
experience in rate cases and I thought that — I mean it seems to me — that public utilities are
entitled to earn a fair rate of return and that the Public Utilities Commission was denying that to
Washington Gas Light, which was not in the interest of either the consumers or the company or
the community or anybody. But because it’s such a tough area of the law, I took — once I
designated a law clerk to work on it, I gave her first a textbook, I forget the name of it, and said,
“B efore you start working on this case, read this book so that you get a quick education on rate
cases,” and ended up I wrote an opinion which was ninety.some pages long. It was one of those
cases that I•· we have a place at Bethany Beach and I ended up, in order to be able to focus
entirely on such a complex case, taking the record and a dog and going to the beach by myself for
a week or two to finalize an opinion. With respect to which I ultimately did not prevail and
ultimately the Public Utility Commission was affirmed over a lengthy dissent of mine with the
majority opinion including much of what I had written when I thought it was going to be a
majority opinion reversing the Public Utility Commission.
Mr. Ross: Well, we could be a lonely voice at certain points in our careers trying
to protect the basic interests of utilities, which I did as a career.
Judge Harris: I was comforted•· I hadn’t thought ofit in some time, but Roger
Robb, whom I had known for some time, who was on the United States Court of Appeals,
apparently took the time to read my dissenting opinion in that rate case and was kind enough to
call and say he thought it was the finest rate case opinion he had ever read.
Mr. Ross: Terrific.
Judge Harris: But I lost.
Mr. Ross: On your en bane procedure, that was what, the active judges voting to
grant an en bane?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: So it would be similar to the Court of Appeals.
Judge Harris: Correct
Mr. Ross: Do you have many of those?
Judge Harris: Not many and I have no recollection of the statistics and I, of
course, anybody who serves on an appellate court quickly learns an appreciation for the difficulty
of being on the Supreme Court where you are always sitting with nine Judges or Justices,
because the more you have the tougher it gets to work out language and results.
Mr. Ross: There was an item that appeared in your earlier history which I don’t
know whether you would want to go into here, but I was unable to really understand it. It
involved, as I understand it the possible appointment of Judge Newman as the Chief Judge of the
Court of Appeals. You discussed that, but there was a lack of clarity I think partly, maybe this is
some of my having no relevant background. That apparently received a fair amount of publicity.
Judge Harris: A regrettably large amount of publicity.
Mr. Ross: Could you give your version of that here now?
Judge Harris: Well, Gerry Reilly had served very well as the Chief Judge of the
District ofColwnbia Court of Appeals and I can’t recall the exact years and haven’t made any
effort to research the precise year involved, but Ted Newman had served on the Superior Court at
the same time that I did, and Ted was a very able hard-working guy, there was no problem
whatsoever with his ability. But by that time, through legislation enacted in 1974 — the Home
Rule legislation — the designation of someone as a Chief Judge of the court was no longer done
by the President of the United States, but rather was done by the nomination commission. There
was a rather rem’arkable timing involved. I’ve never heard of it happening before or since. Ted
Newman was nominated to the D.C. Court of Appeals and it also was contemplated that he
would become the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. And I remember that he was nominated
on a day when I was going to the beach for a few days, and on the news that night, I had heard
that he had been confirmed by the Senate, apparently on either the same day or the next day after
his nomination had reached the Senate and that enabled the nomination commission to make him
— he not only became a new judge on the court, but he was named as the Chief Judge of the
court. A critical component for any chief judge is collegiality, and Ted, despite his many good
qualities, was a very volatile fellow and in my view did not have the personality that lent itself to
having the most cohesive functioning of an appellate court and so he served for four years as the
Chief Judge and the question came up whether his period of time as Chief Judge should be
renewed, and there were four of us who were active judges still who took the position that it was
not in the court’s interests for him to be redesignated as Chief Judge. And that was — I, John
Kem, Frank Nebeker and George Gallagher. Politically it happened to be a mix of two
Democrats and two Republicans, although it was not politically motivated in any way. The
unfortunate fact is that all four ofus who thought that his temperament was not such that he was
a good choice to continue as Chief Judge, all ofus were white. Ted is black and the matter
became unfortunately more politicized and these things are very difficult to view analyticaHy in
the public perception and the media. The whole dispute was covered in remarkable detail by the
Washington Post through efforts of a then-young reporter named Ben Weiser, and Ben was an
enthusiastic, bright, politically liberal young reporter who spent an enormous amowit of time
talking with everybody and getting in-depth in the case. He started out with the presumption that
the four ofus were sort of the bad guys and there indeed was a racial overtone to the position
which we took. Ben later came around to our point of view, but he of course could not write his
own point of view in his stories. It got a lot more press than we would have liked. But we had
to ask — the four of us had to submit statements to the Judicial Nomination Commission which
was as I indicated a relatively new creation with the feeling that we in effect were spitting into
the wind. That they were not likely to listen to us, but we fol1owed our consciences and did what
we thought was in the best interests of the court and the legal community and opposed his
renomination unsuccessfully.
Mr. Ross: So, you had him as Chief Judge for the next few years?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: That was — how many years would that have been?
Judge Harris: My guess is that we were opposing somewhere around 1976 so that
he then — we are probably talking about a four-year appointment, perhaps from 1976 to 1980,
and then he was reappointed again. But Ted and I and the others, we didn’t have a hostile
relationship at all after that. I’m sure he wasn’t happy that we opposed him, and I think Ted
would be the first to acknowledge that he is indeed a very volatile person who could storm out of
an en bane. lfwe had an en bane hearing and he didn’t like the way the discussion was going, he
could once or twice storm out of the meeting and we then would have a very erudite discussion
of the law. Then he would come back and-· but we’ve always had a good relationship since, as
good as could be had under the circumstances. We have always greeted each other with
cordiality ever since.
Mr. Ross: I’ll tell a little story here. I don’t like to do this too much. I had a case
in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. I had it in a sense that I was senior lawyer on it, but the
brief was basically written by a senior associate, ahnost near to be partner, who to his intense
delight I offered the argument because I felt he could handle it and it was time for him to do that.
And there was a judge on the Third Circuit at that time, who I think was of an Italian-American
origin, who was very well known for his effervescence, his volatility and so on. And my young
colleague unfortunately got on the wrong side of him in the oral argument, didn’t handle it very
well. He didn’t do anything terrible. And he had not been briefed about this man or his
temperament, and the judge became incensed and apparently was trying to do something about
him — contempt citation or something. And I went up to Philadelphia and called on Judge Garth,
who at that time was the Chief Judge of the court. I didn’t know whether he’d see me, but he did
and we talked about it. And he said well, you know, so and so — the name of the judge — has a
“Mediterranean” temperament. Judge Garth says I’ll talk to him; I think maybe we can pass this
one. So he did, and I never heard anything more about it. Mediterranean. Your colleague Judge
Newman perhaps had a Mediterranean temperament.
Judge Harris: And he tended to be the antithesis ofme at oral arguments. Ted
liked to sort of take charge in an oral argument, whereas my feeling was give the lawyers an
opportunity to express the viewpoints that they’ve worked so hard on and ask questions only
when you want something clarified. I never viewed oral argument as an opportunity to show that
I knew what the case was about, but rather to give the lawyers a chance to make their arguments.
Mr. Ross: It would be a blessing ifthere were more like you. What were your
relationships with the Court of Appeals and the governing structure of the judiciary in the District
of Columbia?
Judge Harris: I suppose I was fortunate. It was a positive that I had been on the
Superior Court. I knew, of course, all of the Superior Court judges, although that began to
change with time. The Superior Court is a difficult court to serve on, as I indicated before,
because the volume of work is overpowering and having been there, I had empathy for the
problems that the trial judges on that court were facing. The Court of Appeals was a great
experience and I enjoyed it and the judges worked together to get the best result. One judge on
the court, he was obsessed with — I mean it in a constructive sense — with the idea of being able
to disagree without being disagreeable, and I think his thinking penneated the court whenever we
had differences of opinion on the result of a particular case. Everybody really made a
conscientious effort to make sure that we were never disagreeable about that.
Mr. Ross: Did you have any direct dealings with the Federal Court of Appeals?
Judge Harris: No. Not officially, although as a part of the court reorganization
and while the District of Columbia Court of Appeals became the highest court of the jurisdiction,
there was a transition period and so that there could be continuity in the law which governed the
District of Columbia, opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals were considered to remain as
binding precedent in the jurisdiction unless and until they were overturned by the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals, not by a panel but en bane. That was the only basis on which a
valid opinion of the circuit court could be overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Mr. Ross: Did that cause any problems?
Judge Harris: No, I don’t think so. And here of course we are going back more
than 20 years, but I would say no, there were certainly — the fascinating thing about the law of
course is that you just don’t have any cases that are 100 percent one way and zero percent the
other. There are an awful lot of cases that are 51 percent one way and 49 by the other and people
of good faith can reach opposite conclusions in these c1ose cases. And certainly there were cases
that had been handed down by the circuit court with which I was not in complete agreement, but I
had no trouble accepting that that was binding precedent and following it. Nor did my
Mr. Ross: To what extent did you fee] as a member of this appellate court that
you were one of a body of I’ll call them state judges, non-federal jurisdictional court judges -Appeals
Court of New York or the Boston Court, Supreme Court of California, and so on? Did
you feel a sense there of collegiality of some kind, perhaps in getting together with them in the
conferences in the organizations that bring that multiple judiciary together?
Judge Hanis: Well, I’m not sure I follow your question, but I was born, raised
and practiced law only in the District of Colwnbia. So I have no experience with state supreme
courts and this was the court system in which I fowid myself and it would be like I suppose a bit
like being in the Navy, you serve on whatever ship you’re assigned to and become preoccupied
with having it function well. You take and play with the cards that are dealt you and we were on
that court and did the best job we could.
Mr. Ross: How about precedent — let’s suppose you had a cilSe, which I’ve had in
the District of Columbia courts, with no district precedent at all that one could discern. You
could go through the digest — the question had never come up in the District — was there any
kind of methodology or common understanding as to how you would deal with foreign
precedent? None of which of course was binding. Was there a sense in which some courts were
more equal than others when their decisions were cited to you or did you just treat it as a kind of
an undifferentiated mass of possible precedent and it would be the persuasiveness, internal
persuasiveness of the foreign opinion that would effect you?
Judge Harris: The latter. I think that if you had a novel question you’d certainly
think it through yourself as best you could and then if other courts had dealt with the same issue
and you could read somebody else’s analysis you could conclu de that that analysis seems sound
and it happens to be the same analysis I’ve gone through or that analysis is interesting, but I think
I don’t agree with it, but other opinions can always be helpful in shaping your approach in
making you either comfortable or uncomfortable with what seems to you to be the right result.
Mr. Ross: When you were interpreting the District of Columbia statute, did you
have accessability to the legislative history involving that statute, particularly the D.C. Council
statutes? Would that be available to you to determine the legislative intent?
Judge Harris: Again, I’m vague in my recollection of that and I can only come to
two conclusions thinking about your question and one is that a lot of the council stuff came later.
Virtually during my entire time on the Court of Appeals, we were dealing only with
congressional actions. Later of course the D.C. Code could be amended and was amended by the
council, but I think that during the whole time that I was there it was basically congressional
action. I have always tended to be of the school that puts minimal reliance on the legislative
history. Those ofus who have been around here, certainly including you, who have watched
Congress through the years know that occasionally a particular member of Congress will get up
during discussion of a bit of legislation and make some comment that he’s comfortable with that
doesn’t really fit, isn’t a part of — to me should not be considered part oflegislative history just
because one member of Congress said, “Oh. this is what we want to do by this language which
otherwise is clearly to the contrary.”
Mr. Ross: But you would use the usual congressional materials, committee
reports and so forth?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: Have you ever thought about the so-called strict — I’m sure you have
thought about it — the strict interpretation doctrines? You’ve read Justice Scalia on his notions
about that and Judge Bork during his time on the Court of Appeals and elsewhere?
Judge Harris: Well, Justice Scalia is not a big one for legislative history, as you
are suggesting, and I think my approach parallels his pretty broadly. That is, as far as what you
look to beyond the words of the statute itself in determining what Congress intended in what
laws and how the language should be applied to a particular fact situation.
Mr; Ross: And in the construction of statutes, the press, includin g the legal press
to some extent, seems to want to make a dic hotomy between broad inteipretationists and strict
inteipretationists on construction of statutes, particularly where they can’t find a rule or provision
in the U.S. Constitution, they are much less likely to incorporate or put it into a very generalized
concept like due process, equal protection and so on. You must have encountered that in your
appellate work in particular.
Judge Harris: Yes, with I suppose the most glaring example being the term
”unreasonable” in the Fourth Amendment. What you’re protected against are unreasonable
searches and seizures. Unreasonable is not a very precise tenn.
Mr. Ross: No. Did you feel that there was a rule that you could formulate for
yourself on that issue or did you just feel that you had to take each case at a time and you were
disinclined to say I’m a strict constructionist.
Judge Harris: Well, this makes me think of a motions assignment which I had
when I was on Superior Court and you would have a given period of time — whether it was three
weeks or four weeks I can’t remember — in which year and time was devoted entirely to motions.
And the bulk of those motions would be motions to suppress in criminal cases. And I started out
that assignment making an effort to read not only each motion and the opposition thereto, but to
read the cases that the lawyers were relying on. And it didn’t take very long to realize that there
is something for everybody in the Fourth Amendment area. Perhaps one of the most notable
cases in that area is Coolidge v. New Hampshire, and when I later attended the Appellate Judges’
Seminar which was conducted up at New York University, I went to the library to review
Coolidge v. New Hampshire, a Supreme Court opinion, and found that the pages were about
twice as dark as that of any other case in the reporter system. So many people had gone to the
case to try to find what was in there and there is something for everybody in Coolidge v. New
Hampshire, as there are in many other cases. So what I shifted to from the standpoint — certainly
it fits the use of unreasonable searches and seizures, and sitting on the Superior Court with this
great volume of motions is I concluded that I wasn’t getting commensurate help from the
opinions that I was looking at and you start to rely on your gut. Did what happened here seem to
be fair, to be reasonable, within the terms of the Constitution or was this defendant treated in
such a way that this evidence should not be used? You begin to rely more on your gut than going
through an unending series of totally varying factual situations that end up with.a lot of different
Mr. Ross: You don’t find much guidance at the end of that process.
J1.Jdge Harris: Not at the end, no. You can spend an awful lot of time to be right
where you were when you started.
Mr. Ross: Well, perhaps we have come to a natural stopping point and I’m almost
completed one cassette side. And it’s 3:30 at the moment. Next time, we’ll go into — I have
some follow-up questions on the Court of Appeals, I want to go onto those. We’d like to cover
your time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then probably go into your appointment as a federal
judge. I won’t try to predict how many more sessions we will have. I do want to go back into, as
I told you, at the end of this, when I had gotten to know you a little bit better, and then more into
your personal life and your children, grandchildren and how you feel about a lot of things that
aren’t as directly related to your career as the things we have been talking about. But shall we
call it a day?
Judge Harris: All right, sir. Whatever you wish.
Mr. Ross: All right.
Oral History of STANLEY HARRIS
May 17, 2002
This is the fifth session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral history
project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is Stanley
Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross. The date is
May 17, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Judge Harris, you stated that you had some comments that you wanted
to make on matters that we covered at the last session. Why don’t you go ahead and do that?
Judge Harris: The last time we talked about legislative history and how much it
should be relied upon in deciding cases and a couple of thoughts occurred to me. One was that
back when you and I were younger lawyers, Congress could and did legislate with a rather high
degree of certainty and clarity, and as time went on, in my opinion at least, Congress deliberately
began to be considerably more lax in the crafting of statutes leaving too many things to be
determined by either administrative agencies or the courts and you also had at the same time a
number of members of Congress — certainly of both parties — occasionally making comments
during debate about a particular bill at the urging of some special interest group or another so that
they could say that they had put in a good word for them. So you had what to me were really
superfluous comments that didn’t really affect what the statute meant and overriding that is the
marvelous creation of our government with the tripartite fonn of government with the legislative,
executive, and judicial branches to be co-equal, and it is certainly, in my view, not a function of
the courts to take legislation and recraft it into a way that fits the mind of a particular judge. I
think the judges are intended to follow legislation as its drafted and if that legislation is
inadequate and later needs amendment that’s the way it should be done, rather than through
judicial intercession. The second thought has slipped out ofmy mind.
Mr. Ross: Well. it will come back to you. Maybe I can stimulate it. A nwnber of
years ago I attended a fascinating forum. I forget the context of it, whether it was a bar
association, I think it was academic. The subject was on judicial interpretation of construction of
statutes and by far the two most interesting speakers were Judge Breyer, who was then Chief
Judge of the First Circuit and has since been appointed to the Supreme Court, and Justice Scalia
was on the Court at that time. So you had a Supreme Court Justice and a federal appellate judge
on the panel and they were debating, and I happen to know both of them personally fairly well,
having worked with them in various ways, and they are formidable men, both of them. And they
are actually at different poles on the question of judicial inte:rpretation. Justice Scalia said you
should look at the language of the statute, plain language of the statute. And that he doesn’t look
at legislative history pretty much at all. Dislikes it. He thinks its flawed for some of the same
reasons that you have mentioned, and that you should focus on what Congress has said and in
effect don’t pay too much attention to people who are telling you well they said that but they
really meant something else because of something somebody said in a committee report or
whatever. Judge Breyer said, ”Well, you’re on the Supreme Court and you can change things.
I’m a subordinate federal judge and I’ve got to make sense out of statutes, and very often and
much more than comes to you, Justice Scalia. We look at a statute and we don’t have a clue as to
what Congress meant.” And he said, “We could just guess, or we could look at the whole
process.” And he said, “It’s maddening, its burdensome, it’s confusing, it’s uncertain and
treacherous, but often you can discern an intent in the whole process that gives you a clue so that
you’re deciding what Congress thought the statute means rather than what you, the judge,
thought it might be appropriate to mean.” And they went at it hammer and tongs, totally candid,
totally gracious and polite to each other and I found it exciting and so did the audience and so on.
And ifl had to say who won, I would say Judge Breyer won. Maybe that will stimulate
something in your mind.
Judge Harris: Well, the other two thoughts have come back. The difficulty that I
have with comments or statements made during the creation oflegislative history is that
Congress, once it has acted, has acted as a body of 535 people and to suggest that because a
particular member of the House of Representatives or a particular Senator said that he thought
the statute was intended to do a certain thing does not mean that 535 institutional members of
that body felt that way.
The second thing, in addition to my feeling about being cautious with legislative history,
is that courts are limited properly in my view to cases or controversies and I feel strongly the
courts are not to go off on a frolic and go beyond the specific case before them to lay out their
vision of what they think should follow from a particular decision. Another device that — and
I’ve sat on a number of appellate courts and on several of the occasions have suggested to
colleagues that wait a minute, you are going beyond this case, and I don’t think that’s right.
Typically then there has been a withdrawal of expansive language. Another thing that has
troubled me about some appellate courts is the exercise of what they have referred to as
supervisory authority over trial courts. In my opinion, courts of appeals have no supervisory
authority over the trial courts and it is improper for an appellate court to go off on a frolic after
they’ve decided the issue before them and say for the guidance of the district court in future
cases, in the exercise of our supervisory jurisdiction, say that the court should do (a), (b) and (c)
in future cases. And I do not believe that any such authority exists and should not be exercised.
Mr. Ross: That’s a very interesting observation. I’d like to go into it. Does an
appellate judge who makes such statement which l, like other lawyers have read from time to
time, ever cite the authority that he relies on to support his exercise of that function?
Judge Harris: No, and there is none. A number of years ago the D.C. Circuit took
one ofmy cases and said, in the exercise of their supervisory authority, they were decreeing thus
and so. And I had· to write a follow-up opinion and so researched intensely the question of
whether there was any inherent or specific authority for the exercise of supervisory jurisdiction
and firmly concluded there is none and so stated in the opinion which I wrote in response to that.
Mr. Ross: What was the appellate court’s reaction, if any, to that risky statement?
Judge Harris: I don’t know first hand. I heard second hand that I had a made a
few people very unhappy with what was implicitly a — well, I suppose explicitly — a rather
vigorous criticism of what they had done.
Mr. Ross: I see. But they didn’t undertake to wrap your knuckles?
Judge Harris: Not visibly.
Mr. Ross: Right, right. I was going to go into that question later, but why don’t
we pursue it a little bit now.
fudge Harris: When you asked if they wrapped my knuckles explicitly, well, they
did not, and I believe the reason that they did not is because they concluded that I was correct,
albeit they may have viewed it as somewhat of insubordination for me to have taken that
Mr. Ross: There’s no reason for us to go into this in any technical detail here, but
it might be interesting to your reader for you to give some account to your in vestigation of the
possible sources of such authority because it would illuminate the whole question of the
relationship between the tria l court and an appellate court in the federal system. Ifl recollect the
Constitution, it says that the Congress in Article m sha11 create a supreme court. A supreme
court is mentioned, and am I correct in my memory that the reference to the lower courts is quite
Judge Harris: Yes. Such courts as Congress shall ordain —
Mr. Ross: Ordain. In other words, it could be district or circuit courts. We used
to have circuit courts which are basically trial courts and appellate courts. And the Constitution
does not, does it, specify in any concrete way the relationship between an appellate court and the
lower courts except by implication, I suppose, that the Supreme Court being called supreme is
supreme, is the last word. Is that correct?
Judge Harris: Yes, and in researching this problem in this one particular case, I
came to the conclusion that the Supreme Court does have some limited supervisory jurisdiction
in some area– I can’t be more specific — but that certainly either state supreme courts or the
United States courts of appeals do not properly have “supervisory jurisdiction.” My analysis is
set forth in my opinion in United States v. Williams, 816 F.Supp. 1 (1993).
Mr. Ross: So then, in a sense, apart from the fact that the appellate court reviews
your decisions and has the power from a statute to overturn them in the particular case in its
particular issues, there is no statutory authority for the appellate court to exercise supervisory -whatever
that means — supervisory surveillance over the district court. Is that correct?
Judge Harris: That’s correct and because supervisory authority is essentially what
would amount to the issuance of an advisory opinion to be followed in future cases, which is
improper. And I illustrate with two examples. When I was on the District of Columbia Court of
Appeals, I felt that the Jaw with respect to the so-called Jencks Act, which is 18 U.S.C. § 3500,
dealing with the obligation of the government to produce statements of witnesses to the defense
side of the case. I thought that the law was very muddled in that area and I wanted to try to
clarify it. Well, it took three opinions in three separate cases for me to tie all of the things
together. I could have done it in one by being expansive and writing an advisory opinion, but I
did not feel that was proper and so I was fortunate enough to have a trilogy of opinions that could
all bring it together. In more recent years, I sat on the Third Circuit and had a very interesting
case involving Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, dealing with prior conduct ofa
defendant in a criminal case, and found that in my opinion the prior Third Circuit opinions had
gone all over the lot in dealing with Rule 404(b), and I spent an inordinate amount of time talcing
all of the threads of the prior opinions and weaving them together so that there was a coherence
in what had been some divergence, not in opposition, but some diverging and fuzzy opinions I
thought and managed to pull them all together to have them make sense, but that was not
advisory. I was dealing with the case that was at hand.
Mr. Ross: Necessary to actually decide the case?
Judge Harris: Yes, I felt I could simultaneously remove some of the doubt that
had been created by differing opinions which were not in conflict, but which in my view were
unclear as to what trial judges should be doing with respect to that problem.
Mr. Ross: Let’s go into your approximately ten years as a federal trial judge in a
court which, in some respects, is a conventional federal district court covering a certain territory
and also has certain special responsibilities because it is located in the District of Columbia. I
want to ask you to compare — because it would be vivid for you, I think — the Superior Court
system with that of the feder al district court in the District of Columbia. I think that might
illuminate some of the areas in which are of perennial interest to lawyers and court reformers and
so on and I want to go further into that. You had an extended experience of being a judge
conducting trials in both systems. How would you compare them and their strengths and
Judge Harris: You said ten years. I was on Superior Court about 20 months.
Mr. Ross: That’s right. I’m sorry. Hold on just a minute. Yes.
Judge Harris: Then went to the D.C. Court of Appeals —
Mr. Ross: Court of Appeals for ten years. Yes, well, you would have been
familiar from your D.C. Court of Appeals experience with the Superior Court, and you certainly
were familiar with a federal trial court from your being a federal trial judge, and so I think you
can make the same comparison.
Judge Harris: The Superior Court went through a transition as every court does,
but in my roughly a year and a half on it from January of’7l to September of’72 and then
following it so closely from being on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals from September
of’72 to December — let’s see, until 1982. Superior Court is a very tough court to serve on. It
had no individual calendaring as the District of Columbia District Court does.
Mr. Ross: Why was that, ifl can interrupt you?
Judge Harris: Well, it started, of course, as the Court of General Sessions and was
dealing only with misdemeanors and with civil cases involving less than$ l 0,000 so that there
wasn’t the preparation or complexity involved that can occur in the classic federal cases that
come into the Article ill system, and you would have the Superior Court or the Court of General
Sessions before the Superior Court was created, might have 30 misdemeanor cases set for trial
with no idea of how many of them would plead out or had to go to trial, so everything was
pooled. The cases and the judges who were assigned to handle them. When Superior Court was
created, the same policies were followed. That is, the general calendaring and if you had a
criminal assignment and a case came to you and a guilty plea was received, the expectation was
that you would call the clerk and say hey, my case pied out and send me another. And then
would come another case for you to try. I often felt on Superior Court as though I was in the
Canyon and the dam had broken upstream and down came this flood of water, so it was a tough
court to serve on. As it evolved, there was one interesting development that — all courts I
suppose go through phases and I really only know our District of Columbia system. having
served on several other circuit courts on an inter-circuit assignment basis, but you don’t learn a
court system by sitting with an appellate court for a few days. But there was a period oftime, for
example, when the United States Attorney’s Office in the late 1980s was bringing to the United
States District Court cases involving the possession with intent to distribute volumes of crack
that were in the seven, eight, nine and ten grams range. That type of case historically and
typically, and properly in my view, should have been handled in the Superior Court. But we had
the United States Attorney, Jay Stephens, who concluded that he wanted to make use of the
sentencing guidelines and the mandatory minimum sentences for people who were dealing in
more than five grams of crack, and so the district court was practically paralyzed by an wiending
series of small volume of crack cases. Up until then, people would do whatever they could to get
civil cases out of Superior Court and into the district court and would strive mightily to find a
diversity jurisdictional basis for doing so because civil cases to that point could not be tried in
Superior Court. Superior Court had such a heavy criminal case load. Then when a lot of those
crack cases came to the United States District Court, the district court couldn’t reach civil cases,
so then people concluded that to get their civil cases tried they would have to shift and try to get
into Superior Court. So courts go through that kind of a mating dance occasionally as one gets
overloaded for various reasons and they try to get it into a court where they can have their cases
tried. And I think most courts are overloaded, but we’ve had that sort of a cycle in the District of
Mr. Ross: In terms of the differences between the two court systems, you are
saying that there were differences that they would shift over time. How was the question of the
drug prosecutions finally resolved in the district court? I’ve heard over the years district judges
complain about them, not only in the District of Columbia, but elsewhere.
Judge Harris: Well, some of the judges on the district court and at this point, by
that time, I had shifted to the district court and was part of processing this overload of crack cases
and crack is a dreadful drug, very rapidly addictive to those who experiment with it. And some
of our judges were rather vocal in expressing their views to the U.S. Attorney. On the other
hand, consistent-with my belief in the separation of powers, my feeling was that it wasn’t up to
judges to decide how cases should be prosecuted. That was the function of the U.S. Attorney’s
Office, the executive branch. Some ofmy brothers and sisters were more vocal, but in any event,
I thought the system did not make sense and I don’t fault Jay Stephens. He was doing what he
thought was correct and it was his job to decide how to prosecute. But a man named Ramsey
Johnson who had been running the Superior Court operation for the United States Attorney’s
Office became the interim United States Attorney after Jay Stephens and made a policy decision
that only crack cases with 50 grams or more would be brought to the district court unless there
was a gun involved. Smaller quantities, if the defendant had a gun, would still be brought to
district court, but the smaller quantities in purely crack cases went back to Superior Court, which
made our calendar on the district court quite a bit more manageable. We could get to more civil
cases. Not many, however. I think I was lucky ifl could try three civil cases in a year for a
significant period of time.
Mr. Ross: Really? I suppose the life of a U.S. trial judge can be very different
depending on whether you are in a very large city court system like Washington is, or whether or
not you are out in Utah or Arizona. I remember when I was trying cases in the district court in
various parts of the country, the court atmosphere in a less densely populated rural jurisdiction
could be so startlingly different. And I sometimes thought the life of a federal judge in those
jurisdictions would be more pleasant in some ways than the life of a federal judge in the Southern
District of New York or in Los Angeles or in Washington. Do you have a thought about that?
You must have talked to a lot of district judges at meetings and bar association court conferences.
Judge Harris: I had gone to meetings. I served twelve years on two committees of
the Judicial Conference of the United States — six years on the Committee on Criminal Law and
six years as Chairman of the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments — and would run into a lot
of judges that way and go to other jurisdictions from time to time. And one very marked
difference in the smaller communities was that judges were held i n great deference in the smaller
communities and here in Washington where you have so many courts and so many members of
Congress and so many high-ranking government officials, we’re just another one of the gang. On
the other hand, I think that we have one advantage that some of the other smaller jurisdictions do
not have. I think we have considerably greater social freedom in that I think now the District of
Columbia Bar has 75,000 members. I think years ago in my early days as a judge it was in the
neighborhood of 40•some thousand, but that means that inevitably there are so many lawyers and
so many judges that you do not feel the inhibitions on having social interaction with members of
the bar that I’m sure must vex a lot of judges in the smaller communities. They must be
concerned all the time, I suppose, about does it appear that their relationship with a particular
lawyer is such a close personal relationship that it could be perceived as affecting how they might
conduct a case. Here, where we know so many lawyers, the interaction is pretty heavy and
assumed to be proper; rarely do we run into the kind of problems that I think those in the smaller
communities do.
Mr. Ross: That’s an interesting observation. Can you talk about your relationship
with your colleagues on the federal bench, trial bench here?
Judge Harris: Well, the district court has the individual calendaring system, so
that you’ve got your own calendar and a United States District Judge, like anywhere, but
certainly in the District of Columbia, operates as a bit of an island. You have your secretary and
you have your law clerks. You get support to a very limited degree from the Clerk’s Office.
You’re handling your own calendar in your own way. On the other hand, I have always felt that
no one really can practice law alone and nobody can be a judge alone. There are times when you
just need to kick a problem around with somebody whose views you respect to see if the tentative
conclusion that you’ve come to is a sensible one or has a flaw that somebody else might rather
readily perceive. So when I went on the district court. I had a pretty unusual background in that I
had been a trial judge for a year and a half. I had been an appellate judge for about nine years
and l had been the United States Attorney for nearly two years. So I had quite a background that
enabled me to function pretty well With the island that the district court judge finds himself
serving on, I wonder how somebody without that kind of a background would come into the
court and start functioning immediately in an effective way, but I still felt that it was important to
bounce ideas off ofmy colleagues occasionally in cases and I was always very careful to make
certain that I had analyzed a particular problem and had come to a tentative conclusion before
talking with someone more senior on that court than I. I never felt that it would be appropriate to
go to another judge and say, “I have this problem. What do you think I ought to do with it?” I
would go to a judge and say, “I have this problem, and here’s how it looks to me,” and, ”This is
what I think I should do. Do you see a flaw in it or do you think I’m off the wall?” Ir’s not
something that one would do often, but one would not want to become a burden, so that what I
did is I picked three men whom I respected with a lot greater experience than I on the district
court and I would alternate between the three of them ifl had a problem that I wanted to get
some guidance on and those were Aubrey Robinson, Gary Gesell and John Pratt, all of whom in
my view were superb judges, very experienced and most accommodating and being willing to
share their time-and let problems be bounced off of them.
Mr. Ross: I take it that you were probably willing to do the same thing with your
colleagues when they came to you on problems?
Judge Harris: Yes. Once I got a much better feeling for the district court and its
problems, whenever a new judge would come on the court, I typically would at an early date take
that judge to lunch and talk about the court generally and say, “Particularly during the early days
you’re going to run into problems that are going to be novel and that you may want to kick
around. Please don’t hesitate to come see me.” Some of those people I knew well. For example,
Royce Lamberth, when he came on the district court, had been the Chief of the Civil Division
when I was the United States Attorney, and there were other people whom I lmew who came on
the court and they frequently would come to me to kick around problems in their early days on
the court.
Mr. Ross: What was the role of the Chief Judge on that court during your time?
Did it change with the personality who held that position or the circwnstances?
Judge Harris: I don’t think very much because — and I don’t know exactly how
other district courts function compared to the District Court for the District of Colwnbia, and part
of that is because the way in which a court functions is in part determined by the size of the
court. The district court here has 15 judges, and a decision was made some years ago that the
Chief Judge would not be on the draw. In a lot of courts, the Chief Judge is on the draw and gets
cases just as the other active judges do. Here — and I was not a part of these decisions, they were
made before I got there — the Chief Judge’s role is more administrative and dealing also with 100
percent of the Grand Jury matters. All Grand Jury matters are handled by the Chief Judge of the
District Court here. That is not true in other district courts. They rotate it and share that
responsibility. But we had chief judges who were very conscientious, hard-working people.
Aubrey Robinson, who was the Chief Judge for the longest period of time while I served on the
district court, would frequently keep cases for himself and often took very unappealing ones. For
example, there were all sorts of Filipinos who had helped the Americans during World War Il
and claimed that they were entitled to veteran’s benefits by virtue of having served alongside
American Anny forces in the Philippines during World War Il. And there had to be some guru in
the Philippines with a typewriter who would go around into the mountains and the villages and
type up a complaint for someone who had served with the American Forces and come in and
make a claim for benefits. Well, Aubrey Robinson kept all those cases for himself and I think at
one point — a rotating series of hundreds of them pending — all from the same typewriter, all
saying the same thing. But Aubrey was very conscientious about keeping a share of things that
he did not think should be farmed out.
Our Chief Judge, of course, would have very significant administrative responsibilities
dealing with the Clerk’s Office and different personnel matters and the probation office. Just an
awful lot of responsibilities for the Chief Judge of the District Court, including some ceremonial
responsibilities, which makes me think how burdened the Chief Justice of the United States has
to be with all of the responsibilities that our Chief Justice has including, for example, serving on
the Board of the Smithsonian Institution and the multiplicity of tasks that Congress ordained for
the Chief Justice in addition to the heavy caseload that the Chief Justice has that he, of course,
cannot avoid.
Mr. Ross: Where did your law clerks come from? How did you select a clerk?
Please talk about your experiences with your clerks.
Judge Harris: Well, to each his own, and everybody follows somewhat different
procedures. I went to the University of Virginia Law School, which without denigrating any
other law school I consider to be a fine law school. It turns out very we11 rounded graduates and
in my Superior Court time of service I only had one law clerk, and with the lesser status of that
court, I did not have as many applicants to deal with as I later came to. I hired I think more
Virginia graduates because as time went on and as clerkships became more and more appealing
to law students, and I would interject here that I did not apply to become a law clerk myself when
I graduated from law school and I regret that. There were two basic reasons for it. There were
no lawyers in my family so I had nobody directing or suggesting to me that that would be a good
course to follow, and the placement office at the University of Virginia was not really thinking
much about law clerks. It would be outside forces that would lead someone to seek a clerkship.
Mr. Ross: That’s interesting.
Judge Harris; And I was the Articles Editor of the Virginia Law Review, among
other things, and I think I would have been an appealing candidate for someone to serve as a law
clerk, but didn’t apply for it. When I was on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals I had
one-year clerkships and typically found that it was a nice mix ifI had one male and one female
law clerk. When I went on the district court, after two years of having one-year c1erkships and
after two years of watching those two clerks, talented though they be, come in with looks of
confusion on their face and saying, “Judge, we don’t know what to do with this,” I decided that
one-year clerkships were not good for the district court because law school does not prepare one
to clerk on a trial court. It’s an easy transition from law review to being a clerk for an appellate
court. It is not an easy transition to go to a trial judge. So I shifted to alternating two-year
clerkships so that each clerk could go through a learning period and then become very productive
during the latter part of the clerkship. And the holdover clerk could train the incoming clerk so
that I was not burdened with that. And then I made a shift that became rather pronounced in the
courthouse and that was once I went to the two-year clerkships, I hired almost exclusively female
law clerks. And on the district court, for a variety of reasons, including the desirability of
Washington as a city for law students from around the country and the desirability of the district
court here because of the nature of the cases that it gets, I was getting close to 400 applications a
year for a clerkship and that would be for one vacancy. Some ofmy colleagues would, I know,
take an entire weekend and try to go through all of their applications. I did not do that. I thought
that was inefficient, so what I would do would be to take the Virginia applications and look
through those, and ifl found a couple of people that I thought looked as though they’d be a good
match, l’d interview them and most often would hire somebody from Virginia. Ifl for various
reasons did not find somebody from Virginia that I thought would be a good match, I would go to
another school, but I typically did not look that much at applicants from other schools, although
I’ve had law clerks from Harvard, from Georgetown, from a variety of other schools, but most of
mine came from Virginia simply as a result of having an overwhelming number of applications
to look at. In that connection, I might mention that when 1 took senior status, and I served five
years in senior status on the district court, my number of applications dropped from close to 400
to about 240, so there still was no shortage of applicants.
Mr. Ross: I know that some federal judges followed a practice of checking out
clerk applicants with particular faculty members at a university that they have some relationship
to who may know something about them, and the faculty member may either know the student or
ifhe or she didn’t, they could go and talk and find out something about them. Did you follow
that practice at all?
Judge Harris: I did not, although you are quite right there are a number of judges
who will use a particular law school professor almost as a headhunter and virtually delegate the
selection of the law clerk to them. I did not for a number of reasons, but the principle reason is
that I mentioned a few minutes ago that being a district judge you’re serving on an island.
You ‘re within the confines of your own chambers virtually constantly. In my view, if you take
the quality of applicants that we had, they were pretty much fungible as far as their abilities are
concerned. And I did not say I must have the editor-in-chief or I must have the number one
person in this class. I would interview people and would hire the person that I thought would be
the most pleasant and productive to come in and work with every day, that I would enjoy
working with them. I could not see hiring somebody that I didn’t feel a good personal match
with simply because they had terrific talent. And then I might say one of the nicest things of
being a judge is the succession of talented, energetic, nice young kids that come in and pass
through your life for a couple of years as your law clerk. It’s a wonderful experience.
Mr. Ross: They can certainly wake you up and startle you at times. In fact, it
seems to me it would be very hard to practice law either as a judge or as a private lawyer without
some young minds around because you sure can become trapped in your own experience.
Judge Harris: And the position I took with my law clerks was that look, let’s
don’t — I’m not exalted here. What we are is a three person law firm. You two are the associates
and I’m the partner, and we’re working together and we want to do the best job we can in every
case we have. I-want to know what you think.
Mr. Ross: What procedures did you follow in your write-ups where you’d have an
oral argument? You will have read the briefs. I suppose you might have discussed some cases
before oral argument selectively with a clerk?
Judge Harris: Now, which court are you talking about now?
Mr. Ross: I’m talking about the — [ should have said trial rather than oral
argument. J am talking about the district court.
Judge Harris: On the district court, if in a fair percentage of cases we had dealt
with meaningful motions prior to a trial, a motion for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss,
motions in limine that would give pretty good familiarity with the case, but something happened
at least with me, and I don’t know about that many other judges, I felt that we had so much work
to do on the district court that I could not afford the luxwy of having law clerks do meaningful
work on a case before it was tried. And you never know, of course, but that a case might settle a
day or two prior to trial and any preliminary work that might have been done before that would
have been wasted. So, absent a motion for summary judgment or dismissal, typically, I would
not have a law clerk do anything on a case and if a case were to be tried, I would take the entire
jacket and read it from cover to cover the day/night before a trial, and the law clerk would not be
asked to have any particular input on it at all because the law clerks had plenty to do on other
dispositive motions and other cases.
Mr. Ross: I suppose that meant that the clerk could not spend much time, if at all,
sitting in your courtroom and listening to proceedings? It might have been valuable for the clerk,
but it would just simply have taken too much of their time.
Judge Harris: That’s correct. And it presents a very difficult problem for a judge
because not only do you learn to really care about your law clerks, but you want them to have the
best possible experience and get the most possible benefit from their clerkships. But as a
practical matter, you couldn’t really afford to have them watch much and they would — I would
have a clerk come in once to watchjwy selection. And we typically couldn’t afford to have them
do that on a regular basis, although in a lot of cases I w ould have a law clerk — what happened as
we began to run into personnel shortages in the Clerk’s Office and then the Marshal’s Office,
there was a point in time when a deputy marshal was assigned for every case, whether it was civil
or criminal, and so jury selection, you could have a marshal hold a microphone back in the
courtroom and make sure that the microphone could be used by jurors responding to questions so
that everybody could hear them. Then they stopped providing deputy marshals to us for civil
cases and I would have a law clerk come in and be sort of an Oprah Winfrey passing the
microphone to jurors and kind of making sure that everything flowed smoothly. But I would
have the law clerk stay in for opening statements and I would solicit requested jury instructions
before the trial and the law clerk, after opening statements, would leave and start working on jury
instructions which I always basically had finished to the extent that you can before the evidence
was completed. On the other hand, I wanted them to get experience and with each new law
clerk, if the first time that a expert witness in drugs would testify, I would have them come in and
listen to that. There would be circumstances in which let’s say there’s a contract case and a
particular witness’s testimony was going to be critical to the decision in the civil case or a
particular eye witness’s testimony was going to be critical in a criminal case, and I would say to
the law clerk, “Come on in and catch this particular witness’s testimony,” or occasionally I would
say, “This particular lawyer is a very good cross-examiner, come in and watch his technique.”
And always, of course, then they would come in and sit in on closing arguments and they would
always be with me when we had our jury instructional conference because they would have done
the research as to the propriety of a particular requested instruction and could work with me in
dealing with the lawyers and finalizing our jury instructions. So I tried to get — it’s a difficult
balance, but I always wanted to get them the greatest exposure to the trial process, but that’s a
luxury that we could not afford, which I made clear to them at the outset, that they could not
expect to watch a whole heck of a lot.
Mr. Ross: When you came to the decisional phase of the case, you were preparing
findings and conclusions and an opinion, did you have the clerks review these in draft before you
finalized them when time permitted?
Judge Harris: Well, there are two ways you can approach the preparation of what
the rules characterize as findings and conclusions. One can either do it by here are my findings
and here are my conclusions or it can be done in a narrative type of decisional process, and I
preferred the latter. And typically the law clerks would do the first draft where we had to do
them. We would get typically in complex cases proposed findings and conclusions from counsel
so that we would be sure we wouldn’t overlook anything. There are some judges who will have
their court reporters provide them with a transcript of everything. I never did that. I didn’t think
that was fair to the taxpayer and I thought it was unduly burdensome to the court reporters also.
So we would get proposed findings and conclusions from the l awyers, and ifl needed to get a
few pages of transcript to try to resolve a particularly touchy problem, I would get that from the
reporter and keep it limited. As an appellate judge I followed the unvarying practice of having
Clerk A do an original draft of an opinion and then that draft would come to me and would also
go to Clerk B. Clerk B would be assigned the task of going through that opinion, not only with
the idea of making editorial suggestions, but more importantly to backup and make sure the
accuracy of every quotation, every citation and all of that, while I would be editing it also, and
then at the end, I would sit down with these three different edited drafts because Clerk A would
also edit her version of the draft and I would meld them all together into the final product. But as
a trial judge we could not afford that luxury. So that if Clerk A did a draft for me and in working
on it, and this would happen occasionally, not often, I would read that particular draft and I’d say,
“Wait a minute, if that’s the law, the law is an ass.” Well occasionally the law is an ass, but in
that situation I would bring in Clerk Band I’d say, “Do me a favor, would you check out the
cases that Clerk A has relied on?” This seems to me like a lousy result, but maybe it is the result
we are required to·reach, and typically Clerk B would come back and say that’s the result we are
required to reach. Every now and then Clerk B would say I disagree and then it would be
necessary for me to replow the entire field and get into the details of the cases, too.
Mr. Ross: I think before we conclude, and we’re almost there, I will ask you a
follow-up question. You stated that at one point you went almost entirely to female law clerks.
Why did you do that?
Judge Harris: l think there’s a slightly better talent pool of applicants who are
female, in part because they were not hired as readily by law firms. In part I suppose because
they thought well, a clerkship would be wonderful and maybe by then I’ll be married and might
have a baby and might postpone getting back into a law firm. But also, my wife and I have three
sons, never had any daughters. Maybe it was a thirst for a never-had daughter. But I think
basically it was because the chemistry worked very nicely. The female law clerks not only were
very good, as were the males. I never had a bad law clerk or one that was not fully satisfactory.
But nature makes women want to please men just as it works the other way and I found that a
pleasant aspect of the relationship.
Mr. Ross: That’s a very candid and I think persuasive statement of that. In my
law firm, we had a practice of hiring brilliant female law graduates because they were available
and they couldn’t get hired as readily in other law firms and we thought they gave us an edge. Of
course, that meant that we had to make them partners, too. Well, why don’t we conclude today
and I’m going to stop until the next time.
Oral History of STANLEY HARRIS
May 22, 2002
This is the sixth session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral history
project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is Stanley
Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross. The date is
May 22, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Judge, we had been talking the last time about your district court
experience, but wanted to ask you a couple of things about the federal law, the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, the Code, and the whole framework which governed to a considerable extent
your work. Do you have any thoughts about the good and bad things in that what you think could
possibly be done to improve it?
Judge Harris: No, I confess I don’t, and that in part I suppose is a function ofmy
own individual personality. We all know the saying about some people viewing the glass is half
empty and others viewing it as half full. I’m just one of those people who tends not to find fault
with a system within which I function, but rather to accept the system and function as best I can
within it.
Mr. Ross: And trying to make it work. How about — well, let me cue you a little
bit. I was a trial lawyer specializing in what were usually large, cumbersome, prolonged
proceedings. And I had some deep frustrations with those. One of the aspects that I was
conscious of because I was often on the wrong side on this is the use of procedural delay under
the Federal Rules as a defense tactic to handicap or defeat a defendant who is either short in cash
and resources or perhaps for other reasons feels that it cannot stand the delay. That it will have to
propose a compromise or something. The Rules for a clever and unscrupulous lawyer allow a
great deal of that to be done. I tried to avoid it in my own practice, but sometimes clients are
very demanding in that area. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Judge Harris: Well, I think trial judges on the district court which is where, of
course, the period in which we are interested in at the moment, I would have anywhere between
let’s say 150 and 230 cases pending at any given moment in time. And I have always been
among those who has been willing to cooperate with the parties in setting dates if they can
cooperate. There are judges who rigidly hold a certain schedule, but if both parties, both sides to
a case are happy with a particular schedule, I’m happy with it. Because if I’m not working on
Case A I can go to any one of 150 other cases. And the situation which you throw out is an
interesting one, and I’m sure occurred, and I would have counted in a situation such as that on a
party who felt aggrieved by conduct of that nature to call it to my attention, in which case I would
have interceded, but I have no recollection of such a situation ever arising in any ofmy cases.
Mr. Ross: It occurs to me– I won’t put words in your mouth, but is this in part a
reflection of the kind of litigation that you encountered in the District of Columbia, because in
my experience, very large scale cases tended not to be tried in the District for a variety of reasons
whether they are brought by the government or by private persons? Do you think that’s true?
Judge Harris: I think that’s correct, and of course one thing that is greatly
frustrating along these lines is that you have some litigants who are notoriously hard-nosed with
respect to the discovery process and the discovery process I think is more and more frequently
abused to try to grind down a party with limited resources and I think — I don’t have any trouble
naming one example. For example, if you get Williams & Connolly in a case you can count on
extremely hard-nosed litigation with very tough discovery problems and they tend to make their
– l l l –
opposing parties defend against very vigorous litigation.
Mr. Ross: That could be said about a number of Washington finns that I’ve
litigated with — firms who take no prisoners, I heard one lawyer say. I was going to go on with a
question or two about federal discovery, great engine as it is. When you have two General
Motors litigating against each other with deep stakes, you can be sure that there will be no mite,
no piece of dust, no molecule or relevant fact that will not come out in the course of a federal
discovery. And I often felt that there is something to be said for the British procedure, which I
also got involved in from time to time, just enough to give me a little flavor of it, in Canada and
also in England. They don’t have much of that sort of stuff. Of course they have discovery, but
it’s much more succinct –you really have to come forward and show a judge or a magistrate
whether your three months of deposition are necessary and critical, and so everything proceeds
much more rapidly. Now whether that’s good or bad I don’t know, but do you have some
thoughts about that?
Judge Harris: My thoughts on that would be minimal in part because of the
background that we discussed. We are all different. Gary Gesell, for example, always
maintained control of his cases from the discovery standpoint, and his standing rule was that if
the parties had a dispute on discovery they were to can him and come immediately to his
chambers and he would work it out. Well, Gary was an experienced civil litigator, and as I’ve
indicated, I had been a basical1y federal regulatory agency lawyer before becoming a judge so
that I never had any practical civil trial experience from the standpoint of preparing a case for
trial. That, coupled with the fact that we always had more cases than we could handle and that
we had magistrate judges with considerably more civil trial experience than I had made me reach
the conclusion very early on on the district court that ifa case indicated that it was going to be
one involving significant discovery disputes, I would simply refer it to a magistrate judge for
what we referred to as a three•part purpose of discovery, scheduling and pretrial so that it was out
of my bailiwick and I could tum to other cases and the discovery could be handled by somebody
else rather than having me embroiled in the nitty gritty day.to.day disputes that so often occur in
the discovery process.
Mr. Ross: It would be very time consuming I would think.
Judge Harris: Yes, and the temptation of getting a magistrate judge in on that is
Mr. Ross: You found that that wo rked pretty well, with the magistrate judge.
Judge Harris: Yes. Because (a) all of them have had significant civil trial
experience and (b) not being in court in trials they are available to the parties so that they can
immediately get in the middle of discovery disputes and resolve them and get them worked out.
So it worked out from every standpoint.
Mr. Ross: Did you get involved in bankruptcy matters in your time?
Judge Harris: To a very, very limited degree. We would get appeals from the
bankruptcy court occasionally, but the standard of review is quite limited, and rarely did we have
to do anything of great significance in that area. We have always had a series of competent
bankruptcy judges in the District of Columbia, and with the standard of review being one that
gives the bankruptcy judge a lot of leeway, we did little more than satisfy ourselves that the
Bankruptcy judge had not made a mistake and that was about it.
Mr. Ross: How about the quality oflawyers before you? Take the government
counsel. They would be all over, a lot of them would be in the Department of Justice, U.S.
Attorney’s Office. Did you have a feeling over time about that? Comments about it?
Judge Harris: Well, I had a high opinion of the quality of the government lawyers
that appeared before me. The city is one which is very attractive to lawyers. That, I think, is
particularly true of the United States Attorney’s Office, which is very attractive to lawyers. So if
you put together the city and the United States Attorney’s Office, the twin attractions of those
two attracted awfully qualified folks who would want — in fact my son later did — would often
spend several years in private practice after a clerkship and then would decide they wanted the
autonomy that could be gotten only in an office like the Office of the United States Attorney and
would come to the United States Attorney’s Office for a period of years. And the same with
other government agencies, although typically from the litigation standpoint, it was the United
States Attorney’s Office who had litigating attorneys often backed up by agency c.ounsel.
Relatively rarely did you have cases that would be prosecuted by an Independent Counsel and I
had several of those, a HUD investigation conducted by Independent Counsel Arlin Adams, a
former judge from the Third Circuit. They would attract good lawyers, typically ones who had
been in government, most typically former Assistant U.S. Attorneys. So by and large I would say
the quality of government representation was very high.
Mr. Ross: I was involved in quite a number of antitrust defenses, defending
private persons who were being sued by the Department of Justice or by private claimants or
both. And in several of those were criminal cases and were taken very seriously by the
defendants. We conducted a good defense, but our client was clearly guilty from our standpoint
and conceded their guilt to us in private and we won, I think, because these cases were usually
tried by department lawyers with some assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office who were
short-term and lacked experience. And we had one Section 2 Sherman Act case involving
conspiracy, fixed prices in the southern part of the United States, which was very complex
factually. We had five different lawyers from the department heading up the case during the
period it was active. All except one had been with the department two, three or four years, no
more than that. They were transferred off for reasons which had nothing to do with our case.
Things got dropped by the way, all the way along and in the last stages of it, when we were
settling it for what was almost a total victory. We’re dealing with a young man who just clearly
beyond his depth and knew it, and all he could do with the case was to settle it. We had this one
veteran who came on the case a short time and he got a lot of things straightened out. Then they
had some kind of political crisis and he was taken off to put some fires out. Do you have any
thoughts about that problem?
Judge Harris: No, I think your point is absolutely valid. There’s a dichotomy in
government lawyers appearing in the district court that perhaps I should have clarified. If you
have a trial situation, there is no question but the Department of Justice and agency lawyers
rarely have developed trial skills. But a very significant number of the cases that would result in
litigation before us on the district court would involve preliminary injunctions, cross motions for
sum mary judgment and things such as that which the agency counsel, Department of Justice
counsel, could handle and with a high degree of competence as opposed to the examination,
cross-examination skills that take time to develop in which the agency and Department of Justice
lawyers rarely have an opportunity to develop as do — to the extent that the United States
Attorney’s Office lawyers are able to.
Mr. Ross: I think it’s probably just an inevitable function of the government that
has many things to do and at times insufficient staff. How about what I call the vexed subject of
lawyer conduct following ethica l standards and any change in that in your overall law experience
over the time you were before the bar? Do you have thoughts about that?
Judge Harris: Well, my thoughts parallel those ofl think about 100 percent of the
judges and senior members of the bar that there has been an unfortunate deterioration in civility
between lawyers. I am somewhat at a loss as to why to figure that is true. When I was practicing
law, I extended courtesy routinely to opposing counsel and was routinely dealt with civility by
opposing counsel. It was just an assumption and your word to opposing counsel was good and
his to you was good. We never had essentially the fiction of a lawyer saying I’d like to let you do
this but my client won’t let me. I think that any lawyer worth his salt tells the client what ought
to be done with respect to scheduling and other problems. But perhaps it’s a function of there
being so many more lawyers now, but there is a marked reduction in the civility level between
opposing counsel today, which is to a minor degree one of the many reasons I decided that rather
than sticking around until becoming significantly older, I would slip away.
Mr. Ross: Well, that leads me into another area I was going to ask you about, and
that is your feelings about retirement and reasons for retirement. I will say for the record that you
look vigorous, many years younger than your calendar age and you clearly could have gone on
trying cases and judging cases and being an active judge indefinitely in a retired status at some
point, but still active senior judge. Why did you decide to step down?
Judge Harris: Well, that’s a complex question and I think we do not always
understand ourselves as well as we might like to. It was a lot of factors. I watched a number of
judges senior to me whom I respected greatly and saw what happened with them. I mentioned
Aubrey Robinson, Gary Gesell and John Pratt earlier as three judges to whom I would go
occasionally for some reinforcement ofmy thinking or correction of mediocre thinking. But
Aubrey Robinson had planned to retire and move to South Carolina, and I remember a meeting
that I had with Aubrey and Joyce Green of our court and Joyce was still active. She had just
taken senior status and she was talking about how the lesser burdens of senior status were
appealing to her and how she could spend a little more time as a grandmother and do a little more
traveling and Aubrey, who affected a bit of a gruffuess, after she finished talking about enjoying
senior status, he uttered a two word response. He said, “Get out.” And she was taken aback and
he said again, “Get out. Don’t stick around here forever like some of these other folks have
done.” And that was something that I had been thinking about after watching Gary Gesell, for
example, and John Pratt, both of whom stayed very active and made terrific contributions to the
court into their mid-80s, but then both developed cancer and died within a relatively short time
frame, I believe at the age of 84. But they were never free of the spider web of the trial judge.
Today, with fax machines and computers an appellate judge can have a place at the beach or on
the Eastern Shore and go down there and function as well as he could in chambers and have a
much more relaxed life. But a trial judge is a captive of the courthouse, particularly for example,
you sentence a lot of criminal defendants, and when they come out of prison, they are put on
supervised release under our present system and then when they commit another crime, they are
brought in immediately for you to attend to to determine whether to revoke their supervised
release or not. So you’re always tied to the courthouse and I just decided after watching others.
Among others to whom I talked was Tom Flannery, whose career was somewhat like mine in
that he had been the United States Attorney before he became a district judge. And we both had
taken senior status at the same age, at age 68, and Tom was 81, and when I was thinking of
leaving, I went to him and said, “Tom, if you had your life to live over would you have left
sooner?” And his answer was very simple. He said, “Yes.” Then, too, you’ve got the vexing
salary problem. I mentioned earlier that I had taken a 60 percent income cut when I first became
a judge 30 years ago and that only became more aggravated, and I think I’d like to talk a little bit
later about the overall aspects of that, but the disposable income which a judge receives has been
shrinking steadily through the years and having reached retirement age, I did spend five years
working full-time as a senior judge in effect — I will now use the term that Chief Justice Bill
Rehnquist has used in talking to Congress: working for nothing. That is, with an Article ill judge
having his income for life, you are going to the courthouse and receiving no more compensation
than if you stayed home and just played golf or, as I have opted to do, get into some mediation
and arbitration on a parHime basis. So you’re working for nothing, you’re tied to the
courthouse, you would like to leave while you still can function effectively rather than have
people wonder, what? Does that Judge Harris still have all his marbles or we have got somebody
who is slipping a little? A lot of factors went into it, but I finally decided that I would leave
before getting to the point where people had their doubts about me.
Mr. Ross: Do you find that the experience of retirement and doing something else
and confronting a schedule in your life which is different because you’re not going down to that
court every day and doing the various things you’re doing, do you find that exciting and
Judge Harris: Yes, I do, but there is one factor that is very difficult to adjust to. I
am accustomed from the time I started practicing until I entered public service in 1971 to having
a secretary and accustomed since I became a judge to having law clerks, and they would do so
much for you and you would function as a part of a team, and in the district court you also would
roll in a courtroom deputy who would schedule things and facilitate meetings with counsel And
the judge is just one — in effect — just one part of a five-person team. Now I have to make my
own travel plans ifl have to go somewhere for an arbitration, and goodness, we lose the ability
even to make reservations on planes. We’re not sure how to proceed we become so spoiled by
our staffs. On the other hand, it’s nice having the relative infonnality of an arbitration
proceeding. For example, at the end of the first arbitration which I handled after I had left the
court I took a minute to tell counsel and the parties that for almost 30 years I had been
accustomed to receiving a phone call from a courtroom deputy that the parties were ready for me
to come into the courtroom and I would come in the front of the courtroom and they would rise
and I would sit down and we’d have a formal proceeding and then I would walk back out and it
was rather nice as a change to have some greater degree of personal interaction with counsel and
with parties than can be had as a judge. And I found that very pleasant.
Mr. Ross: I went through that same kind of thing. It took me a long while to get
used to the fact that I couldn’t call up somebody and have a messenger take something anywhere
I wanted in Washington. And also one thing that vexed me. I had a secretary for 28 years. A
wonderful woman. And she finally wore out and retired. During that time, she had noticed when
she started with me that my checkbook was a mess. She would have to go and do it. She said
tactfully, “Mr. Ross, perhaps you would allow me to keep your financials.” I was somewhat
taken aback by this, although I knew my balance was always out and I overdrew and this and
that. So finally I said yes and she kept it for 27 years, and boy, it was just like I came from Mars
when I retired. Did you have your secretary keep your checkbook?
Judge Harris: No, but she did practically everything else and she was with me for
about 40 years.
Mr. Ross: Forty years. That beats mine. I keep teUing my wife, you know, that
we have little disagreements with the best of wives and I said, “I can’t be all that bad. Betty
Murray has worked for me for 28 years.” Well, it’s a change and an exciting one, it can be. I
think it broadens you.
Judge Harris: Well, it is nice, too, not to?- these are all of the factors that go into
decisions like that. But the traffic congestion in Washington has become progressively worse
and worse and worse. When I was a young lawyer, commuting was not all that difficult and then
when I first went on the bench it was a little worse. Although one commute, in particular, when I
was on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, makes me think of the unique nature of
Washington. I typically would come in the Whitehurst Freeway and then drive behind the White
House on my way to Pennsylvania Avenue and one morning on the way to the D.C. Court of
Appeals, I looked to the left as I passed the White House and there was Dick Nixon getting on
the helicopter and waving goodbye after he had resigned from the Presidency. And these things
happen in Washington as opposed to other areas. The traffic has gotten so bad that with no one
willing to come up with a decent solution, I certainly do not miss the commute, although now
I’m living inside the Beltway as opposed to outside the Beltway. The commute has become such
a hassle and it is nice not to have to get up at a set time every morning and be at the courthouse at
a set time every day.
Mr. Ross: One ofmy close friends, a partner with Covington, was a person with
unbelievable capacity for being concerned with detail. His wife is a lovely woman, very
outspoken, and he retired from Covington early, took early retirement. He had a lot of things he
wanted to do, and I met Marjorie about nine months later, and I hadn’t seen Bill for some time
and I asked her how he was. And she said, “Oh, he’s all right. Do you know he’s gone back to
work? He’s gone back to Covington.” I said, “No.” She said, “Well, I sent him back. After
having him around the house for several months, telling me how to sort the laundry and to pack
the refrigerator, I said, it’s either you’re staying home and I’m leaving or you’re going back to
work and I’ll stay.” Did you have anything like that?
Judge Harris: I had the reverse of that as a matter of fact. As I was considering
the possibility of retiring, I brought it up with my wife, and at t he time I was the — among other
things — the Chairman of the Committee on lntercircuit Assignments of the Judicial Conference
of the United States and there was nobody who could step in and fill that role without a drop in
the efficiency of the functioning of that particular rather important role, and so I was projecting a
fairly long time in the future for retirement, in part because of law clerks who were with me to
whom I had made commitments. In part because I wanted to not to adversely affect my
secretary. But I was very fortunate in that I was able to let my clerks finish their clerkships. My
secretary was marvelous. Her position was I will stay with you as long as you want to stay at the
courthouse and I’ll leave anytime you want to leave, so I was not going to have an impact on her
that would be negative. And when I told my wife that I had pretty much decided to retire and
that 1 had projected it,] can’t remember, perhaps a year in the future, she said why wait so long?
And while I have affiliated with J.fu\1S, I think the nation’s largest private arbitration and
mediation organization, which is particularly big in California and not as large here, I should
make it clear that I did not leave the court to affiliate with JAMS. I left the court because I
decided to retire from the bench, but felt that I did not want to be professionally inactive and that
getting into arbitration and mediation would enable me to be useful and keep mentally active and
physically on a lesser scale, and that’s been a good thing. And it may have made my wife
happier too in that I’m not here all the time.
Mr. Ross: With that tactful observation, I wanted to turn to alternative dispute
resolution of which your work is one part. Do you have some thoughts about the shift from
being a federal judge to being a mediator or arbitrator? How you perform the function? Do you
approach the cases very much as you approach them as a judge?
Judge Harris: I approach them, yes, as I did as a judge because analytically
arbitration is little different from a non-jury trial with much more relaxed rules of evidence and
rules of procedure and a much more comfortable setting within which to function. So it simply
seems to me to be just that, a more relaxed way of resolving a dispute between the parties
without getting into a series of complex objections and instant rulings thereon and the likelihood
of an appeal and all of the delays that can come with having a jury. I have enjoyed it. I have
always enjoyed resolving disputes. I like to think that I bring to a dispute an unbiased mind and
do my best to try to come to the correct result and you do that in a different setting in the
arbitration area. My mediation experience essentially is nonexistent to this point. What I found
is that there are relatively few federal judges who retire while they still are able to function
effectively. Most stick around and then are not that much in demand, except for some of the
younger ones. There are relatively few federal judges who retire as I did. Some are retiring quite
early, before they have vested their lifetime income as an Article ID judge. What has happened is
with the diminution of the compensation of Article ID judges, there are a number of them on the
bench and they are looking at having to pay the college education for their kids and say, hey I just
can’t hack it on this salary, and so they go back to private practice at younger ages than used to
be the case. But there are relatively few who would leave in their early 70s and still are able to
function. So what I’ve found is that a retired federal judge with a modestly decent reputation
who doesn’t drool is pretty much in demand, so I’ve been gobbled up for more arbitration than I
had anticipated.
Mr. Ross: Do you find that the arbitration process is actually a more expedited
process than a trial for a lawsuit brought under the federal rules?
Judge Harris: Yes. Although certainly in a significant case it isn’t cheap either.
Parties still have to pay their lawyers. They still have to pay a court reporter if there is a
significant amount of money involved. I had spent the last couple of weeks in Pittsburgh in a
case about a $20 million arbitration. The parties had to bear the costs of three arbitrators. This
happens to be the first one in which I was not the only arbitrator. There are two others. So
there’s that cost. On the other hand, they are not in years of waiting to get the case tried. Not in
extensive pretrial discovery disputes, not in filing and pursuing and defending against a motion
for partial or complete summary judgment or one thing or another. They are not looking at the
three- or four-year proceeding perhaps followed by an appeal that is very expensive. So while
arbitration is not necessarily inexpensive in a case in which there is a significant amount at stake,
it certainly is materially less expensive.
Mr. Ross: And expeditious also.
Judge Harris: And certainly much more expeditious.
Mr. Ross: Yes. How do you handle discovery in presentation of factual issues in
an arbitration?
Judge Harris: Thus far I have not run into any significant discovery problems.
The litigants with whom I have dealt, and I’m still pretty new at this, reflect considerably more
cooperative attitudes in arbitration than I believe they would have reflected had they been in
court where they must constantly protect their record and must show the diligence of their
representation and keep the record pure from that standpoint. And they seem to me to be more
antagonistic in the court litigation mode than in arbitration where they are seeking to reduce their
costs, get as much information to the arbitrator as they can and don’t seem to get distracted by
record protecting mechanisms that can take up time and result in hostility.
Mr. Ross: Have all of your arbitrations been final in the sense that your decision
is not appealable?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: I gather that some are not. I participated in one that was not final and
turned out to be a large waste of time because in the last analysis we were not permitted to decide
the case.
Judge Harris: Well, I have been so busy since I got into the arbitration and I am
not as expert about some of these subtleties such as the one you are putting your finger on now. I
keep meaning to get to the Federal Arbitration Act and find out under just what conditions
someone may go into a court and say the arbitrator either was biased or was clearly arbitrary in
his decision, but certainly if one does, there is some right to go into court to seek relief from an
arbitration result, but it is so limited. I did have an experience that I found quite enlightening to
me. I, along with several other JAMS neutrals, went a couple of weeks ago to the headquarters
of the General Electric Company up in Fairfield, Connecticut, and we met with key members of
their legal staff because they have a list of neutrals that has not been updated in some time and
they wanted to meet a representative group of us who were connected with JAMS. The one thing
that struck me, and it was though I was in a cartoon strip and somebody turned the light bulb on,
the most highly ranked lawyer dealing with alternative dispute resolution made it clear that they
don’t like arbitration. Then he explained why and he said, “Well, we aren’t always sure of the
quality of the arbitrators that we get and we have no right of appeal.” And suddenly it occurred
to me why I have proven to be more in demand than I had anticipated and by that I mean, it does
appear that, through my years as a judge, I established a reputation as being unbiased and fair in
resolving cases and so I apparently am a known quantity from that standpoint, whereas if they
were to use somebody who had not been a judge, they would not have a basis for evaluating
whether that person might come up with an off-the-wall result in an arbitration against which
they could do essentially nothing.
Mr. Ross: That’s a good quality. It will stand you in good stead I would think
Maybe it’s time to begin to go to a more of a general coverage of some things that we haven’t
talked about. Although, as I say, I think it will be a good, long opportunity for you to recap and
wrap this up. Could you talk about the awards and honors and achievements that you’ve
received and include such things as some of your most significant cases so we can have on the
record some sense of those parts of your life experience?
Judge Harris: Well, I don’t have any listing in front of me of awards, although
there have been a few. 1982 was a funny year for me in that until February 1982 I was on the
District of Columbia Court of Appeals and then I became the United States Attorney and thus
was, in effect, a practicing lawyer again for about ten months of the year. So that was an odd
year in that in 1982 the Bar Association of the District of Columbia picked me as its recipient of
its Lawyer of the Year Award, which happened to be in the tiniest little window of time
imaginable because for the last 30 years I have been basically a judge except for that little
window as a lawyer. And when they gave me that award, I then became the first government
lawyer to have received that award. Later Chuck Ruff, who preceded me as United States
Attorney, later received the Lawyer of the Year Award, I think for his time as White House
counsel. But in that same year, I also received the Judiciary Award from the Association of
Federal Investigators, so it was odd that in one year to receive an award as a judge which I was
for part of the year and as a lawyer which I was for part of the year. Gee, I’m hazy on awards. I
don’t pay that much attention to them.
Mr. Ross: Let me cue you a little bit. I’m referring here to a resume which you
prepared in connection with your JAMS work and it does list special honors and memberships.
Let me ask you about some of these things. And they will be miscellaneous. Talk about your
work on the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. That’s an awfully important job.
Judge Harris: Well, I had spent six years on the Committee on Criminal Law of
the Judicial Conference of the United States and under prior Chief Justices, if a Chief Justice
picked a judge to serve on a Judicial Conference committee, it tended to be pretty much a career
long assignment and people would stay on the same committee practically until they retired.
Chief Justice Rehnquist decided, and I think he was quite right, that it would be better to broaden
the participation in Judicial Conference committees by Article III judges and so he established a
theoretical but not absolute rule that a judge would serve only six years as a maximum on any
committee or combination of committees. So I finished my six years on the Criminal Law
Committee, which I found a fascinating assignment, and also a very educational assignment.
That is, I was on the cutting edge of learning what was coming along in the criminal law area
before it hit me as a judge, so there were a lot of benefits, as well as an opportunity to be of
service. But when I ended that six years I realized that I had reached the point at which the Chief
Justice had set his maximum theoretical period of service on a Judicial Conference committee
and so I relaxed and thought okay, now I can devote 100 percent of my attention to my cases
again. But then Tom Hogan from our court who had been the Chairman of the Committee on
Intercircuit Assignments before me resigned that position. It is very tough for an active judge to
be the chairman of a Judicial Conference committee. And I think that is particularly true for the
Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. And I might digress to sort of explain that there are two
ways in which an Article ID court which is in need of extra help on a short-term basis can get it.
They can get it through an intra-circuit assignment. Let’s say in the Fourth Circuit, for example,
suppose the Eastern District of Virginia needs help and they can get a judge from the Western
District ofNorth Carolina to come help them. Well that’s done. An intra•circuit assignment is
effected by the €hief Judge of the circuit. If a judge is to go from one circuit to another, the only
statutory authority for that sort of movement by a judge is vested in the Chief Justice. The Chlef
Justice obviously cannot devote his time to handling the hundreds of intercircuit assignments that
come up every year and necessitate significant paperwork and interaction between the borrowing
court and the lending court and the judges who are affected and the Administrative Office of the
United States Courts and ultimately the approval of the Chief Justice is required. So the job is a
significant one and Judge Hogan had occupied it for four years, and he and his secretary were
worn out from trying to do that and keep up with his case load. So he left after four years and
then I was asked to take that assignment on, which I did, and foWld it to be very time consuming,
but fortunately within about a year or so of the time that I undertook that chairmanship, I was
eligible for senior status, so that prompted me to take senior status virtually immediately so that I
would be able to cut down a little bit on the intake of cases and be able to function in a
completely effective way as Chainnan of the Committee on Intercircuit Assignments. It is an
unusual Judicial Conference committee in that most Judicial Conference committees are made up
of representatives from each of the circuits and they function as true committees with
assignments and reports and any number of things that a regular committee would do. The
Committee on Intercircuit Assignments, on the other hand, is odd in that it functions as the alterego
of the Chief Judge in effectuating his exclusive power to make the intercircuit assignment of
a judge from one court in a circuit to another court in a different circuit. So it is pretty much of a
one-person operation. The chairman of the committee working with his secretary and working
with somebody at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and getting all the paperwork and
sending the material to the Chief Justice for his approval. And it is not simply a matter of rubber
stamping a deal that somebody makes out. Very often you are advised as chairman of that
committee that all of the judges on a particular court had to recuse themselves and it becomes
necessary to go out and recruit let’s say three judges to sit on a different circuit to help it out.
You always have to bear in mind also that you don’t want any intercircuit assignment that if it
were on the proverbial front page of the Washington Post might cause embarrassment to the
Chief Justice or the judiciary. For example, soon after I became chairman, I learned that a judge
in California had regularly attended the U.S. Open, tennis open, which is played in New York
and that he would call the Second Circuit or the Southern District ofNew York and say I am
going to be in town for a couple of days, can I help you? The Chief Judge of the other court
would say well, yes, we could use some help. So that in effect the taxpayers were being asked to
pay for the expenses of this California judge to come to New York to watch the U.S. Open and
he would sit for a day or two and then go back. I made myself very unpopular with that
particular judge by saying that we just can’t do that and by adopting modified guidelines that
would preclude that sort of thing. And one result was that I developed the Chief Justice’s
confidence and I was able to bother him very, very little during my six years as chairman of the
committee. It was a very interesting experience dealing with so many Chief Judges around the
country and so many other judges.
Mr. Ross: I bet it was.
Judge Harris: And, as a part of it, I ended up undertaking a number of intercircuit
assignments myself after having been asked to do so, and in part because I thought I’d be a more
effective chairman ifI had gone through the process and saw how it worked as a judge who
actually went to another jurisdiction. That ended up with my serving twelve years on the Judicial
Conference committees, which was double the theoretical maximum that the Chief Justice now
Mr. Ross: I was thinking it would be a fascinating experience. You had learned a
lot about human nature and personalities in the judiciary.
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: You served as a faculty member on the ABA National Institute on
Appellate Advocacy in 1980. Was that an experience that left any mark or thoughts?
Judge Harris: No. I did that in conjunction with two other appellate judges.
Frank Nebeker, who had been one ofmy colleagues on the D. C. Court of Appeals for so long
and remains one of my closest friends today. Judge Nebeker later became the Chief Judge of a
new court, the United States Court of Veterans Appeals and had the extraordinary experience of
building a court from scratch, which was a remarkable experience and something for which he
was uniquely qualified. And Paul Roney from the Eleventh Circuit and I were the principle
lecturers at that Advocacy Instih.Ite which was conducted, as best I recall, I think at Fort McNair
here in Washington. But that was an interesting experience. It happened to be here in
Washington on that one occasion. I suppose they hold them in different places in the country and
utilize different people because of the cost factors.
Mr. Ross: Do you think that advocacy can be usefully taught by a bar association
Judge Harris: Not really. I have not been eager to replicate that experience
because my advice to lawyers is so simple. You cannot by virtue of lecturing to a particular
lawyer make him or her a better advocate than he or she is to start with and my advice is so
simple, which is basically, be yourself. Be thoroughly prepared and everybody has their own
style, and you can’t turn the proverbial pig’s ear into a silk purse. And if somebody has the
ability for it, they will be good at it. You can give them some hints, but there isn’t a heck of a lot
you can do to make a good one that much better or a poor one that much more acceptable.
Mr. Ross: When I was training in that role, I found that the most useful
experience that I could have was to watch a very good person or a very bad person and you
learned a lot.
Judge Harris: I often would tell my law clerks along those lines that they would
learn more by watching poor lawyers than they would from watching good ones. To learn what
not to do was more easily assimilated than trying to make yourself better by trying to emulate a
good one.
Mr. Ross: And having the experience of falling into a trap or getting on the wrong
side of a testy appellate judge is also very educational. I think the time has come to stop. We’ve
concluded the cassette tape. The next time we get together, we will pick up on this more general
copy. This concludes the sixth session with Judge Harris.
Oral History of STANLEY HARRIS
June 3, 2002
This is the seventh session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral
history project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is
Stanley Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross.
The date is June 3, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Judge, this is June 3. It is the seventh session of your oral history on
Side A of a new cassette. We are coming to the point of a sum up or wrap up of this oral history,
which doesn’t mean that we won’t have further sessions after you and I have both reviewed the
transcripts to pick up on other things. We can cover almost anything in this area that you had
thought about or think about. I would like to ask you now about a couple of your significant
cases which are mentioned. You have mentioned here or are mentioned in your earlier oral
history. One is the Vietnam protest case, which is mentioned in your resume.
Judge Harris: You must be referring to the case that I had in the Superior Court
back in 1971 when the Vietnam protests were going on and I had the assignment of Judge-inChambers
one day. That is, a judge is assigned to be available to police officers for arrest
warrants, search warrants, to the citizens for protective orders and that type of thing so that
anybody who needs something immediately is not unduly delayed. And I received a call from
Harold Greene, who was then the Chief Judge of the Superior Court. And Harold very quietly, in
a low-keyed voice, said that he had a protest case that he would like me to try and would I mind
talcing it. And I said, “Of course not.” Well, it turned out that there were 850 co-defendants.
They had all been arrested on the Capitol steps. And that proved, as might be expected, to be
quite an administrative nightmare. I seriously question whether any other judge in the country
has ever had a case with 850 co-defendants in a criminal case.
Mr. Ross: I think you may be right.
Judge Harris: And an awful lot of those criminal co-defendants, by the way, were
named Johnny Appleseed. They had given false names to the Metropolitan Police and somehow
or another the Metropolitan Police who had been doing the arrests had never even heard of
Johnny Appleseed.
Mr. Ross: It could have been George Washington or Julius Caesar, maybe.
Judge Harris: But we ended up in the case with selecting eight representative
defendants and having a trial, and after a fairly lengthy trial, the jury acquitted them. And so the
case was o verall dropped by the United States Attorney’s Office, which relieved me as I
envisioned the rest ofrny time on Superior Court trying batches of people who refused to vacate
the Capitol steps when they were ordered to do so by the Chief of the Capitol Police and I think
the reason, parenthetically, that they were acquitted was that while the entire episode was on
video tape, somehow or other the video tape did not include the clearly noticeable warning by the
Chief of the Capitol Police to the demonstrators that if you do not vacate the steps of the Capitol
within ten minutes we will be forced to arrest you for unlawful entry. And that was nowhere on
the tape and the·defendants said they dido ‘t hear anybody say anything about leaving.
Mr. Ross: Great big crowd. The jury figured in those cases. In that case, they
were not — how do you think, based on your appraisal of the jury or sense of the jury, were they
reacting to this?
Judge Harris: Difficult to tell. I think it’s hard for a trial judge to really get a
good sense as to the jury. There are so many things that you have to be conscious of. The
conduct of the lawyers, looking at the clock as to whether it is time for a break. It’s like
managing a stage production and it is difficult to focus in on any one thing and get a real good
read on a jury.
Mr. Ross: Do you recall the names of the lawyers who were involved in that case,
the prosecutor and the defense counsel?
Judge Harris: Well, the lead prosecutor was Assistant United States Attorney
Luke Moore, who was the head of the Superior Court prosecutions team. Luke, of course, had
been the United States Marshal and later became a judge on Superior Court. He was a marvelous
Mr. Ross: He sure was.
Judge Harris: Chuck Work, another Assistant U.S. Attorney, was the number two
prosecutor on the case. Chuck later became, I believe, president of the District of Columbia Bar.
Among the defense counsel, Phil Hirschkop sticks in my mind and I believe Ralph Temple was
also an attorney.
Mr. Ross: Temple, yeah. We were involved in that case and I was trying to pin
that down. That was the time when I was chairman of the organization that Ralph was
Judge Harris: There was, to me, a rather remarkable little sidelight to that case.
One of the defendants was a rather attractive looking young woman who was quite a zealot with
respect to the Vietnam War and the military in general. And every time that she would pass this
one particular deputy marshal, she would kick him. And it was something that I kept trying to
keep under control, and at the end of the trial when they were acquitted she came up to the bench.
She said, «Judge, I never thought we could get a fair trial.” And I said Miss, whoever you are, I
forget her name. I said, “That’s what we are here for,” and left the bench. And the odd footnote
to it is that later, this woman who was so anti-military and so difficult to contend with in the
courtroom joined the Anny in a rather remarkable transformation.
Mr. Ross: Yes. These turnarounds. Let me talk to you about a couple more
cases. What about the Hinckley case, the young man who attempted to assassinate the President?
Judge Harris: Well, that was quite unique, of course. John W. Hinckley, Jr. shot
President Reagan, along with Jim Brady, and a Secret Service Agent named McCarthy also was
hit. And that happened just before I became the United States Attorney. I remember being in my
chambers in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals when I heard the news of the President’s
being shot and, of course, had no idea at the time that I would end up being the United States
Attorney at the time of the prosecution. But there was a superb team that was put together by the
time I became the United States Attorney. The lead prosecutor was Roger Adelman who was a
very able and extremely talented prosecutor. There were two other Assistant U.S. Attorneys
assigned full-time to the case, Dick Chapman and Marc Tucker. The case also had assigned to it
full-time three Metropolitan Police Department homicide detectives, two FBI agents, one Secret
Service agent arid they worked together in harmony and extraordinary dedication. A number of
decisions in the case had to be made by me, but I could not be active in the actual trial of the
case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, of course, here is so large that no U.S. Attorney can spend his
time in a courtroom trying a case no matter what his experience and I was not an experienced
prosecutor, so I did not want to play an active role. Roger Adelman, however, wanted me in the
courtroom fu11-time dwing the trial. And looking at about a three-month trial, and I simply could
not do that and attend to all the other duties I had as U.S. Attorney, so I cut the baby in half and
told Roger that I would be in the courtroom when the government was presenting evidence, but
would not be in the courtroom when the defense was presenting its, and that worked pretty well.
We had an interesting problem with respect to the testimony of President Reagan. The White
House kept telling me that they would be glad to have the President available for a video-taped
deposition and the· line prosecutors and I were agreed that we did not want to have John Hinckley
and the President in close confines in the deposition and also President Reagan was at that time,
who now is 90 and has Alzheimers, but is an extremely warm and likeable person, and we felt
that his effect on the jury would be enormous. But it became apparent to me that Nancy Reagan
and Mike Deaver on the President’s staff did not want to have him testify, I suppose in part
because they didn’t want him to relive the experience. fu part, perhaps, because they didn’t want
to have it look as though the President was coming down on this confused young man. So Roger
Adelman and I — I turned down their request for a video-taped deposition, but we still wanted a
shot at him, so Roger and I went up to the White House and spent about 45 minutes with the
President and with Jim Baker and Mike Deaver in the Oval Office trying to convince him that we
wanted his testimony and needed it. But we did not succeed in having him agree to testify and
we would not agree to going the video-taped deposition route, so he did not testify. The team
worked incredibly hard. I made it a regular practice during the trial to call them. Each night I
would watch the ten o’clock news at home and then take our dog for a last walk, come back in
my home at about 11 :15, pick up the telephone and call them at the office to say good night.
They were always there. And when I’d get up in the morning and go out and get the paper and
bring it in, I would call the office and say good morning and they were always there. But I
wanted them to lmow that I knew they were there, so I made two ca Us every day at the end of the
evening and early in the morning. But the jury unfortunately was just hopelessly confused by the
insanity defense and my soon-to-become colleague, Barrington Parker, lost a little bit of the skills
that he had earlier as a trial judge and the case was not as well tried as I would have liked to have
seen it. For example, we had one situation in which we had four photographs that the FBI had of
bullet fragments that were taken from those who had been shot. We had a lengthy argument as to
whether the photographs of the bullet fragments were admissible or not admissible. And Judge
Parker ultimately concluded that we could put two of them in. Well, they were either admissible
or they weren’t admissible, but to say we will let two of the four come in was indicative of a
compromise. And we know what the jury was thinking because we had the unprecedented, I
believe, situation in which shortly after the jury returned its verdict of not guilty by reason of
insanity a congressional committee had a hearing and brought up a number of the jurors to testify
before it and those jurors in their testimony made it quite clear that the insanity defense was
beyond their ken and that they were just hopelessly confused as to what should be done.
Mr. Ross: Well, it has some lack of clarity.
Judge Harris: No question about it.
Mr. Ross: Why did you reject — this is a point of interest, I think would be
interesting to lawyers — why did you reject the video deposition of the President?
Judge Harris: We did not think it would be that effective with the jury and the
three Assistant U.S. Attorneys who were handling the case on a day-in and day-out basis agreed.
All with the help, by the way, of a senior Assistant United States Attorney named Vic Caputy
who was extremely experienced. I think Vic was in his 70s at that time, but was a regular and
very helpful part of the team also. They felt strongly that they did not want Hinckley to be in the
presence of the President in a small room for a video-taped deposition. It was a combination of
those factors that led us to conclude that we just would not do it.
Mr. Ross: Yes. What sense did you and your team get ofHinckley’s motivation
which, of course, has been a matter of discussion for many years? Why did he end up there or
outside the hotel entrance with a gun shooting at this President?
Judge Harris: I don’t know that anybody can really answer that ideally. Certainly
I can’t, but the basic difference between the psychiatrists who testified in the trial and there were
multiple psychiatrists. The defense psychiatrists, of cowse, took the position that he was
mentally ill. Our psychiatrists took the position that he was not mentally ill, but rather suffered
from multiple personality defects including narcissism, and it seemed to be he was obsessed with
the actress Jodie Foster at Yale, that he communicated with her and it seemed to me sort of a
bizarre attention-getting device. He had gotten some psychiatric help in Colorado before
wandering around and ending up in Washington. But interestingly enough, after he was found
not guilty by reason of insanity, as is required by District of Columbia law, he was sent to St.
Elizabeths for a psychiatric evaluation, and when he came back from there, the evaluation of the
St. Elizabeths’ psychiatrist was precisely that of the government psychiatrists at trial. That he did
suffer from multiple personality defects but was not mentally ill. But he continues to be held to
this day. June Green inherited the case after Judge Parker died. I’m not sure who has it now
since June Green died recently, about a year ago at age 85, within about a week of the time that
she left the court. But it’s an interesting dilemma as what to do with him now. Our psychiatrists
back at that time were concerned that if Hinckley and his parents cloaked him in the insanity
defense that that could well tip him over the edge of having multiple personality disorders indeed
crossing into the nether world of mental illness and that he would cloak himself with that to
absolve himself from feeling responsibility or guilt for what he had done, and there seems to be
validity to the approach that they took at that time. One of the things that I mentioned was that I
had to make a number of decisions. One of them that I made during the trial was that we had
four psychiatrists lined up to testify for the government. But the first two, Park Dietz, a
psychiatrist who at that time was a professor at the University of Virginia Law School and now
practices in California, and Sally Johnson, who was the chief psychiatrist at the Butner
Correctional Institution and was a part of the federal prison system. They were such superb
witnesses and took about a week each that I made the decision and I’m not sure Roger Adelman
has forgiven me since. We haven’t brought the subject up. I concluded that we should not put
on the other two psychiatrists that were waiting in the wings because of the time that we were
taking and because the first two had been so outstanding.
Mr. Ross: Well that must have been a memorable experience.
Judge Harris: It was that.
Mr. Ross: I’d like to ask you now about the Lockerbie Scotland air case that’s
also called the Pan American 103 case. Could you tell us about that? That’s obviously a major
and still continuing matter.
Judge Harris: Actually, I did quite little in the case, although it was probably
about the most significant case I had as a judge. It happened that the two Libyan intelligence
agents were indicted here in the District of Columbia under a statute which gives jurisdiction in
the District of Columbia for terrorist acts committed overseas against American nationals. When
the two Libyan intelligence agents were indicted, the indictment was randomly assigned to me. I
read the indicbnent and it was quite lengthy. I think it was about a SO-page indictment and a
remarkable, remarkable bit of investigative work that had gone into it. What happened in the
case is rather remarkable in that they placed the bomb on a plane in Malta, which then flew to
Frankfurt, Germany, and then the suitcase containing this bomb with a timer was put onto a flight
to London and then it was placed on a flight to the United States. But the plane was a little bit
delayed in getting out of London, and as a result, the timed bomb went off over Scotland as
opposed to over the Atlantic Ocean and that meant that bits and pieces of the plane and
everything on it were scattered over miles and miles of Scottish countryside. And they fanned
out hundreds if not thousands of people just checking virtually every inch that they could and
they found a little piece of metal, about the size of a fingernail, that they were able to identify as
coming from a timer that had been manufactured in Switzerland and sold to the Libyan
government. And from that they began to piece together how this all came about and to track the
actions of the two Libyan intelligence agents who were responsible for it. I kept in contact with
the people at the Department of Justice periodically to see what the likelihood was of our getting
the bodies of these two intelligence agents so that I would have had the trial. They were never
produced. I confess that I thought that it was quite likely that they might go for a fishing trip in
the Mediterranean and suffer some sort of an accident that might prove fatal to both of them
because I did not think that Muammar Quadhafi ever wanted them to come to the United States
where they might work out a deal and talk. And ultimately, quite a few years later, the case was
tried before tluee Scottish judges in the Netherlands and one of the two agents was found guilty.
One was acquitted. The one who was found guilty is now serving a life term. I’m not sure where
he is incarcerated. But I never had to do any work in the case beyond reading the indictment and
following it and I also read a couple of books about the case just so that if I got it I would be as
informed as possible. One of the books was about the victims — the Americans who had been on
the flight It was a very moving thing and a very tragic act of terrorism that killed about 260
Mr: Ross: You never had any discovery proceedings?
Judge Harris: No.
Mr. Ross: I see.
Judge Harris: No one ever entered an appearance.
Mr. Ross: But it was a fascinating case. I would like to ask you now some more
questions about your family. We had only the briefest coverage of your family. You mentioned
your mother, Mary Elizabeth Sutherland, was the daughter of a Senator and I remember vaguely
about Senator Sutherland. Can you tell us something about her?
Judge Harris: You mean about my grandfather Senator Sutherland or about my
Mr. Ross: About your mother and that will lead back into your grandfather.
fudge Harris: Well, my mother was a lovely woman and wonderful woman. She
met my father when I guess she was about 20 and he was then managing and playing for the
Washington Senators baseball team here, and ultimately they fell in love and got married in 1926
— October 1, 1926 — so that it would have been just after the baseball season. Ultimately in the
l 940s they became divorced. A profession such as baseball which has somebody on the road as
much as basebaH requires its players and managers to be can be very tough on marriages and I
think that was a contributing factor to their difficulty. But they remained very good friends and
had a good relationship through the years.
Mr. Ross: Was she raised in the Washington area?
Judge Harris: No. Basically in West Virginia.
Mr. Ross: Was her schooling in West Virginia?
Judge Harris: Well, she went to Madeira School out here in suburban Virginia,
but that was when my grandfather served two tenns in the House of Representatives and then one
term in the Senate so that she came up here as a girl. I’m not sure what year. I can’t put my
finger on it. And like a lot of women she fudged her age by a year, just one year. I don’t have
the dates pinned down in my memory.
Mr. Ross: Did you know the senator at all? Ever meet him?
Judge Harris: Yes. We were close.
Mr. Ross: Tell me about him and your relationship.
Judge Harris: Well, he was a very dedicated man of high ability and absolute
bed.rock ethics. If a constituent even sent him a pack of matches, he would send it back to them
and say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel I should accept anything from anyone.” And I think of the state
of our political life today where integrity does not exist to the extent that it did back in those
days. And I don’t mean that my grandfather was unique in that respect. I think there was a broad
respect for the process of government and a higher degree of integrity than I think we see today.
The mass media and attention-getting politicians now seem to seek, whether that has contributed
to some of the degradation of standards or not I don’t know, but he was a fine man, whom I’ve
always been very proud of. And I did get to know him pretty well. He lived well into his 80s
and I had a chance to spend considerable time with him which I treasure.
Mr. Ross: Was he a native of West Virginia?
Judge Harris: Originally from Missouri.
Mr. Ross: Missouri. And what was his educational background as far as you can
Judge Harris: I knew it at one point, I can’t recaH it now. Westminster College
sticks in my mind because he was from Fulton, Missouri, but I’d have to check his biography to
be able to recall that at this point.
Mr. Ross: Was he in politics in West Virginia?
Judge Harris: I do not think he was. He was with the David & Elkins Coal
Company for a time in Elkins, West Virginia. I don’t believe he held elective office in the State
of West Virginia before becoming a United States Congressman.
Mr. Ross: Did he continue to live in the District after his term?
Judge Harris: Yes he did, and he became the Alien Property Custodian at one
point following World War I, which was a significant government position and held that, then
lived on Wyoming Avenue here in Washington until his death.
Mr. Ross: So you were over there sometimes in his home?
Judge Harris: Yes.
Mr. Ross: He was in yours?
Judge Harris: Yes. Frequently.
Mr. Ross: Would you continue Judge, and tell us something about your brother
and sister and your relationship with them?
Judge Harris: Well, we were close although of course several years difference in
age means you are doing different things when you are young. My sister, after graduating from
Woodrow Wilson High School here in Washington, went to nursing school in Baltimore. And
unfortunately while being in the hospital or perhaps in some public transportation ride or
something ended up contracting tuberculosis and that washed her out of nursing school. and
when she finaily recovered from that, she did not go back to school and ended up marrying a man
who became a minister. They ultimately divorced after she and her husband had several children,
then she moved to Orlando, Florida, where s he has been living ever since, although for a time her
husband was the Chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which was an
interesting experience for her and for him, of course. My brother also went to Woodrow Wilson
High School here and then went to Wake Forest University. I enjoyed playing a lot of sports.
My brother was a better athlete than I, and after his junior year at Wake Forest, turned
professional and played professional baseball for several years. And then he set three years as the
maximum time period within which he would be willing to play in the minor leagues before
leaving baseball if he didn’t get to the big leagues. My own decision was a little bit different. I
played varsity baseball at the University of Virginia, but knew that I would never be a good
enough hitter to,make the big leagues and so was not tempted at all to play in the minor leagues
for a while.
Mr. Ross: Good field, no hit.
Judge Harris: That’s reasonably accurate. (Laughter) I would add I have no
doubt but that my brother would have made the big leagues today with there being more teams,
but at that point there were 16 teams.
I might add with respect to my brother that after he finished with professional baseball
and came to Washington and got into the stock brokerage business when I was practicing law, we
had never, with five years difference in our ages, had the opportunity to play together and we
started playing the top rung of softball competition in Maryland and it was great fun being
teammates. So we played together for quite a few years and won a couple of championships and
had a great time. The difficulty is that a couple of high school knee injuries, coupled with
playing competitive sports into my 40s, took me to the point of needing a couple of knee
replacements at this stage ofmy life.
Mr. Ross: You really suffered for your addiction. Were these brothers and sisters
close? Did they play a meaningful role in your life? I know that’s a hard question.
Judge Harris: It is a hard question. I’m deeply attached to both of them. Like
most brothers and sisters, we don’t see as much of each other — well, practically you don’t see as
much of anybody you really care about as you’d like to these days with so many activities going
on and with my sister in Florida. My brother is still in this area, so we’re able to get together
occasionally. His life and ours are divergent and it’s hard to get together.
And as one further footnote as I think back to my brother and my playing on the same
softball team and what a pleasure that was. My father had never seen me play a game because
whenever I was playing baseball and later softball, he was always with his team, so he never saw
me play. And finally after my father retired he had an opportunity to come to a softball game in
which my brother and I were playing. So that was the only time he ever saw us play at a game
together and it was the only time he ever saw me play in a game at all, and we happened to run
up against a practically world-class pitcher and had a perfect game thrown against us at the one
game my father got to see. (Laughter)
Mr. Ross: Oh, dear. How about other recreation and hobbies? I know baseball
was a big part of your life. What else can you say about your interests?
Judge Harris: Well, they are varied. We had a sailboat for a number of years
which we enjoyed greatly and kept at Annapolis, but after we had kids we concluded that we
weren’t able to use it enough and disposed ofit. I’ve enjoyed playing golf and went out the other
day, a year after my retirement from the court, and played a weekday morning. I think that’s the
first time in my life I’ve done that. I thought when I became a judge I’d have time to play a little
golf and improve my game, but it never worked out that way. I never could get away from the
courthouse. I’ve enjoyed photography through the years. But basically my professional life has
been very demanding and there has been very little time for many other activities.
Mr. Ross: Aie you following the Kemper?
Judge Harris: I was doing a lot of things. I’ve gotten into arbitration and
mediation since retiring from the court and I had an awful lot to do over the weekend and I
worked most of the weekend. And I thought, wait a minute, this is retirement?
Mr. Ross: One gets that sense. Tell me about your boat a little bit. I’m a sailor
and I’ve had boats all my life.
Judge Harris: Well, one ofmy partners and a very close friend for years was a
man named Frank Reifsnyder, and Frank and I worked at Hogan & Hartson together. We jointly
bought a sailboat, a Pearson Vanguard, 32 1/2 foot sloop which we kept at Annapolis and jointly
owned for quite a number of years. I would add that joint ownership worked out beautifully
because every time we would leave the boat we would have to leave it immaculate for the
Reifsnyders and vice versa, so we always went to a dean boat and so did they and never had the
problem of saying oh, let’s leave these dishes soaking and we’ll get them when we come back.
Mr. Ross: And that’s fatal.
Judge Harris: It also, of course, cuts the costs in half, so that worked out very
well for someone on a judge’s salary educating kids.
Mr; Ross: Did Nancy Lee like sailing?
Judge Harris: Not a great deal.
Mr. Ross: I wouldn’t have thought she would.
Judge Harris: Although Frank had children from his first marriage and the
sailboat for him was a wonderful opportunity to be able to get together with his sons.
Mr. Ross: Did you sail with Bozey or sec something of him?
Judge Harris: No, although I had known Bozey for years.
Mr. Ross: How about writings? Are there any writings you’d like to note — I
mean of your writings or written things that you would like to mention here to put on the record?
Judge Hanis: I’ve never written anything except what I’ve done as a judge. I
have worked hard as a judge and never had time to do anything beyond the job that was in front
of me, so I never ventured into anything else, although God knows there is a warehouse full of
opinions that have been written through the years.
Mr. Ross: Yes, I bet there are. Have you ever thought about possibly excerpting
some of the more interesting ones and publishing, maybe it would be a private publishing event if
it wasn’t commercialJy feasible or a list of your opinions with some commentary and narrative?
Judge Harris: I don’t know whether it would be of interest to anybody but me, but
there are so many things that I have to do from the standpoint of family history, such as going
through 40 years worth of slides and photographs and trying to organize those and everything
else, I doubt I’ll ever get to that. I think judges tend to forget their cases, though. You focus very
intensely on a case while you are working on it and then you focus equally intensely on the next
one and they tend to get out of your mind, so it’s quite intriguing now and then when I run across
an opinion in an old case and have the flood of memories in connection with the processing of
the case coming back to me. And, I should note, my secretary very graciously had all of my slip
opinions from the D.C. Court of Appeals put in bound volumes, and West Publishing has
provided me with bound volumes ofmy district court opinions.
Mr. Ross: I’ve had the experience of sometimes coming across something I wrote
30 years ago, and if I hadn’t had my name on it, I wouldn’t have recognized it. If you were a
benevolent dictator, someone who could make things happen and decide on matters around you,
what changes would you make in the law broadly and you can address things like law practice,
the court system, law teaching, law and government, lawyers in government, anything that you
want to?
Judge Harris: Well, I’d have trouble tying together many thoughts at this point.
Several thoughts occur to me. One, I think we desperately need some sort of reform of the class
action mania that has come along and has driven so many companies into bankruptcy with
virtually no real true liability for what they may have done. I think we have way too many
lawyers and having too many lawyers results in too many lawsuits because they need to keep
active and make a living. With my own kids, for example, with respect to law school, I never
encouraged anybody to go to law school. I said, “It’s up to you. If you want to go, there are too
many lawyers. I think you’d be a good one if you did it,” but my old friend Catherine Kelly, one
ofmy colleagues on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, used to go to great lengths to
discourage people who consulted her and discouraged them from going to law school because the
law schools graduate more lawyers than the profession can accommodate or assimilate. And I
think that part of that is that law schools being popular, more and more universities have
developed law schools because they can get revenues from them and graduate just too dam many
lawyers. I’ve had one recurring ifl were a dictator thought, but I’d argue with myself on both
sides of it I think I’d like to see a rule that nobody could become an appellate judge without
having been a trial judge first and nobody could become a Supreme Court Justice without having
gone the route on both courts before. Where that breaks down a bit is that I think it’s more
difficult to be a good trial judge than it is to be a good appellate judge. That is, it requires a
different collection of skills for one to be a good trial judge. Working on an appellate court is an
extension oflaw review from its analysis and writing and doesn’t require the quick decision
making and people skills that a trial judge has to have to be good. Judges, of course, are human.
I have enormous respect for the judges that I’ve known, but there’s a range. There are some
outstanding judges and there are some that are not so good, which is true of any profession of
course. One problem that we have now, of course, is a concern of the bar and I think to a large
extent when you get below the Supreme Court level, the function of the entire judiciary
throughout the country, and the bar is concerned that too much of the decision-making process is
controlled by law clerks and I’m afraid that that’s a concern that has some validity. All the
judges that I have known on the courts on which I have served — and I’ve been a member of three
courts and sat on five others — and the judges have more to do than they can handle and you have
to place a lot of reliance on your law clerks. And if a judge’s instincts and common sense and
legal learning are not sufficiently good to be able to distinguish good from bad work or flawed
work by a law clerk who has very little experience, you can end up with some law being made
that is not as good as we would like it. And I think that’s part of the reason for my earlier
thought that I’d like to see appellate judges have trial court experience before they become
appellate judges because they just simply too often do not have any sense as to what happens in
the courtroom and you end up in my view with some silly reversals.
Mr. Ross: Let me go back to the question of fairness and the ability of the nondeep
pocket litigator to advance or defend positions in complex matters in the federal courts.
You were talking about class actions. I’ve long thought that the discovery rules which are, of
course, great engines for truth when they are properly and efficiently used but offer too much of a
temptation on the part of either plaintiffs or defendants who have deep pockets to defeat causes
simply by prolonging them and their expense — and even in a very legitimate use of the
discovery, it can become overwhelming for a particular defendant or even a plaintiff. Have you
ever thought about the possibility of adopting something more like the British system in
discovery, which puts more of a premium on conciseness and expedition and limiting discovery
and also discouvages the bringing of a lawsuit itself because of the possible occurrence of costs,
the way it assigns costs in litigation? If one brings the lawsuit and loses, the costs can be quite
crushing. Have you ever thought about whether our system would work better as a whole ifwe
went more to the British style?
Judge Harris: I think I must yield to you with respect to aspects such as discovery
-1 SOof
the British system. I just have no familiarity with that. I am troubled by the so-called
American rule as opposed to the British rule on costs and attorney’s fees in our court system. I
think that we would be helped very significantly in the overload of cases, including many of
which are frivolous and brought with the objective of achieving some sort of a nuisance
settlement value. I think that ifwe could assess costs against the losing party, we could get rid of
a lot of unwanted and undeserving litigation in this country.
Mr. Ross: So it might be something that some state might tty in an exploratory
Judge Harris: I would hope so.
Mr. Ross: They haven’t so far as far as I know. And that would be an approach
to dealing with the problem of overwork and overload in the court systems I suppose.
Judge Harris: Yes it would.
Mr. Ross: And because it seems that state legislatures and Congress are probably
never going to be willing to fund courts in the way in which judges would think was ample and
Judge Harris: Well, I think the federal court system is probably funded adequately
— not ideally-· but adequately, and I have no real personal knowledge of funding of state court
Mr. Ross: Well, you were in the equivalent of a state court system.
Judge Harris: But the funding was federal.
Mr. Ross: Right. That’s true. How about law school, law teaching, law training?
Judge Harris: I tend to defer to the academics in areas like that. I went to the
University of Virginia Law School Thought they did a marvelous job down there. I’ve had very
little exposure to other schools and have never gotten much into academia at all. And the Bar
Association of the District of Columbia was a voluntary bar and I’m sure you have seen some of
those wonderful photographs back from the ’30s and ’40s when one montage could show al1 350
members of the bar and everybody knew everybody and everybody’s word was their bond and it
was a wonderful fraternity. There still were not that many members of the bar when I started
practicing in 1953. It became apparent as the bar grew that there were needs — in particular, in
the area of lawyer discipline and whether a lawyer might have a drinking or a drug problem and
needed to have the public protected from that particular lawyer. A better mechanism and what
the voluntary Bar Association of the District of Columbia was among the entities looking into
was the creation of what is often referred to as integrated or mandatory bar. I happened to have
been made chairman of what was called the Bar Association’s Committee on the Integrated Bar,
which I hasten to add had nothing to do with race but had to do with a mandatory bar, and then
the District of Columbia Bar was created to which every lawyer who wishes to practice in the
District of Columbia must belong. So, when I left the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
after serving nine and one-half years on that court, the District of Columbia Bar, the mandatory
bar, integrated bar, if you would, presented me with a Distinguished Service Award. The Bar
Association of the District of Columbia is something in which I had been active, as I indicated,
with that one committee chairmanship among other things and in addition to giving me the
Lawyer of the Year award in 1982, they also very graciously gave me an award for a
Distinguished Career in 1996. I went to the Landon School in Bethesda for seventh, eighth and
ninth grades. Later served on the Board of Trustees at Landon on a couple of occasions. In the
late 1980s, I think it was, I was honored to receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from
Landon School. I had never b een active in the District of Columbia Bar, the integrated bar, if
you would, because by the time it was created I had become a judge. With respect to the bar
association, I had served on committees. I have been an officer of the bar association and served
on its Board of Directors. I had the honor of serving as President of the Lawyers Club of
Washington, D.C., which is purely a social organization for lawyers that has no useful function
whatsoever beyond getting together like-minded folks who enjoy each other’s company and it’s a
pretty good group. I was an officer and member of the Executive Committee of the Barristers,
another comparable organization.
I have enjoyed my career a great deal. AF, I indicated in one of our early sessions, I really
was quite reluctant to leave Hogan & Hartson when I was asked on a number of occasions to go
on the Superior Court when it was created. i have developed concern about the future ofth.e
federal judiciary. I think the federal judiciary through the years has served the country
extraordinarily well and attracted extremely capable people. When I went on the bench, I took a
60 percent income cut and if anything, I think the differential has become aggravated through the
years instead of alleviated and it gives me concern as to the quality of people who are wjlling to
become judges because no judiciary can be any better than the ability of the people who are in it.
A number of years ago, Congress created a Quadrennial Commission which was
supposed to look at judicial salaries and Congressional salaries and executive salaries and
provide for their keeping up with inflation, but that floundered on Congress’ persistent
unwillingness for political reasons to vote itself pay increases and judges’ pay is tied to
Congressional pay. So if you look at what has happened to the federal judiciary in the last 25
years, that’s a rough estimate of time, you have gone from having, almost without exception,
really outstanding members of the bar going into the federal judiciary at a later stage of their
career now to having a very significant percentage of people going into the federal judiciary for
whom it’s a promotion from an income standpoint to accept a federal judgeship rather than a cut.
Unfortunately, I think the selection of judges has become more politicized than I would like to
see it. I think the Bork situation was a disaster. Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing I
thought was a very sad situation. Now you have the Senate Judiciary Committee declining to
hold hearings on extraordinarily talented people like John Roberts and Miguel Estrada whose
qualifications to be superb federal judges are beyond question, but because they are not liberal
they are not being processed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. l was interested in listening the
other day to Senator James Jeffords from Vermont who left the Republican Party, which had the
rather remarkable effect of giving the Democrats control of the Senate, including the Judiciary
Committee. But the other day was the one year anniversary of Jim Jeffords having left the
Republican Party and giving control of the Senate to the Democrats and then having a to?do
about that, and I guess it sticks in my mind so clearly that as a part of his comments when he
accepted everyone’s compliments he turned to Pat Leahy, the Chairman and other Senator from
Vermont and Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and said, “Pat, just keep picking those
judges.” Well, we have a Constitution and it is up to the President of the United States to pick
judges. I think any court is well served by having a mix of people on it. That is our system. If
we have a Democrat as the President, you are going to have people who politically are attuned to
the people selecting the judges. so you end up with a mixture of people who are Democrats and
people who are Republicans because everybody has some views on the issues facing our society
and our country, but good judges leave those thoughts behind when they walk into the
courtroom. I mentioned earlier when I had tough problems and wanted to be sure I wasn’t going
astray, I would go to Aubrey Robinson, Gary Gesell and John Pratt for guidance. Well, they
were all Democrats. I happen to be a Republican. But when it came to judging, we all viewed
ourselves as judges. Any political attitudes we had were left behind when we went in the
courtroom. But unfortunately politics have come more into play than I like to see in the judicial
selection process and recently in the confirmation process.
Oral History of STANLEY HARRIS
June 25, 2002
This is the eighth session in an oral history conducted under the auspices of the oral
history project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewee is
Stanley Harris, a lawyer in practice and in the judiciary, and the interviewer is William Ross.
The date is June 25, 2002.
Mr. Ross: Well, shall we start? It is June 25, 2002. This is the last session]
assume. This is a chance for you to sum up, to generalize, to think about your life in the light
of — stimulated by — what you have already said and it will probably be helpful in summarizing
and giving some meaning to this historical account. Do you have any thoughts, or should I just
throw them around? I’m sure you do have some thoughts, so why don’t I just let you go and
Judge Harris: One thought occurred to me as I thought back on one of your
questions, which is, I think you phrased it, ifl were dictator and could make changes. One I
overlooked referring to is that from the standpoint of the Article I court system, that is the
Superior Court and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, I would love to see the selection
process go back to what it was when I went into that court system. I believe I mentioned
historically recognizing that Washington is a place that is geographically limited and is
surrounded by bedroom communities and historically judges could be selected for the “local” -although
they are technically federal courts — people could live in Montgomery County, Prince
George’s County, Alexandria, Fairfax County, contiguous areas and be eligible to serve on those
courts. When the Home Rule legislation was passed in 1974, while the administration was
somewhat paralyzed by Watergate, it eliminated the contiguous jurisdictions and necessitated
one’s living within the District of Columbia to go onto the Court of Appeals into the Article I
system. I think that is very undesirable and needlessly limits the pool and I would also like to see
the nomination commission done away with. If the positions on those courts are filled by
presidential appointment, it seems to me inherently dubious to have legislation which restricts the
choice of the President of the United States to only three names picked by a body which has, as I
had anticipated, become regrettably but understandably politicized. If you take my own situation,
for example, I was born in the District of Columbia, educated in the District of Columbia, lived
in the District of Columbia, always practiced law in the District of Columbia. My three older
sons were born in the District o f Columbia and I didn’t move to Montgomery County until fairly
late in the game. And the idea that somehow I should become technically inappropriate for
appointment to the Article I court system because I happened to have moved across the District
of Columbia line is I think rather absurd. Particularly when you consider, for example, that the
District of Columbia Circuit has Steve Williams who came in from Colorado, Karen Henderson
who came in from South Carolina, Dave Sentelle who came in from North Carolina. There are
no geographic limitations there. The situation is a little different with respect to district judges.
In all but three districts in the country, a district judge must live in the district in which he serves.
The three districts in which one does not have to live, recognizing the bedroom nature of the life
of people who might serve on those courts, are the District of Columbia, the Southern District of
New York and the Eastern District of New York, and I would like to see that here. Beyond that, I
welcome any questions. I would do a little swnmation and invite any follow-up which will occur
to you, which I am sure will.
I first became a judge, somewhat reluctantly as I indicated, in part for financial reasons,
but I really have no regrets whatsoever. It has been a wonderful. fascinating career. I’ve had the
pleasure of setving as a member of three separate courts. The Superior Court, the D.C. Court of
Appeals and the United States District Court. I was certainly the first, and I think I’m the only
person, to have sat on all four of what might be called normal courts here — the Superior Court,
the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the District Court and the Circuit Court. I have sat on
all four of those. I don’t believe anybody else has done that. I have also been the United States
Attorney. Nobody else has ever had all four of the jobs that [ have had, so it has been a
fascinating variety and I think that it’s been very rewarding, very stimulating. I’ve enjoyed it
greatly. I also have had the pleasure of sitting on five other courts — the United States District
Court for the Southern District of New York and the United States Courts of Appeals for the
Third, Sixth, Eleventh and District of Columbia Circuits. So it’s been a wonderful variety and
while I think that federal judges are unfortunately underpaid, a problem which seems to become
exacerbated with each passing year, which as I indicated in our last session, inevitably is leading
to a reduced intellectual quality– that’s an oversimplification, of course, but a brain drain is
inevitable if you pay federal judges about the same amount of money that first year associates can
make in major firms. While I don’t mean to suggest any major complaining on my part, sure I
had to borrow money to educate my kids, but then when you retire after serving the requisite
number of years in the federal system, your salary does continue and you have that for your
lifetime, so the fact that you were unable to save much, if anything, during your period of setvice
as a judge evens out at the end as your income continues to come in. So all in all, I’ve enjoyed it
greatly. In addition to the setvice which I’ve had, I was pleased when I was being considered for
nomination to district court. The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the
Federal Judiciary found me exceptionally well qualified and that category has since been
dropped. That brings to mind kind of a funny story. The first time I sat on the D.C. Circuit, one
of the judges with whom I sat was Nino Scalia, who of course later went on the Supreme Court.
And I can’t recall how the subject came up, but Nino asked me how the ABA had rated me and I
told him exceptionally well qualified. And a slight bit of exasperation came into the tone of his
voice and he said, “Well, they only found me well qualified.” (Laughter).
Mr. Ross: That sounds like him. I know him very well.
Judge Harris: Yes. And I said, “Nino, don’t feel bad. You have to have been a
judge before to be able to be eligible for the exceptionally well.qualified rating and since you
hadn’t been a judge before, you cannot fit that because only if they’ve had an opportunity to
valuate prior temperament and attitude on the bench could they find you exceptionally well
Mr. Ross: Right.
Judge Harris: But that’s pretty much the only summary thoughts that occur to me.
Mr. Ross: Let me ask you a question, more general, or raise a topic of a little bit
more general nature which I’m sure that you’ve thought about. Underlying what you’ve said is
obviously a latent, maybe an explicit political issue that has been a part of our country’s history,
probably from the very beginning of the line of government, and that is a judicial appointment is
not only a means of carrying out the function of the federal courts as they are established in the
Constitution, which could be said that decide questions arising and to develop the law, but
there’s a symbolic function of both state and federal court judges, which is very strong, and
politics and the age•old controversy between what might be called the elitist approach to judge
selection in which normally there’s not an election, a popular election. The judge is appointed by
the authority, the government, or the President, or whatever. Qualification by prior experience in
the law or otherwise and education and so on is the key consideration and the idea being that
such person will perform better in a superior way. And the other side of the issue is the
desirability from the popular standpoint of having these prestigious appointments, which carry a
success and power and significance in our society, go to as broad a possible base of people who
are otherwise minimally qualified. When I was chainnan of the first nominating committee for
the new court system, some people said you ought to get really good lawyers in here ifwe are
going to make this work. Well, we want all the groups and categories — at any rate, other people
would say well, if Judge Harris has his way, there will never be anybody from the Fifth Street
Bar. There won’t be very many blacks or Hispanics. There won’t be these people who are the
heart and soul of the population of the District who will have access to these prestigious
appointments. You are familiar with that. It is part of our whole history and the bar association
and lawyers groups have been struggling with this for years. Does your position in views here
take into account that, or do you think that the need for excellence and qualification in the role is
so important that it overcomes any such issues?
Judge Harris: I think the two concepts can meld, really, with very little trouble.
Competent black lawyers are increasing in quantity with each passing year. They are very much
in demand for judgeships. I think they are sought out. Some black lawyer friends that I know
were offered judgeships and turned them down because they were making so much money that
they wouldn’t take the jobs. I hadn’t realized that you were connected with the nomination
commission and I think early it had started out with terrific intentions, although I rather vividly
remember a comment reported to me concerning John Hechinger who — he was an early member
of the commission — was advocating a particular person for a judgeship and someone else on the
commission said to him, “Look, would you have that person represent you?” And Mr. Hechinger
replied, “Well, no, but this is for a judgeship.” Well, I think that’s backwards reasoning.
Mr. Ross: It sure is.
Judge Harris: If you get somebody on the court who is not qualified to do a good
job, you do litigants and an entire system a considerable disservice. With each passing year,
there are more and more qualified black lawyers, more and more qualified women lawyers across
the spectrum. I might say that during my time as the United States Attorney, I hired more black
and female Assistant U.S. Attorneys, both as a numerical proposition and as a percentage
proposition, than any ofmy predecessors. And that certainly did not mean that I was all out for
affirmative action in the sense of having quotas. There simply were more qualified ones in the
pool available for me to pick from. And I can’t resist making one comment. The New York
Times sent a reporter named Leslie Maitland down to do a story on the United States Attorney’s
Office and one ofmy assistants pointed that out to her and she was very impressed by the fact
that I had hired more blacks and women than any ofmy predecessors. She assured us that she
wanted to make that part of her story. Well, when the New York Times ran the story, that was
conveniently spiked. The New York Times, being somewhat more liberal than some publications,
did not want to have a Reagan appointee recognized as having done that, which I found quite
interesting. But I can understand the sensitivities on it. It can be argued both ways. But we have
a Constitution and we have a capital city that under the Constitution is under the control of the
Congress and we are not a state and not governed by a governor. The only person, if you had
local appointments to what are basically federal Article I courts, if they were to be made locally,
they would be made by the Mayor. No Mayor in the United States makes judicial appointments
and I see no reason why the District of Colwnbia, as the capital city, should be the only city in
the country to have judges going into a court system on appointment by a Mayor. One thinks
back to the fact that Marion Barry, had he had the power to appoint judges, might not have put in
the kinds of folks that would have reflected considerable credit on the judiciary.
Mr: Ross: Yes. In terms of the performance of the court system and the bar, have
you had experience with alternative systems either in this country or elsewhere? Say the British
system or the continental system that lead you to have some reflections about the possibilities of
improvement of our system?
Judge Harris: I confess that I have never studied other court systems in any detail
a.11d basically have not served on any kind of a committee or commission that went into those
things. And I just never had the time to get into scholarly frolics such as that. Frankly, I’ve
always felt that my obligations to my court and my litigants were such that I didn’t have time to
do that. I am concerned, though, that the United States has, in my view, too many lawyers. The
law schools I think graduate more students than the legal profession adequately can assimilate.
That seems to me to be unfair to a lot of the kids who decide to go to law school. And it also
gives rise to an awful lot of lawsuits that otherwise might not be brought as lawyers certainly
have a right and a need to try to make a living and they are apt to bring into court cases that
might not have been brought ten or fifteen or twenty years ago. I do think and I certainly have
thought a lot about the so-called English system of having the losing party pay the attorney’s fees
for the prevailing party, and I think that has a great deal of charm and could get rid of an awful
lot of junk that crowds up our courts now, where people will file essentially virtually frivolous
lawsuits with the expectation of being bought off with some settlement in a case that has little
more than nuisance value, but because it has nuisance value, can result in some fee to the lawyer.
And those cases detract from the ability of judges to deal as effectively as they would like to with
those cases that present genuine issues of merit.
Mr. Ross: I have been troubled, as so many lawyers of our generation have, about
changes in the bar over my lifetime and they seem to be, to me at least, very striking. l don’t
know whether they are as striking or as extreme as I imagine them to be, but let me give you an
example. I’m really asking you about sort of a general question. When I went to law school, I
remember that I was taught that a lawyer should not express a personal opinion about the guilt or
innocence or the right or wrong of a client’s case. That is, you’re an officer of the court, you
represent your client to ihe best of your ability within the la\.v. You’re a zealous de.fender of your
client’s interests, but it’s for the tribunal to determine the validity of his claims, whether they are
civil or whether they relate to his guilt or innocence. Nowadays, a lawyer who doesn’t operate as
a public relations outlet for a client presumably would in many areas of practice get no clients,
and the grievance committees and the ethics committees of the bar seem to pay no attention to
this phenomenon. Do you have thoughts about that? Arn I all wet about this?
Judge Harris: No. I agree with you completely. It’s a troublesome thing to me
and I think it is unfortunate for example that advertising by lawyers was approved by the
Supreme Court and I confess that I never read that opinion. I don’t have any personal views as to
whether I agree with it or disagree with it, but I think it’s an unfortunate outcome. It is
distressing to watch so many Lawyers say I believe my client is innocent on television. On the
other hand, there are so many channels now available in the mass media that the likelihood of
that reaching a perspective juror is rather slim. I mentioned earlier the case in which I had 850
co-defendants when I was on the Superior Court and they had been arrested on the Capitol steps,
and during the process of jury selection, I shall never forget there were eight defendants who
went to trial, 752 still in the wings and when the voir dire was being conducted, and one lawyer
got up and said, “Now, you are aware that there had been these Vietnam protests and that some
of the routes to the city have been closed and access to streets has been interfered with? Are
there any members of the prospective jury panel who have been in any inconvenienced or
troubled or otherwise have any reaction to what’s going on?” And out of a jury panel of about
150 folks, about three raised their hands. It was as though they didn’t have the foggiest notion of
what all these people had been doing. And I think defense counsel were taken quite aback. They
thought the efforts that the clients had been making to express their displeasure with what was
happening in Vietnam was having a great import. It certainly didn’t have it on our jury panel.
But you see, I watch cable television and a lot of talk shows, and you are seeing lawyers just
constantly giving opinions as to their client’s guilt or innocence, other defendants’ guilt or
innocence, and it’s troublesome.
Mr. Ross: Do you see the bar moving in any direction? We are now at Point A
and a continuwn, we look forward to the next years and one could reflect that perhaps we’ve
reached a peak in a kind of shift in the bar to an overt pursuit of prestige and money, particularly
money, the income, and that success in the bar is being a bigger earner, a more prestigious
lawyer, in the general newspaper sense, and things might be turning back now and the trend
might be more towards a more conventional — historically conventional — notion of the lawyer as
being in a special role as compared to a businessman or a politician. Do you see any evidence
either way?
Judge Harris: I think the problem continues to become exacerbated, but I may be
looking through the wrong end of the telescope in that I haven’t practiced law for 31 years now.
I have watched the lawyers practicing before me and watch the overall legal scene. I think, for
example, what’s happening with respect to class actions is virtually obscene, with lawyers getting
hundreds of millions of do11ars, if not billions, in fees for massive class actions that often appear
to be worked out in some sort of collusion and I don’t mean that in the pejorative sense because
I’m not adequately informed, but in collusion with various states attorney generals offices. I
think lawyers are entitled to be properly compensated for their efforts, but to end up with
thousands and thousands of dollars per hour for participation in a class action which often ends
up — well, for example, in the asbestos industry, I think there are about 40 companies that have
been thrown into bankruptcy. A very high percentage of the claimants in the asbestos cases have
no discemable injury whatsoever. They are suing on the theory that perhaps they may have some
injury in the future. It’s all very troublesome.
Mr. Ross: One wonders, what can be done about this? It’s a money thing, and we
all know that. The profession appears to be — the fonnal structures of the profession appear to
be relatively helpless to modify or change this kind of progression. Have you thought about that?
Judge Harris: Yes, but not to the extent of being sufficiently informed to know
what specific steps might be taken, but it’s my understanding, for example, that a particular
county in Mississippi and another in Kentucky, the courts in those two areas have been hot beds
of class action filings, where they have extraordinary laxity as to what constitutes diversity from
the standpoint of being able to bring in defendants from all over the country, if they can find one
plaintiff within the particular jurisdiction. I think we need some sort of legislation that would
convey Article ill purely federal jurisdiction on major class actions and get them out of some of
these state court systems. I haven’t analyzed it enough to know exactly.
Mr. Ross: Do you have some thoughts about the role that you played in the larger
political life in the District? The District has been your home. You grew up in a family that was
rooted in the District. You were trained for law and practiced law in a very fine law finn here,
one of the elite law firms, and you played in an intense way and very thorough way a role in the
life of the District as a judicial officer and as a U.S. Attorney, a federal law officer. You are at a
point now where you can look back over that tremendously variegated life in the history of this
very interesting and almost unique government community. Do you have thoughts about that?
Judge Harris: Well, one thing is I think apparent to me and that is that I don’t
think anybody could have had the career that I have had anywhere other than in the District of
Columbia in that, despite having had four presidential appointments, I have never done a single
thing in politics. And the District of Colwnbia is unique in that respect with no Senators from
the District ofColwnbia. The President, that is the White House and the Department of Justice,
have been able to make their independent choices for each of the four jobs that I have fulfilled in
public service. I had zero political background at all. That couldn’t happen unless — I had
tended to simply focus with each of the jobs that I’ve had on the job at hand and do what had to
be done. I’ve never been a particular activist. One thing I did do was mildly inconsistent with
that; as the United States Attorney, I don’t think I ever turned down an invitation to speak before
any community group. I did that for two basic reasons. One, I felt that it would be a constructive
thing to do, but also I felt that with the contemporary political atmosphere in the District of
Columbia, it was important for a white Republican U.S. Attorney in a largely black city to be
available, to meet with anybody that wanted to meet with them, to let them see the face of the
person who was heading up the office and hear the views of that person. So I was constantly
doing outreach in that job. Well, of course, that was a night, always night time. But I should
take this opportunity to interject that I’ve always been blessed by having a wonderful wife who
has been enormously supportive of a11 of my professional activities and we have three fine sons
and she was able to be a stay-at-home mom until our youngest child reached 16 when she went
into the real estate business, which she has enjoyed since. But the political world is a different
world than the one in which I have always functioned and ifs one which, I must confess, with
each passing day the political arena is one in which I find less and less to admire.
Mr. Ross: The saying is that the closer you look at it the less you will admire it.
It’s sort of like making sausage. Who said that you don’t want to see the process?
Judge Harris: I can’t remember. And conversely, the vast majority of the judges
with whom I have come into contact with, setving on multiple courts and through seIVing on
Judicial Conference committees, have been in my view very dedicated, very conscious folks who
reflect great credit on the judiciary. No hidden axes to grind.
Mr. Ross: What do you see as your — you still are a very youthful man and
obviously still in what might be called the prime of your abilities. What do you see your future
holding given some modicum of good health and so on?
Judge Harris: Well, I had been a judge for nearly 30 years, blocking out the nearly
two years as the United States Attorney and I had watched others get sufficiently advanced in age
and then become ill and pass on in their eighties and in the meantime had been tied to the
courthouse the whole time, and I just decided — in part for silly mundane reasons such as the
obnoxiousness of the daily commute to get to the courthouse — I decided to retir e and did so
when I was 73. And I still feel able to contribute to the dispute resolution process, which in
effect is what the judicial system is all about, so I did affiliate with this organization called
JAMS. And JAMS is the largest of the nationwide p rivate organizations providing alternative
dispute resolution services. I started out with the goal of keeping active both mentally and
physically and also supplementing my income somewhat, although there’s a deterrent there
which might be of historical interest at some point in the future in that about 55 percent of every
dollar I earn from JAMS goes instantly in federal, state and social security taxes. I started out
with the idea of doing that on a part-time basis for those reasons, but I have found that a retired
federal judge who doesn’t drool is very much in demand and I now find myself working
considerably harder than l had in mind when I retired. But I’m finding it interesting, although
God knows I miss my law clerks and my secretary in this world of arbitration and mediation. But
this makes my, in effect, my sixth career, and I’m finding it quite interesting and rewarding.
Mr. Ross: Do you find that there are differences — you’re judging in a way, in a
very real way– in that you’re deciding or contributing to the decision of controversies? I take it
that you are fairly new at this and you must be feeling your way into it. Aie there things that you
can point to that you think are quite significant about your role and how it works as compared
with when you were on the bench?
Judge Harris: Well, there is a considerably more relaxed atmosphere which is
marvelous. No longer the formality of being calle d by your courtroom deputy and being told that
the parties are ready to proceed in the courtroom. And you go in the back door wearing a robe
and everybody rises and you don’t have much informality with anyone. An arbitration
proceeding is basically a non-jury trial that is done on a very relaxed basis. I still bring to it a
total dedication to try to reach the right result and do whatever is necessary to reach the right
result. That makes me think of a wonderful letter I got from one of my former clerks saying that
he would be unable to attend a retirement dinner that all ofmy former clerks arranged for me a
year or so ago. I wish I had it before me because he phrased it so marvelously, but one of the
things that he said was good luck in a world that is free of appellate review and monotonous
recurring drug trials.
Mr. Ross: Ah, yes.
Judge Harris: And that is a comforting thing. I might mention, Bill, that there is
always tension between appellate courts, appellate judges and trial judges. I spent nearly ten
years as an appellate judge and nearly 20 as a trial judge, so I’ve seen both sides of it. No judge
likes to be reversed and have a case remanded, but an awful lot of the issues that judges have to
deal with are 51 percent one way and 49 percent the other and people of good faith can
legitimately disagree on the outcome in certain situations. On the other hand, I think a big part of
the tension that exists between the two types of courts is a feeling on the part of trial judges that
too often appellate judges and their clerks do not have the requisite or desirable degree of
familiarity with the subtleties of the trenches that you have to work in as a trial judge. And I
must confess on a couple of occasions and perhaps I might provide the citations as we refine this,
but on several occasions I have felt that the D.C. Circuit erroneously sent back cases to me for
further action. For example, one was sent back to me to make findings and conclusions on a
motion for summary judgment and in my opinion the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make it
clear that that is not necessary. And I wrote a rather firm opinion saying that I thought the Court
of Appeals was wrong and saying why. Fairhead v. De/euw, Cather & Co., 817 F.Supp. 153
(1993). And I know that I earned a little enmity from some of the judges on that court for having
the presumptiveness to challenge the validity of their thinking, But it was done because of my
belief in the need for the law to be sound as an institution, and if a trial judge is asked to do
things or directed to do tirings which he believes in good faith to be the result of an error by the
Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals is as capable of being wrong as a trial judge, if what a
trial judge perceives to be a faulty opinion stands in the reporter system forever and is not
challenged by the trial judge, it soon becomes established law. And I have felt an obligation to
the law as an institution in a few circumstances where that has occurred to write an opinion
saying why I think the Court of Appeals was wrong so that future clerks when they are
researching a problem would be then led to my analysis in hopes of avoiding a comparable
problem in the future. However, of course, trial courts hierarchically are inferior to appellate
courts and so in each case I have always done what they said, but ifl felt they were wrong in
directing it, I felt an obligation to say why I disagreed with what I was asked to do. And I can’t
resist noting that after the Fairhead case was over, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a member of the
appellate panel who later was appointed to the Supreme Court, telephoned me and said that I was
“absolutely right” in that case and that ”what we did to you was terrible.”
Mr. Ross: It surprises me that there would be criticism of that as a procedure
because it seems to me as long as it is done in a respectful way with recognition of the fact that
we are all human and prone to error, including the writer, it’s useful and helpful.
Judge Harris: Well, an awful lot of trial judges don’t like being reversed and there
are a lot of appellate judges who don’t like being told that they may have erred. And then, of
course, intertwined with that problem is the fact of which many practicing lawyers complain, and
I think with considerable validity, and that is with existing case loads, lots of lawyers are
concerned that too many judicial decisions are too clerk created. And I think that’s a valid
criticism. So if you have these youngsters who, as talented as they are, have just come out of law
school and really are still pretty wet behind the ears and something strikes them as wrong, they
can come up with a very logical sounding draft saying that a trial judge did X, Y, or Z wrong and
an appellate judge presented with a cogent draft from a clerk may well sign on to it without fully
realizing exactly what happened. I had one reversal, for example, that still astounds me. In a
trial someone asked for an additional period of time, in effect for a recess, during the trial to
produce a witness who had never been produced and rather clearly was not going to be able to
show up. And I declined to continue the trial and made a ruling to that effect. It was appealed
and I was reversed. And I was baffled. And then in reading the opinion, the word “not” had
been left out of my ruling by the reporter, and to me, a high school senior would have read the
sentence in context and recognized that the “not” had been dropped out, but that provided the
basis for the reversal. So, strange things happen in every field.
Mr. Ross: Well, perhaps you may have further thoughts, but it seems to me that
we have covered a number of areas that are pertinent, and I wanted you in particular to refer to
this commendation that you received because I think it sums up your career and your status and
place in the judiciary and the bar and the District. Could you do that now for me?
Judge Harris: Well, thank you, Bill.
-1 71-
Mr. Ross: If you could give the context and so on.
Judge Harris: Well, the context is that of the Committees of the Judicial
Conference of the United States, with the Judicial Conference of the United States being in effect
the ruling body of the federal judiciary, and it’s comprised of the Chief Justice of the United
States presiding and the Chief Judge of each of the circuits and a number of Chief Judges of
district courts around the country. And the Judicial Conference obviously cannot be adequately
infonned on all of the subjects relating to the judiciary and so there are a whole series of
committees which work under the Judicial Conference. In years past, if a federal judge was
appointed to a Judicial Conference committee, typically he or she would serve on it for their
entire careers. They made great friends and they had great get togethers and meetings and they
were productive, but Chief Justice Rehnquist came up with the idea, which I think was a very
constructive idea, and that is that you would not serve — no judge would serve more than six
years on any committee or combination of committees. And the idea obviously makes a lot of
sense to me and that is, it gets more judges into the process and gives them more exposure to
other judges in different parts of the country because a typical Judicial Conference committee has
one member from each of the circuits. And I was the District of Columbia Circuit’s
representative on the Committee on Criminal Law for a period of six years. Each appointment is
for three years. ffThere are, unfortunately, some members of committees who do not produce. We
all have experienced that in various fields. So sometimes people serve for only three years and
are not appointed again, but I served two terms on the Criminal Law Committee and thought,
shew! That was a nice experience. I like the people I work with and I learned a lot, but it took
time away from my cases, so now I’ll be able to just concentrate on being a judge. Whereupon I
was asked by the Chief Justice to become the Chairman of the Committee on Intercircuit
Assignments. Now there are two ways in which courts in need can get help. Courts within a
particular circuit may get the benefit of what is called an intracircuit assignment. In the Fourth
Circuit, for example, in North Carolina, a judge may be designated to go help out a court in
Virginia. And that kind of appointment can be made by the Chief Judge of the circuit. Also,
however, there are what is known as intercircuit assignments, where a judge may go to another
circuit and by statute that may only be done by the Chief Justice. Well, obviously the Chief
Justice does not have time to fool with that, so there is a rather unusual committee known as the
Committee on futercircuit Assignments, which makes all of those arrangements and submits
them to the Chief Justice for bis approval. In effect, you become the alter ego of the Chief
Justice for the purposes of achieving these intercircuit assignments. In any event, I think I
became the first judge — 1 haven’t been able to find anybody else — the first judge ever to become
chairman of a Judicial Conference committee who hadn’t served on it before, which was a bit of
a daunting task, but that was a fascinating experience also, although it was very time conswning.
In any event, despite the Chief Justice’s rule that you only serve on any committee or
combination of committees for six years, I ended up serving 12 years on Judicial Conference
committees and when I finished my second term, the Judicial Conference adopted a resolution
which, ifyou’ll•forgive me, I will read, lest it stays forever in a darkened closet, and it reads as
follows: ”The Judicial Conference of the United States recognizes with appreciation, respect and
admiration the Honorable Stanley S. Harris, Chairman of the Committee on Intercircuit
Assignments from 1994 to 2000. Appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, this
outstandingjurist has played a vital role in the administration of the federal court system. Judge
Harris served with distinction as leader of the Intercircuit Assignments Committee while at the
same time continuing to perform his duties as a judge of the United States District Court for the
District of Colwnbia. Judge Harris set a standard of skilled leadership and has earned our deep
respect and sincere gratitude for his innumerable contributions, not only as chair of this
Committee, but also for his service on the Committee on Criminal Law from 1988 to 1994. We
acknowledge with appreciation Judge Harri.s’s commitment and dedicated service to the Judicial
Conference and to-the entire federal judiciary. Done in the City of Washington, D.C., September
19, 2000.” And it is signed by Leonidas Ralph Mecham, the Director of Administrative Office of
the United States Courts, who is the Secretary of the Judicial Conference, and by William H.
Rehnquist, the Chief Justice of the United States. So that bit of appreciation was greatly
Mr. Ross: That’s a splendid encomium. Well, I think we are about done.
Judge Harris: Yes, sir.
Mr. Ross: And I think we’ve got a pretty good oral history.
Judge Harris: Well, you’ve been a pleasure to work with, Bill, and I’m deeply
appreciative of your interest and you’ve done a great job, and I’m not one to talk about myself It
just isn’t my nature, but you’ve done a wonderful job of bringing things out and developing it.
Mr. Ross: Well, that’s one of the points of the whole thing.
Oral History of Stanley S. Harris
(NOTE: SSH refers to Stanley S. Harris)
Adams, Arlin, 114
Adams, Byron, 34
Adelman, Roger, 135-36, 139
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), 127, 128
Allen, Louis, 4
American Bar Association
National Institute on Appellate Advocacy, 130
Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, 158-59
American Broadcasting Company (ABC), 23
Article I court system, 49-50, 58, 63, 74, 156, 157, 162
Article ill court system, 58, 74, 95, 123
Intra/inter-circuit assignments, 127-28, 129, 173
Association of Federal Investigators, 126
Bacon, Sylvia, 51, 66-67
Baker, James (“Jim”), 136
Bar Association of the District of Columbia, 126, 152, 153
Barry, Marion, 162
Beane, Fred, 64
Bork, Robert, 154
Boyd, Howard, 36
Brady, James (“Jim”), 135
Brauner, Julie, 29
Breyer, Stephen, 89-90
British court system, 150-51, 162–63
Burton, Joe, 56, 64
Capital Cities Broadcasting Corporation, 23-24, 27-28
Caputy, Vic, 137-38
Certificate work, 47
Chapman, Ricqard (“Dick”), 135
Cohen, Lester, 19-20
Collins, Jerry, 36, 43
Committee on Intercircuit Assignments, 127-29
Computer research, 34-35
Considine, Bob, 5
Coolidge, Calvin, 9
Court of General Sessions, 49-50, 62-63, 64, 68, 94-95
Court Reorganization Bill (1970), 50, 58, 63, 67, 82
Differences between, 94-96
Funding of, 151
Relationships of, 92-93
Covington & Burling, 33, 39, 50, 52
Cox, Jim, 22
Crews, Keith, 75-76
Crowell, Eldon (“Took”), 38
Deaver, Michael, 136
Department of Justice, 115
Dietz, Park, 139
Dillard, Hardy, 12
Discovery process, 111-13, 150-51
District of Columbia Bar, 98, 152, 153
District of Columbia Court of Appeals, 49-50, 58, 66-70, 82
Appointment of Chief Judge Newman, 78-80
Members, 67—08, 73
Panel of the court, 72-73
Douglas, William, 47
Dungan, Tony, 47
El Paso Natural Gas, 16, 36, 37, 43, 44, 47
En bane procedure, 77-78, 80
Estrada, Miguel, 154
Federal Arbitration Act, 124
Federal Communications Bar Association, 36, 44
Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 20, 22-24, 28
Federal Power Bar Association, 36-37, 44
Federal Power Co mmission (FPC), 37
Federal Radio Commission, 20
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 110, 170
Federal Rules of Evidence, 93
Fickling, Austin., 69, 76
Flannery, Thomas, 117-18
Foster, Jodie, 138
Fourth Amendment, 85-86
Frankfurter, Felix, 34
Gallagher, George, 69, 79
Gehrig, Lou, 5
General Electric Company, 125
Gesell, Gary, 75, 99, 112, I 17, 155
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader, 170.
Green, Joyce, 117
Green, June, 138
Greene, Harold, 56, 61, 132
Harris, Stanley R. (“Bucky”), I
Baseball manager, 3-6, 141-42, 145-46
Acting, 13
Baseball, 5, 8, 15, 144, 145-46
Childhood, 2-8
Children, 6
Grandparents, 1. See also Sutherland, Howard; Sutherland, Effie
Parents, I, 141-42
Divorce, 4, 30, 141
See also Harris, Stanley R.; Sutherland, Mary Elizabeth
Sailing, 146-47
Horace Mann Elementary School, 9-10
Landon School, IO, 13, 14, 152
University of Virginia Law School, 11-13, I 4, 101-02, 144, 152
Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI), 10
Woodrow Wilson High School, 10, 14
Siblings, 2, 143-45
Sons, 167
Stepfather (Louis Allen), 4
University life, 11-13
Virginia Law Review Articles Editor, 102
Wife, II, 121,167
Writing, 13
Advice, 21, 24, 13()-31
Advocacy Institute, 130
Affirmative action, 161
Appellate Judges’ Seminar, 86
Arbitration and mediation, I 18, 119, 121-25, 146, 168
Compared to previous roles, 168-69
JAMS (Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services), 121-22, 125, 168
Quality of arbitrators, I 25
Army service, 10-11, 15
Awards, 125-26, 152-53
Distinguished Alumnus Award, 153
Distinguished Career, 152
Distinguished Service Award, 152
Judiciary Award, 126
Lawyer of the Year Award, 126, 152
Bankruptcy cases, l 13
Bar association, 36–37, 44, 98, 126, 152-53
Committee on the Integrated Bar (“Mandatory Bar”), 152
Board of Trustees, Landon School, 152
Civility, 116
Class action refonn, 148, 165-66
Collegiality, 25-26, 97-100
Committee on Criminal Law, 97, 126-27, 172, 174
Committee on b;ltercircuit Assignments, 97, 12 I, 126, 127-29, 173, 174
Commuting, 120
Confidence, 29-30
Court of General Sessions, 53, 64, 68,
Court system changes, 62-65
Criminal law, 56-57
Discovery rules, 111-13, 124,141, 150-51
District of Columbia Court of Appeals Judge, 69-70, 81-82, 94, 126, 152, 158
Appointment, 65, 66-68
Cases, 75-77
Colleagues, 68 69, 70, 82-83
Dissents, 71
Legislative history, 83-85, 88-91
Oral arguments, 71-73
Supervisory authority, 90-93
Ethics, 163-64
Executive Committee of the Barristers, 153
Hogan & Hartson practice, 18-20, 30-31, 38-40, 51, 53, 146, 153
Billing standard, 27-28, 40–42
Communications section, 20-21, 22-24, 28-29, 36-37, 43-44, 46, 51
Hiring authority, 30-33
Partnership track, 35-36
Power secti9n, 36-37, 43–44, 46–47, 51
Appellate v. trial, 149-50, 169-71
Politicized selection of, 154-55, 156-57
Judicial Conference
Committee on Criminal Law, 97, 126-27, 172, 174
Committee on lnterclrcuit Assignments, 97, 121, 126, 127-29, 173, 174
Resolution, 173-74
Juries, 133-34, 137, 164
Landon School Board of Trustees, 152-53
Law clerks, 62, 70-71, 12.l, 168, 169
Duties, I05-l 08
Female, 102-I03, I08
Reliance on, 149-50
Selection, l O 1-104
Law firm changes, 25-27, 38-40
Black, 160-61
Caliber of, 74-75
Government, 113-15
Overabundance of, 148-49, 162
Training of, 151-52
Women,31-32, 161
Lawyers Club of Washington, D.C., 153
Lecturer, 130
Litigation, views on, 111-12
National College of the State Judiciary, 53
Politics, 67, 166–67
Presentment, 53-55
Presidential appointments, 67, 166
Procedural delay tactic, 110-11
Research, 34-35, 74
Reversal, 171
Retirement, 116-23, 168
Salaries, 33, 51,118, 153-54, 157,158
Secretary, 119-20, 121, 148, 168
Senior Status, 128
Superior Court of the District of Columbia Judge, 49-54, 63-65, 81, 94, 158
Family law, 60
Judge-in-Chambers, 61-62, 132-35
Motions assignment, 85-86
Vietnam War protests, 60-61, 132-33, 134-35, 164
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, 45, 99, 126, 158, 167
Hinckley c?se, 135-39
Outreach activities, 166-67
United States District Court for the District of Columbia Judge, 158, 174
Crack cases, 95-97
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 21, 68, 158
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, 93, 158
Writings, 147–48
Hartson, Nelson, 15, 19, 25
Hechinger, John, 161
Henderson, Karen, 157
Hinckley, John, Jr., 45, 135, 136, 138, 139
Hirschkop, Philip (“Phil”), 134
Hogan,Frank, IS, 19
Hogan, Tom, 127, 128
Hogan&Hartson, 18-20,21,25-26,35-39,41-42
Lobbying, 48
Home Rule Act (I 974), 58, 67, 78, 156-57
Hood, Andrew, 66, 69
Homing, George, 15-16
Jeffords, James, 154
Jencks Act, 93
Johnson, Ramsey, 97
Johnson, Sally, 139
Johnson, Walter, 6-7
Jones, Edmund (“Nubby”), 15, 19, 25, 31
Appellate v. trial, 149-50, 169-71
Selection of, 58-59, 149-50, 154-55, 156-57, 159-62
Judicial Conference of the United States, 97, 126–29, 172, 173-74
Judicial Nomination Commission, 59, 79-80
Juvenile Court, 62-63
Kelly, Catherine, 69, 76, 149
Kern, John, 69, 71, 79
Kleinheinst, Richard, S2
Knight, Jack, 22
Lamberth, Royce, I 00
Landlord and tenant law, 56–58
Law clerks, 63-64, 74, 101-I08, 149-50, 171
Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), 66
Laws, Bolitha (“Bo”), 14
Laws, Bolitha,_Jr. (“Bozie”), 14, 147
Laws, Ileta, 14
Black, 160-61
Government, 113-15
Overabundance of, 148-49, 162
Training of, 151-52
Women, 31-32, 161
Leahy,Patrick, 154
Lee, Robert, 23, 24
Lockerbie, Scotland. See P?m American I 03 case
Mack, Connie, l 0
Magistrate Judges, 112-13
Maitland, Leslie, 161
Mandatory Bar (“Bar Association’s Committee on the Integrated Bar”), 152
Marshals, 55, 56
Mary Washington College, I I, 12
McArdle, Paul, 31, 50, 53
McCarthy, Timothy, 135
McGraw, John, 10
Mechum, Leonidas Ralph, 174
Miller, Herman, 59-60
Mintner, Bradshaw, 26
Mintz, Seymour, 19, 41–42
Mitchell, John, 52
Monk, George, 19
Moore, Luke, 134
Moring, Fred, 37-38
Moultrie, H. Carl, 69
Murphy, Tim, 52-53
Natural Gas Act, 47, 48
Nebeker, Frank, 69, 76, 79, 130
Neilson, George, 54-55
Newman,Ted, 78-80,81
New York Times, 161
Neilson, George, 54-55
Nixon, Richard, 120
Administration, 50
Norton, Randy, 15
Pair, Hubert, 67,. 69
Pan American io3 case, 139-41
Parker, Barrington, 137, 138
Patrick, Duke, 19-20, 25, 27-28, 29
Pension Building, 69
Phelan, Arthur, 19
Pavich, Shirley, 5
Pratt,John,99, 117,155
Pretrial Services Agency, 54
Prettyman, Barrett, Jr., 13-14, 34
Prettyman, Barrett, Sr., 13-14
Public Utilities Commission, 76–77
Quadhafi, Muammar, 140
Quadrennial Commission, 153
Reagan, Nancy, 136
Reagan, Ronald, 135, 136
Rehnquist, William, 118, 126, 129, 172, 173, 174
Reifsnyder, Frank, 14, 36, 43, 146–47
Reifsnyder, Nancy Lee Laws, 14, 147
Reilly, Gerry, 67, 69, 71, 78
Rent control laws, 58, 59-60
Revercomb, George, 51, 57
Robb, Roger, 77
Roberts,John, 154
Robinson, Aubrey, 99, 100-01, 117, 155
Rogers, James, I 9
Roney, Paul, 130
Ruff, Charles, 126
Rule 404(b), 93. See also Federal Rules of Evidence
Santarelli, Donald, 66, 67
Scalia, Antonin (“Nino”), 85, 89-90, 159
Segregation, 12
Senate Judiciary Committee, 154
Sentelle, David (“Dave’), 157
Shannon, Charles, 38
Smith, Frank, 24
Smith, Joseph, 25-26
Stann, Francis, 5
Stephens, Jay, 95, 96-97
Stewart, William, 50, 53
Superior Court pf the District of Columbia, 50, 69, 81
Calendaring, 94-96, 97
Sutherland, Effie, 1,
Sutherland, Howard, I, 9, 141–43
Sutherland, Mary Elizabeth, I, 9, 30-31, 141–42
Temple, Ralph, 134
Thomas, Clarence, 154
Trammell, Niles, 22
Transwestem Pipe1ine Company, 37, 44
Tuc ker, Marc, 135
Union Oil of California, 43
United States Attorney’s Office, I 14, 115, 133, 135, 161
United States Congress, 88, 89-90
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 50, 52, 82
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 114
United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 49, 50, 94
Calendaring system, 98
Chief Judge’s role, 100—01
Grand Jury, 100
United States Supreme Court, 76, 89, 92
University of Virginia, 11, 101-02
Vernon, Mickey (baseball player), 5
Vietnam War protests, 60–{il, 132-33, 134-35, 164
Watergate, 156
Washington Post, 79, 128
Weiser, Ben, 79
Williams, Stephen, 157
Williams & Connolly, 111
Career opportunities, l 0
Law clerks, 102-103, I 08
Lawyers, 3 1-32, 161
Work, Charles (“Chuck”), I 34
Yeagley, Walter, 67, 69
List of Cases
Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 US 443 (l97l), 86
Fairhead v. Deleuw, Cather & Co., 817 F.Supp. 153 (1993)
United States v. Williams, 816 F. Supp. l (1993), 92
0 “”‘ History f«>.l..
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Oral History Project
The Historical Society of the
District of Columbia Circuit
United States Courts
District of Columbia Circuit
The Honorable Stanley S. Harris
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
Interview conducted by:
Randell Hunt Norton, Esquire
April 6, 1995
The following pages record an interview conducted on the date indicated. The interview
was electronically recorded, and the transcription was subsequently reviewed and edited
by the interviewee.
The contents hereof and all literary rights pertaining hereto are governed by, and are
subject to, the Oral History Agreements included herewith.
© 1996 Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit.
All rights reserved.
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Oral History Agreements
Honorable Stanley S. Harris …………………………………… ii
Randell Hunt Norton, Esq. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . iv
Biographical Sketches
Honorable Stanley S. Harris . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vi
Randell Hunt Norton, Esq. . …………………………………. viii
Oral History Transcript oflnterview on April 6, 1995 ……………………… l
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Al
The goal of the Oral History Project of the Historical Society of the District of Columbia
Circuit is to preserve the recollections of the judges who sat on the U.S. Courts of the
District of Columbia Circuit, and judges’ spouses, lawyers and court staff who played
important roles in the history of the Circuit. The Project began in 1991. Most interviews
were conducted by volunteers who are members of the Bar of the District of Columbia.
Copies of the transcripts of these interviews, a copy of the transcript on 3.5 11 diskette (in
WordPerfect format), and additional documents as available- some of which may have
been prepared in conjunction with the oral history- are housed in the Judges’ Library in
the United States Courthouse, 333 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.
Inquiries may be made of the Circuit Librarian as to whether the transcript and diskette
are available at other locations.
Such original audio tapes of the interviews as exist as well as the original 3.511 diskettes of
the transcripts are in the custody of the Circuit Executive of the U.S. Courts for the
District of Columbia Circuit.
Historical Sgciety of the pistrict of Columbia Circuit
Interviewee oral History Agreement
1. In consideration of the recording and preservation of
my oral history memoir by the Historical Society of the District
of Columbia Circuit, Washington, O.C., and its employees and
agents (hereinafter “the Society”), I, Stanley s. Harris, except
as otherwise provided herein, do hereby grant and convey to the
Society and its successors and assigns all of my rights, title,
and interest in the tape recordings and transcripts of interviews
of me as described in Schedule A hereto, including literary
rights and copyrights. All copies of the tapes and transcripts
are subject to the same restrictions, herein provided.
2. x·reserve the right to use the tapes and transcripts
and their content as a resource for any book, pamphlet, article
or other writing of which r·am an author or co-author.
3. I authorize the Society, subject to any exceptions
contained herein, to duplicate, edit, publish, or permit the use
of said tape recordings and transcripts in any manner that the
Society considers appropriate, and I waive any claims I may have
or acquire to any royalties fr?ch use •
. / / .
?AR I 2 1996
[Signatueof Interviewee] Date
SWORN TO ANO SUBSCRIBED before this 12th day of March , 199 6
United States DistriCt Court
for the District of Columbia
Nancy ?ayer-Whittinqton, Clerk
ACCEPTED ,this Ji.-ti. day of
Daniel M. Gribben, President of t?hHisto rical
District of Columbia Circuit.
Daniel M. Gribben
, 19.f.f£, by
Society of the
Schedule A
Tape recording(s) and transcript resulting from -?1 __
interview conducted by
Randell Hunt Norton
April 6, 1995 (2 tapes)
(Transcript of 31 pages}
on the following
Historical society of the District of Columbia Circuit
Interviewer Oral History Agreement
Judge 1S. tanHleavyi Sng, aHgarrerieds ftoo rc tonhed uHctis atno roircaall hsoicsiteotryy oinf tetrhvei ew with NDoirsttornic, t doof h eCroelbumy bgiraa nCtir canudi tc, onWavsehyi tngot tohne, oso.cci.,e tyI , anRda nidtelsl Hunt seuhc tcaepses orresc oarnddi nagsssi gannsd, traalnl scorfi mpty sr iofg hti,n tetrivtileew, s,a nda s idnetsecrreisbte din itn Schedule A hereto, including literary rights and copyrights.
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the in3.f ormatI ioang receo ntthaaitne dI wtihlelr eminak uen tniol usiet oisf tchoen cliundteerd viaenwd or
edited, or until I receive ??tt?[Signature of Interviewer) Date 3? ;?
I -Tr- SWORN TO AND SUBSCRIBED before this ? day of ,(Y)=a?rc.?h’-‘—–

My Commission expires
ADDaCinCsEiterPTli cEMtD . otGfh riiCbso lbUlllocJn,b(, i4:Pa r edCsaiyirdc euonfi tt . of t?heHktisto rical Soc, ie1t9i.!i,y of, tbhy e / •
Da?niel M. Grib’or>ben ·?
Schedule A
Tape recording(s) and transcript resulting from 1
interview conducted by Randell Hunt Norton
( interviewer)
April 6, 1995 (2 tapes)
(Transcript of 31 pages)

on the following
Addresses arul phones:
Office: United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-2802
Telephone: (202) 273–0347
Home: 9621 Weathered Oak Court
Bethesda, MD 20817-1308
Telephone: (301) 469-9621
Date Qf Ilirlh: October 19, 1927 (Washington, D.C.)
Marital Status: Married; three sons.
Militacy service: United States Army, June 1945 • July 1947. Principal assignment:
Instructor of Topographic Photogrammetry, The Engineer School, Fort
Belvoir, Virginia.
College i!!ll!
law school: Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1945 (while in Army); University of
Virginia, B.S., 1951, LLB., 1953. Principal extracurricular law school
activity: Editorial Board (1951-’52) and Managing Board {Articles
Editor, 1952-’53), Virginia Law Review.
!&gal experience: United States District Judge, District of Columbia, December 1983 to
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, February 1982 to
December 1983.
Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, September 1972 to
February 1982 (attended Senior Appellate Judges’ Seminar, N.Y.U.,
Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, January 1971 to
September 1972 (attended National Judicial College, Reno, Nevada,
Hogan & Hartson, Washington, D.C., associate and partner 1953-’70.
Principal areas of practice: Radio and television clients (before
Federal Communications Commission and United States Courts of
Appeals); natural gas clients (before Federal Power Commission and
United States Courts of Appeals).
Principal llm:
Principal awards:
Principal noncourt
Member of the District of Colu mbia Bar; The Bar Association of the
District of Columbia (Chairman, Annual Conve ntion Committee, 1969-
’70; Board of Directors, 1968-’71).
Prior American Bar Association activities: Vice-Chairman, Gas,
Electric and Nuclear Energy Committee of Administtative Law Section,
1966-’67; Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Administrative Practice
and Specialization in the Law (Administrative Law Section), 1968-’71;
Vice-Chairman, Communications C.Ommittee (Administrative Law
Section), 1969-’71; member, Select Committee on Courts and the
Community 1974-’75; Faculty Member, ABA National Institute on
Appellate Advocacy, 1980.
Fonner member, Federal Communications Bar Association; Assistant
Secretary of FCBA in 1964-’65; Secretary of FCBA in 1965-’66;
member of FCBA Executive Committ ee in 1966-“69.
Fonner member, Federal Power Bar Association.
Lawyer of the Year Award (1982) from The Bar Association of the
District of Columbia; Judiciary Award from the Association of Federal
Investigators; and Dedicated Service Award from the District of
Columbia Bar.
Member, Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the
United States, 1988-1994; Chairman, Committee on Intercircuit
Assignments of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 1994- .
Randell Runt Norton
sos 15th street, N.v., suite 705
Washington, o.c. 2000s
(202) 289-1133
Home address: 1314 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, O.C. 20003
Date of Birth: November 21, 1948
Married to Linda B. Norton; 2 children, Jackson
(DOB 10/22/79), Thomas (DOB 11/9/82)
B.A., with distinction, Economics, University of
Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1970.
J.D., University of Virginia, Charlottesville,
Virginia, 1973.
Law Clerk, Honorable Joseph M. Hannon, Judge,
District of Columbia Superior Court, September
1973 to August 1974.
Private practice of law with the firm of MacLeay,
Lynch, Bernhard, Gregg & Attridge, Washington,
D.C., August 1974 to February 1981.
Private practice of law with the firm of Thompson,
O’Donnell, Markham, Norton & Hannon
(formerly Thompson, McGrail, O’Donnell &
Harding) Washington, o.c., February 1981 to
present; partner, 1984 to present.
Virginia, 1973; District of Columbia, 1974; United
States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,
1974; United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth circuit,
1975; Supreme Court of the United States, 1978; Maryland, 1984.
American Bar Association; Washington Bar Association; Bar
Association of the District of Columbia; District of Columbia
Defense Lawyers• Association, Northern Virginia Defense Lawyers•
Association, Virginia Association of Defense Attorneys, Defense
Research Institute, Association of Trial Lawyers of America
(Associate Member, 1973-94), Virginia Trial Lawyers Association,
Arlington Bar Association, the Barristers.
“Lawyer of the Year”, o.c. Defense Lawyers• Association,
1987, president 1988-89, newsletter editor; 1986-present;
Steering Committee, Courts, Lawyers and Administration of Justice
Section of o.c. Bar, 1987-92 (Co-chair 1989-92) (Section won
“Best Project” in 1990); o.c. Bar Section on Courts, Lawyers,
and the Ad.ministration of Justice Committee on Court Rules (Cochair
1985-87) (D.C. Bar “Best Section Committee” 1986-87);
Contributor and Minority Statements Author, “Report of the
Committee on Court Rules of Division IV of the District of
Columbia Bar Proposing Rules of Evidence for the Superior Court
based on the Federal Rules of Evidence,” 1983 and 1991 editions;
Chair, U.S. Courts Committee, Bar Association of the District of
Columbia; Delegate 1983, 1985-95, Judicial Conference of the
District of Columbia; Invitee to Judicial Conference of the
District of Columbia Circuit, 1991; participant, o.c. Bar
community Law Day activities 1980; panelist, o.c. Bar 1984 annual
meeting presentation on Federal Rules of Evidence; panelist, D.C.
Bar 1985 annual meeting presentation on Superior Court motions
practice; o.c. Court of Appeals Appellate Manual Project, 1984-85
and 1990-91; Barrister, Charles Fahy American Inn of Court
(Georgetown University), 1983-86; Moot Court judge, Georgetown
University, 1985-87; Advisory Committee member, National Center
for State Courts Civil Discovery Project, 1990-91; Mediator for
o.c. Superior Court and U.S. District Court for D.C.; Arbitrator,
D.C. Superior Court; Speaker on 11Rules of Evidence in Superior
Court11 at Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington
for Litigation Luncheon Program (1986); Panelist, o.c. Bar
Litigatiori’ Section Program on Mediation and Superior Court
Individual Calendar System (1989); Member, personal injury focus
group for the o.c. Courts’ Task Force on Gender Bias; Panelist,
o.c. Bar programs on “Recent Developments in o.c. Evidence Law”
(1991) and on “Changes in the Rules of Civil Procedure” (1994);
Instructor, D,C. Bar “Litigation Skills Series” (1992);
editor/author/reviser, o.c. Practice Manual (O.c. Bar) 1987,
1989, 1995 editions; volunteer interviewer, Historical Society
of the DC Circuit oral history project, 1995.
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop (Board of Directors 1987-89),
appeared in productions of “Damn Yankees,” “The Music Man,”
“Oliver,” “The Matchmaker, 11 “Annie, 11 11 Arsenic and Old Lace,”
“South Pacific,” 11 Mame, 11 11 l<iss Me Kate,” “Twelve Angry Men” and
“The Wiz!” (1982-95); Community Volunteer of the Year, Capitol
Hill Arts Workshop (1989); Member, Capitol Hill Cluster School
PTA, 1983-present (member of Executive Board and Co-chair of
“Capitol Hill Classic” fundraising race, 1992-1993); member of
Vestry, Christ Church (Episcopal) Capitol Hill, 1987-90, Chair of
Bicentennial Committee 1990-1993, Co-chair of Rector Search
Committee 1995-present; member of Vestry, St. George’s Episcopal
church, Arlington, Virginia 1973 to 1976 and 1979 to 1982 (Senior
Warden 1980-to 1982); Co-president Capitol Hill Babysitting
Cooperative 1983-84; member, Wilson High school PTA 1993-present;
Certificate of Appreciation from DC Public Schools (1995) for
volunteer services in connection with Odyssey of the Mind
Judge Harris Interview
Aoril 6, 1995
NORTON — We are with the D.C. Oral History Project and it’s on
April 6, 1995, starting at about ten minutes after three in the
afternoon. Just to be clear I did not get the first part. This
is an interview with Judge Stanley Harris by Randell Norton in
connection with the D.C. Circuit History Project. All right.
Now Judge Harris I understand from reading some of your
biographical materials that you are a native Washingtonian and I
might as well start at the be ginning. You were born in
NORTON — An d your parents were?
JUDGE HARRIS — My father was Stanley R. Harris, nickname Bucky
Harris, who managed the Washington Senators baseball team which
had him in Washington. My mother was Mary Elizabeth Sutherland
whose father Howar d S utherland back at that point was United
States Senator from West Virginia, which had her in Washington
and so they both were here and both met and things led to me and
my brother and sister.
NORTON — You have a brother and sister? Are they older or
NORTON — When were you born?
JUDGE HARRIS — October 19, 1927.
NORTON — So you missed the famous 1924 season.*
JUDGE HARRIS — Unfortunately yes. [Laughter)
NORTON — I understand that your father was manager of the
Senators as well as a number of teams. The Yankees and a few
other teams.
JUDGE HARRIS Yes he managed the Washington Senators on three
separate occasions, managed the Detroit Tigers on two separate
occasions, also managed the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York
Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.
NORTON — Did you?–
He went into the Hall of Fame in, what, 1975, I
* In 1924 the Washington Senators won their only World Series
under first -year manager Bucky Harris.
NORTON — But you. stayed in Washington the whole time he was-JUDGE
NORTON How did that work? I mean what was it like being the
son of a baseball manager?
JUDGE HARRIS — It was a great life. My father was a very
unassuming guy, simply felt that he went to work like everybody
else and just had a different kind of a job as others and that
proved to be a problem later when he was elected to membership in
the Hall of Fame because they called us and said what do you have
that you can let us have up here for display in the Hall of Fame
and we basically had nothing. I mean my father just felt that he
was just going to work like anybody else and essentially we had
no souvenirs or anything like that. But he would just … during
the whole time that I was growing up whenever he was managing
Washington he would just grab me by the hand and off we would go
to Griffith Stadium and I had a uniform and watched all the games
and was on the field with the club and it was a great life.
NORTON — How about when he was managing out of town?
basically it
of us were.
some point.
— We just stayed here although typically
would just be that he just was not here and the
Later my parents became divorced in the forties
NORTON — Now where did you go to school?
JUDGE HARRIS — I went to elementary school at Horace Mann
Elementary School in Washington then went to Landon School in
Bethesda for the 7th, 8th and 9th grades. One trouble with being
a baseball manager is that you are going to be fired and Dad was
fired lots of times and while I was at Landon he was fired and
couldn’t come up with the money to keep me at Landon so I went to
Wilson High School, Woodrow Wilson High School here in Washington
for the 10th, 11th and 12th grades.
NORTON — My son goes to Wilson not that the historians much
care about that. [laughter] Did you play any sports in high
JUDGE HARRIS — Yes, played basketball, football, golf and
baseball. That normally is totally infeasible because you can
only play one sport in a season but one year I had hurt my back
and couldn’t play baseball and was asked to fill in on the golf
team toward the end of the season which I was able to do.
NORTON — And then college was the University of Virginia.
JUDGE HARRIS — University of Virginia.
NORTON — Why … why Virginia?
JUDGE HARRIS — I went to Virginia for I guess for fairly unique
reasons. It was the best combination of a college baseball
school and law school. And those were the two things I wanted
and I felt that they were best combined in Charlottesville.
NORTON — And you — you went on and got your law degree at lNA
as well.
NORTON — Was that back in the time when you didn’t have to go
four years and then three years or did you?
JUDGE HARRIS — That’s correct. I enlisted — I graduated from
Wilson in 1945 when I was 17 and World War II was still going on
and I enlisted in the Army and so I spent two years in the Army
and then went to Virginia in 1947, when I got out of the Army,
and they had what they then referred to as a professional option,
I think they called it, but in effect your first year at law
school could count as elective credits towards your undergraduate
degree so that I got through in six years which was a big help
after spending two years in the Army.
NORTON — Let me stop this and make sure that I am recording it
JUDGE HARRIS — Sure (machine off] OK.
NORTON — Any particular friends or memories that you have
about the University of Virginia?
JUDGE HARRIS — No it is just that I loved it in
Charlottesville. 1 1 m a big booster of the University of Virginia
and still take most of my clerks from the University of Virginia
Law School. But it was just a great six years.
NORTON — And then where were you admitted to the Bar?
JUDGE HARRIS — Here in Washington. I gave a little thought to
practicing in New York because my parents were then divorced and
my mother had a sister and a brother-in-law in New York and I
thought that she might be happy up there but fortunately decided
against going to New York and became admitted here. Went with
Hogan and Hartson when I graduated from law school.
NORTON — You went straight to Hogan & Hartson.
NORTON — How many lawyers did they have back then?
JUDGE HARRIS — I had a wonderful first two years at Hogan &
Hartson and when r· joined the firm I was the 25th lawyer that
they had. 25th out of 25 and the next two years they added five
lawyers all of whom were lateral entries. So at the end of two
years I was the 30th lawyer in a 30 man firm.
NORTON — Which I guess was a huge firm back in those days
that was a lot of …
JUDGE HARRIS — Covington* of course then was the biggest.
Hogan and Hartson was not too far behind even Covington. Back in
those days that was a big firm.
NORTON — Well do you — who were some of the other lawyers
that you worked with at Hogan?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well I had an offer that was probably a little
peculiar in that I just happened to apply to Hogan & Hartson and
I had spent the year before my third year of law school as a
summer intern at Covington and Burling, but ended up accepting an
offer from Hogan & Hartson and the offer which I got was not
simply to join Hogan & Hartson but to join Hogan & Hartson and do
radio and television work so that I … that was understood
that’s where their need was and that 1 s what I went right into.
And the senior people in the radio and television part of the
firm, number one man was a man named Duke Patrick who had been
general counsel of the Federal Radio Commission, next to him was
a man named Lester Cohen. The firm had a number of people doing
trial work. It was then the firm that did more trial work I
think than any other firm including Covington, although Covington
was bigger and the principal partner there was Edmond Jones whose
nickname was Nubby and everybody who was around at the time knew
Nubby Jones.
NORTON — How long did you stay in radio and TV law?
JUDGE HARRIS — That had a quirky ending to it also. After I
had done that work pretty much exclusively, although I did some
work on trial cases, and other matters just to broaden my
exposure, the firm’s largest client was El Paso Natural Gas
Company and the partner in charge of its work was a man named
George Ho?ning. Something happened there and El Paso decided
that they did not want George Horning to continue to do their
work and they said to the firm if you reconstitute the people who
are doing your Federal Power Commission work we will stay with
you. We will give you time. We don 1 t want kids to come into it,
we want partners, and so I was asked to start doing power work
and so I started doing power work after about 13 years of
exclusively radio and television work. I couldn’t get away from
the radio and television field. I started doing power work and
* Covington & Burling.
that was my principal responsibility, but the radio and
television section· — kept grabbing me, too, and I found myself
in the intolerable position of being the only lawyer in town who
was trying to specialize in two fields, in two federal
administrative fields, and one just can 1 t keep up with two at one
NORTON You started at Hogan and Hartson when 1950 …
NORTON — And so you worked until the mid-sixties exclusively in
radio and TV and then how long did you continue to work at Hogan
and Hartson?
JUDGE HARRIS — … well … the Court Reform Act of 1970 was
passed by Congress which created the new Superior Court and
modified the jurisdiction of the D.C. Court of Appeals. Until
then this court as you know was the trial court of general
jurisdiction instead of doing what district courts all over the
country do.
NORTON — That would b e the U.S. District Court , ..
JUDGE HARRIS — C orrect .. , exactly. And when Superior Court was
created they had to add a significant number of new judges to it
and they tried to get a good mix of folks and they did get good
people to go on Superior Court when it was created. They — that
is the Nixon Administration’s Justice Department — wanted very
much, among other people to go on the court, to be a then young
partner from one of the major law firms and I was the one that
they targeted and I said no about 99 times. I was making too
much money and I was entirely happy at Hogan and Hartson, but I
got a call the night before names were to be sent to the White
House saying would I please agree to going on Superior Court. At
that time there was no such thing as to the Judicial Nomination
Commission which came along later in 1974 and the President had
the same sort of a free shot at appointments that he has with
respect to Article III judges. And I just finally decided, well
if they ask you to do it how do you say no. Really do I really
want to walk in the front door of the same law firm for my entire
career, a?d if I don’t like being a judge I can go back to Hogan
and Hartson. So I agreed to do it.
NORTON — Without at least not trying to be offensive, do you
can you explain why it was that they were after you?
JUDGE HARRIS — Judicial selection is also quirky. There is
always some reason why a particular person is targeted, and as I
reconstruct it in my first year of law school one of my
classmates was George Revercomb. George was then the Associate
Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. George
left the University of Virginia Law School after his first year
to go into the service during the Korean War, but I think it was
George who basically kind of felt that I would be good and
targeted me and then of course George ultimately came on … went
onto Superior Court himself as a part of the same process and
later came on this court until his death a year or so ago.
NORTON — And you were on the Superior Court for how long?
JUDGE HARRIS — From January of 1971 until September of 1972
when I went on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
NORTON — How did you come to be selected to the Court of
JUDGE HARRIS — At that time again they had a free shot. There
was no — still no nominating commission. That didn’t come along
until 1974, and in 1972 I was called down to the Department of
Justice by Don Santarelli; who — whose official position with
the department I can’t remember.
Yeah, he was … I think deputy or something at that
JUDGE HARRIS — Yes. And I thought that Don was going to ask me
to — about going on the D.C. Court of Appeals, and instead he
asked me what I thought about Sylvia Bacon who was another
Superior Court judge who had been at the Deparcment of Justice
before she became a judge. And I told him that I thought that
Sylvia was very talented and would be a very good choice and
about a week later he called me back down. He said since we last
talked people keep telling me that we should go with you and will
you do it? And I said yes.
NORTON Now in your 18 to 20 months of service on the Superior
Court, that was before it had its full jurisdiction that it has
today …
NORTON — What sort of cases did you deal with during that
JUDGE HARRIS — I was there such a short time that … the
felony cases had not yet been transferred over from the United
States District Court. So I basically was the … had
misdemeanor assignments, civil assignments, family division
assignments. I suppose the most unique assignment I had on
Superior Court stemmed from a telephone call that I got from
Harold Greene who is now on this court but then was Chief Judge
of Superior Court. And I was the … filling in the Judge in
Chambers responsibility for Superior Court, which there always
has to be somebody to whom people can go for arrest warrants,
search warrants and that sort of thing, and I had that duty and
got a call from Chief Judge Greene who said I — we then were
being inundated by problems from the Vietnam protesters and Judge
Greene said would you be good enough to take one of these Vietnam
protest cases? And I said sure if you want me to. Well, it
turned out I think I may then have become the only judge in the
country to have had a criminal case with 700 codefendants because
I ended up, without Judge Greene’s having told me, with the 700
people who were arrested on the Capitol steps when they refused
to clear the premises when ordered to do so. So that was quite a
mess dealing with all of them.
NORTON — How did you deal with it?
JUDGE HARRIS — We dealt with it in a very — it was very tough
from the standpoint of keeping track of 700 defendants and
notifying them as to what was going on — the government and
defense counsel worked out an agreement whereby eight
representative defendants were selected to go to trial and we had
a trial, roughly a two-week trial, probably around June of 1972.
The — I had very mixed feelings. I thought that they were
guilty of illegal entry because they didn’t vacate the Capitol
premises when they were told to by the Chief of the Capitol
Police, but I was very much aware of the fact that if the jury
found them guilty that I had about 690 defendants still to deal
with. In retrospect, fortunately the jury found them not guilty
… [laughter) and the government dropped all the other cases.
NORTON — Now obviously your judicial activities changed when
you were appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Who was on the
Court then?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well the … you still had Andy Hood who had
just I guess stopped being the Chief Judge of the Court.
Marvelous judge and marvelous person. The D.C. Court of Appeals
had been a three judge court prior to court reorganization and so
you had Frank Meyers, Andy Hood, and I am drawing a blank on who
the third one was. With the court reorganization came Gerry
Reilly, who became the Chief Judge of the court who had been the
general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, Walter
Yeagley, ?rank Nebeker had been a member of that court and was
still there. Austin Fickling was there. Catherine Kelly was
there. John Kern was there. George Gallagher was there at the
time, so the … that was the group that I joined.
NORTON How did you — I guess the question that they suggest
asking is was it sort of a collegial group …
JUDGE HARRIS — Yes, it was a very collegial group. And we had
disagreements as you will have on appellate courts, but they were
always in a — during that period, always on a very high plane.
NORTON — guess by that time you were … you were essentially
the state Supreme Court .. .
JUDGE HARRIS — correct .. .
NORTON — rather than the appeals going through to the D.C.
JUDGE HARRIS — That’s correct. Previously, as you intimate,
anything from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals as it
existed prior to court reorganization could be appealed to the
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit, but one provision of the Court Reorganization Act of
1970 provided that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals
would be the highest court in the jurisdiction so it became the
equivalent of a State Supreme Court and there was appeal only to
the Supreme Court from then on.
NORTON — Did you — well how long were you on the D.C. Court of
JUDGE HARRIS — From September of 1972 until February of 1982.
NORTON — Now there were obviously over that time a number of
other judges that were appointed to the court. Can you remember
any of those?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well, my former partner John Ferren, who had
been doing the pro bono work at Hogan and Hartson, came to the
court. Ted Newman came to the court …. And another former
partner of mine Jim Belson came from Superior Court to the D.C.
Court of Appeals, and I still remember getting a phone call from
him. I had … been on the court for a pretty good while and had
no plans to leave when I received a call from Jim Belson saying
that he had been asked to go on the Court of Appeals and before
he decided what to do he wanted to know if I had any plans to
leave and I said no and he said 11 all right, I’ll come. 11 And he
came, whereupon not too long thereafter I left and I always felt
a little bad about that ever (laughter] since.
NORTON – — You did all right. [laughter) . One of the things – – I
mean I might as well ask you this — I mean it was written up in
the paper — the famous flap with Judge Newman and him being
reappointed as chief judge and the so-called “gang of four” and
all that. Do you have any recollections of that or do you — are
you willing to tell me about that?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well there is nothing that I could tell you that
has — hasn 1 t been written about it. Unfortunately it got
characterized in some circles as having racial overtones, which
assuredly it did not. We had an interesting bit of coverage on
it by the Washington Post which of course is a relatively liberal
publication and they had a young reporter named Ben Weiser who
had gone to Brown Which was the same school that Judge Newman had
gone to and I had known Judge Newman well and we were good
friends. He served on Superior Court with me and came on at
about the same time that I did. But then Weiser who was covering
the dispute over whether Judge Newman should become the Chief
Judge of the Court of Appeals as soon as he came on it and
thought that perhaps the four of us were the bad guys and as he
continued to cover it through the months he came to conclude that
we indeed were properly motivated and were concerned about
Newman’s — not ability, because he is a very bright guy — but
about his … whether temperamentally he would be a good chief
judge. And that was the basis on which we opposed him.
NORTON — Was there any specifics — I mean that you can share
about him that the problems with him being a chief judge in terms
of his temperament?
JUDGE HARRIS — Just a bit — he was more volatile than we felt
was ideal. It was actually his re-appointment, his redesignation
as chief judge, that we opposed.
NORTON — How did you go — how did that work in terms of
opposing him?
JUDGE HARRIS — I really can’t remember much about the details
except that Frank Nebeker and Gerry Reilly –and Gerry Reilly at
that point had taken a retired status although he was still
active [now in the Article III system you can take senior status
and continue to sit and in the Article I court system across the
street the comparable thing is called retired status which makes
it sound as though you are not there, but in fact you are and
Gerry Reilly continued to be very active on the court as a
“retired 11 judge], but the four of us who were active judges who
were speaking … willing to speak out in opposition to Judge
Newman’s redesignation as Chief Judge were George Gallagher, John
Kern, Frank Nebeker and I.
NORTON — Now any …
JUDGE HARRIS — But I should say that to this date I still go to
all retire?ent dinners when somebody leaves the D.C. Court of
Appeals, I still feel very close to it, and when I go I always
have a very pleasant greeting to and from Judge Newman and we
have a good chat. It’s just a difference of opinion as to
whether he should have been the chief judge of the court or not.
NORTON — Any particularly memorable or significant cases that
you remember dealing with on the Court of Appeals? — or, as they
say, stick out in your mind?
JUDGE HARRIS — … Well as I mentioned to you before you turned
on the tape recorder, I know I am not alone in feeling this way,
but I — judges ever since I have been a judge have had more work
than they can handle and I think we tend — most of us tend to
have the feeling that we are looking through the wrong end of a
telescope and we zero in on a particular case and get it done and
move this telescope over to the next case and you — I think in a
way we’re sort of mechanics. We try to take a case apart and put
it back together and then go on to the next one, and there are
few things that I really recall about cases. I do remember that
I thought the law was quite uncertain as to how the Jencks Act
should be applied, that’s Section 3500 of Title 18 of the United
States Code dealing with turning over the statements of witnesses
and what constitutes statements and when do they have to be
turned over. I did try to straighten out that area of the law
through a sort of a trilogy of three opinions in different cases.
I can’t remember what they are. One case … sticks out in my
mind, because it is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen very
often, but there was a case involving a defendant Keith Crews who
was arrested on the Washington Monument grounds and the park
police wanted to take a picture of him. Somebody had been going
into the ladies’ room on the Washington Monument grounds and
robbing people — women — who were using it. And the police
wanted to take a picture of him so that they could show it to the
victims to see if they could identify him and it was too dark for
that, so they took him to the police station where they took his
picture. And they later showed that picture to victims who
identified him and he tried to suppress his identification which
in effect would have meant that he would suppress his existence,
if you suppress the availability of a victim to identify the
person who had robbed them. And we had a two-to-one division on
the panel which decided the appeal for Crews’ conviction. Judge
Nebeker and I were in the majority and I am pulling a blank on
who made the dissent. The court went en bane on the case and
Nebeker and I went from being a two member majority to being a
seven-to-two minority and certiorari was granted in the case and
the Supreme Court took the position that Judge Nebeker and I had
taken by a vote of nine to nothing which was sort of gratifying.
So that one sticks in my mind.
NORTON — Now you were — your next position was as U.S.
Attorney ?or the District of Columbia, is that correct?
NORTON — How did it come to be that you were appointed U.S.
JUDGE HARRIS — Never had any idea of becoming the United States
Attorney. I had never been an Assistant U.S. Attorney. I had
never been a prosecutor anywhere. But in 1974 Home Rule
Legislation was passed which created the Judicial Nomination
Commission which meant that the President — instead of having
the free shot that.he still has with respect to Article III
judges which he did have with respect to judges in that Article I
court system — the President could only pick from three names
which were submitted to him by the nomination commission. The
geographical area from which judges in that court system could be
picked was shrunk. Previously under statute it was recognized
that this is a large metropolitan area and judges could be picked
who lived in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County,
Fairfax, Arlington County, Prince Georges County, in other words,
the contiguous geographical areas to the District of Columbia.
That was changed and you had to be a District of Columbia
resident to come on the court and I felt that the -unfortunately,
the judicial selection process was becoming
politicized. At the same time judges’ salaries were being
terribly compressed. I took about a 70% income cut when I left
my law firm to become a judge in the first place and then
Congress wouldn’t raise its own salaries and wouldn 1 t raise
judges’ salaries either, and I had kids that were getting close
to college age and I was in my mid-fifties and was just about to
start talking to law firms about going back to private practice
when I was asked to become the United States Attorney and I
thought that would be a great way to leave the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals. I had no idea at the time whether
that would lead to another judgeship or back to private practice,
but I thought it would be a wonderful experience and so I agreed
to do that.
NORTON — When you say that the selection process was getting
politicized, what do you mean by that?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well … it became — in the first place you had
an awful lot of lawyers who spent their entire professional life
practicing in the District of Columbia and many of whom had grown
up in the District of Columbia and because they happened to be
living across Western Avenue or across the Potomac River they no
longer could be considered for judgeships here, which I thought
shrunk the talent pool rather considerably. And there were lots
of cries that the make-up of the court should more accurately
reflect the racial make-up of the District of Columbia, and it
became — anytime you have a commission that is making the
choices as,, opposed to what you can do in the Article III system
where I could go to you and say “Randell, I would like for you to
become a judge in this court. Will you do it?” And that’s how
you get the best possible people by simply picking them and
offering them the spot. I don’t mean it in the pejorative sense
but I think it meant that no longer could whatever administration
it was simply pick the person that they thought would be the best
person for the job.
NORTON — I read — I actually went back and looked at a couple
of old articles and one of the things — the speculation I guess
was going about in the Post … was that this had been a long
term — I mean the.Reagan Administration had taken a long time to
replace Chuck Ruff who had been appointed by Carter, I guess, and
do you know anything about that? Or do you know — I guess that
the — that’s not a very good question here particularly for a
lawyer — how did you come to get asked to be U.S. Attorney?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well what happened if you have looked at
newspaper stories at the time there were two people who were
interested in becoming the U.S. At torney at the time, either of
whom would have been quite good in my view. One was Paul
Friedman who now is on this court and the other was Joe DiGenova
and each of them had support but neither had enough support to
knock off the other. And as a result Chuck Ruff stayed as a
holdover U.S. Attorney, — and certainly Chuck was a very able
guy — for a long period of time, and for reasons which I
couldn’t tell you, people at the Department of Justice and/or the
White House concluded that if I were interested in doing it that
I would be a good person to break that logjam and take on the
NORTON — Was there anybody in particular who was sort of
carrying your torch over there?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well, I’m sort of in a screwy position. I have
had four presidential appointments, but I have never been active
in politics in any way whatsoever, and the appointments that I
have had have just been a result of a telephone call saying -asking
me would I do this. So I couldn’t tell you really how it
all came about.
NORTON — The — you indicated I think before we turned on the
microphone that you had — or one of the times it was off — that
you had not had any experience as a prosecutor before this. What
did you do — I mean how did that affect your coming on as United
States Attorney?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well it necessitated quite a crash learning
program. I had a period of time between the time I agreed to do
it and the time that I was actually going to begin the job and I
spent much of that time talking with prior Assistant U.S.
Attorneys,? present — then present Assistant U.S. Attorneys, just
trying to learn everything I could possibly learn about how the
office ran before suddenly being thrown into the pool as the
United States Attorney. And as a practical matter not being a
prosecutor is not that much of a detriment here as it might be
somewhere else because here the office is so big that the United
States Attorney can’t prosecute cases personally as a practical
matter and hasn’t been able to for years.
NORTON — What — how would you describe the function of the
United States Attorney in the District of Columbia … at least
when you were serving here.
JUDGE HARRIS — Well it is just basically administering an
office of what by the time I left it was about 220 assistant U.S.
Attorneys. The … Washington as a city is enormously attractive
to young lawyers. The United States Attorney’s Office is
enormously attractive to young lawyers and the talent pool that
is available to the U.S. Attorney’s Office is pretty
mindboggling. And it is just — it was a wonderful group of
people to work with, and during the period of time that I was the
United States Attorney I hired 70 assistants. It was a period of
growth for the office. There are an awful lot of decisions -prosecutorial
decisions that I had to make notwithstanding not
having been a prosecutor, but it wasn’t that much different than
what you do as a judge. You hear what the facts are and decide
what you think ought to be done.
NORTON — Why do you — why was there so much growth while you
were U.S. Attorney in the office? Was it a change in the
function or increase in the crime problem?
JUDGE HARRIS — I think it was basically — largely the
increase in drug usage, although crack didn’t come along until
about 1985 and didn’t become a major problem for the courts until
late ’85 and early 1 86. But there was — I think it was probably
largely drugs.
NORTON — I know that at various times there have been
discussions about the — the rather unique situation of D.C.
having a United States Attorney’s Office as … both the federal
and the local prosecutor. Were you involved in any discussions
or anything about that?
United States
systems. It is a
I just indicated,
attract extremely
very well.
No, I was presented with the system in which
Attorney’s office prosecuted in both court
system that I have always felt worked well. As
the United States Attorney’s Office is able to
talented people, and so it works. It works
NORTON — What sort of relationship or dealings did you have
with the local government? — the D.C. Government?
JUDGE HARRIS — I did everything I could to work as closely as I
could with the local government because of course by then there
was Home Rule and I had some sensitivity to the fact that I was a
white male Republican appointee and that there were people who
really liked to see the District of Columbia do its own
prosecuting the way a state might, and so I went to an awful lot
of trouble to make myself accessible to — anytime anybody asked
me to speak to a community group I would go, and … there was a
group made up of the head of the Department of Corrections and
somebody from the D.C . … from the City council and a number of
others what we tried to share attitudes towards problems. I just
— so I tried very hard to deal as effectively as I could with
many others, including with the Corporation Counsel who at that
particular time was Judy Rogers, who later came on the D.C. Court
of Appeals just about the time that I came on this court, and
then of course Judy later became … went on the D.C. Circuit.
But we had a very good working relationship when she was the
Corporation Counsel and I was the United States Attorney.
NORTON — I — one of the other articles I read indicated that
at some point you testified against — down at the City Council
– against the law to essentially ease the parole system or let
people out earlier. I think that may have been in response to
the … some of the court orders, the overcrowding orders and you
indicated that they should build more — I am paraphrasing here
that they should build more prison facilities rather than
letting these folks out earlier. I mean do you recall that, or
am I paraphrasing that wrong?
JUDGE HARRIS — I — No, I think you put it pretty accurately.
I met on a number of occasions — again as part of my effort to
show the United States Attorney’s, not mine, but the United
States Attorney’s, interests in working with local officials -and
I met with Marion Barry on a number of occasions, and he
wondered whether we couldn’t divert more people from situations
in which they would be looking at incarceration, and I told him
then and still believe that by the time anybody reaches the point
of being incarcerated in the District of Columbia they are not
first offenders. And that diversion is tried, probation is tried
and that may indeed make some people feel that they don’t have to
pay any particular penalty for criminal conduct — I don’t know
that would get into sociological and psychological problems that
… and I am not all that expert in — but I assured the then and
once again Mayor that there were no soft-core prisoners in the
D.C. system and that he was just going to have to build more
facilities but he was never willing to seek to have that done.
And the facilities have been a mess ever since. Inadequate. And
we — at the time the D.C. Parole Board, in part because of the
crowded conditions at Lorton and in part because of — and here I
don’t use the term in the pejorative sense again — but the
parole board, the District of Columbia parole board, had somewhat
of a social worker psychology, and … as an institution thought
that everybody could be straightened out and they were letting
everybody out at about the first opportunity that they were
eligible irrespective of whether that person happened to be a
particularly hard-core recidivist who posed a danger to the
community, and I was concerned about that.
NORTON — The — how long were you U.S. Attorney?
JUDGE HARRIS — From February of 1982 until December the 2nd,
1983, when I came On this court.
NORTON — Once again I will ask you the question — any
memorable or significant cases your office handled during that
time that you can recall — stick out in your mind?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well there is a lot that’s memorable. It is a
great job. Greatest, most fun job I have ever had. Never before
or since have I been a part of an organization where everybody
was approaching their jobs with the same sort of an attitude and
same sort of effort and it was great in the kind of teamwork that
I was a part of. The most notable case, of course, was the John
Hinckley case when he was prosecuted for his attempted
assassination of President Reagan.
NORTON — Now, there was — once again in reading my articles
the Post said that your time with — as U.S. Attorney was fairly
uncontroversial except that there were some House Democrats who
accused you, I think — and this is a paraphrase — of dragging
your heels on a contempt citation of the former EPA Administrator
and, as I say don’t know a whole lot about that, but I just ask
you do you remember anything about that.
JUDGE HARRIS — Sure do [laughter]. Ann Burford or Ann Gorsuch
— I forget which name she was using at the time, she married
later. I think it was Ann Burford at the time — was the
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a
dispute developed between the Reagan Administration and the House
of Representatives as to what documents should be turned over
concerning cleanup of so-called Superfund contaminated sites and
Ann Burford, who was a very able and very conscientious person,
found herself caught in the middle of an Executive Branch versus
Legislative Branch controversy which was not of her making in any
way. But she became a target of the House of Representatives
because the Administration did not want to turn over certain work
documents as to how they were proceeding on the Superfund cleanup
sites and the House of Representatives later — or ultimately -decided
to hold or to cite her for contempt of Congress, and the
statute in the United States Code, the section of which I can’t
recall, places the burden of prosecuting anyone who is cited for
contempt oj Congress on the United States Attorney for the
District of Columbia. Doesn’t place it in the Department of
Justice, generically, it places it on the United States Attorney
for the District of Columbia.
I shall never forget being served with the contempt citation. My
wife and I went to a dinner party and came home one night and
there were a couple of gentlemen in our driveway when we got home
about midnight and they identified themselves as being from the
House of Representatives and I apologized for having them spend
all that time there and invited them in to see if they wanted to
use the restroom or have a coke or beer. Well they acted more
like KGB agents than [laughter] fellow members of the federal
government and I … in any event took the contempt citation,
went to bed, and I thought what do I do with this now, because it
isn’t Ann Burford’s fault that she is in this mess, and I knew
that t.hey were trying to work out some sort of settlement
agreement to provide the documents that would satisfy both sides
and I thought back to Watergate and realized that I was in the
same kind of position that the Watergate folks found themselves
in very early. By that I mean it occurred to me that what was
important for me as the person charged with the responsibility
for prosecuting her was that at the end of the line nobody could
say that I had been told what to do or what not to do. And I
came in the first morning after receiving the contempt citation
and called Main Justice and said I just want to make it clear
that I am not going to talk to anybody at Main Justice about this
case. And that decision was respected and followed and
ultimately an agreement was worked out and the papers were turned
over to the grand … the case was presented to a grand jury
which did not indict her and at the end of the line I — along
with Attorney General Smith had to testify before a congressional
committee and we both were placed under oath so that we would be
committing perjury if we did not answer truthfully. The Attorney
General was able to say that the Department of Justice never told
me what to do in the case and I was able to say that nobody ever
told me what to do in the case and so it all ended fine.
NORTON — Any other memorable moments as U.S. Attorney?
JUDGE HARRIS — No, other than just the overall pleasure of
working with such a talented and dedicated bunch of folks. It
was a great experience.
NORTON — And you were appointed to this court 19-JUDGE
HARRIS — I was sworn in December 2, 1983 —
NORTON — ’83.
have been United
So you had been
States Attorney
— I’m sorry I
for how long?
JUDGE HARRIS — A little over a year and half .
lose track. You
NORTON — And how did you come to be appointed to this court?
JUDGE HARRIS — Another phone call saying are you willing to do
it? [laughter]
NORTON — Who was it from? Do you remember?
JUDGE HARRIS — Fred Fielding who was White House Counsel and
also chairman of the — what was … the Reagan Administration
had a seven member committee that was doing the judicial
selections screening and Fred Fielding was the chair man of that
as — in his capacity as Whi te House Counsel — and he called and
asked if I was willing to come on this court and I said I was.
NORTON — I am told by a number of people that you are
the earliest folks to regularly hire women law clerks.
when there weren’t very many women in law schools.
JUDGE HARRIS — That’s correct.
one of
Even back
NORTON — Liz Medaglia* was a year ahead of me at UVA —
JUDGE HARRIS — Liz was my second law clerk. My first law clerk
on the D.C. Court of Appeals.
NORTON — She seems to be doing very well.
JUDGE HARRIS — As a matter of fact when I –I still remember
George Revercomb’s funeral. George — I have been hiring mostly
women and George had been hiring mostly men. At his funeral he
had plenty of former law clerks who could be pallbearers and I
remember turning to my wife and said that if I had any doubt
before, I’m going to have I am definitely going to have to
be cremated because those women would not be able to carry my
casket. [laughter]
NORTON — How do you — how would you describe the — your
relationships with the other judges on this court since you have
been on board?
JUDGE HARRIS — Excellent. It is a unique court in that with
the exception of some people, such as I — I have never been
active in politics, and some folks have — but almost everybody
is politically either pretty conservative or pretty liberal and
the series of presidents have appointed a series of folks who
reflect either a conservative political viewpoint or a liberal
political viewpoint. But on this court there is great
collegiality. We, of course, work basically alone but we share
thoughts readily with one another, we have great relationships
with each other. When we talk about politics we do so only
kiddingly. We avoid serious political discussions in the
interest of keeping harmony, but it is a great group and …
NORTON — How often do you get together with the other judges in
the District Court?
* M. Elizabeth Medaglia, Esq. is a partner in the Washington law
firm of Jackson & Campbell.
JUDGE HARRIS — We have a judge’s dining room which is attended
regularly by probably less than half of the judges and by only
about two judges from the Court of Appeals. It is a wonderful
opportunity to get together and get a lot of laughs and
occasionally say 11 Hey I’ve got this problem this afternoon and
anybody run into it? 11 To get something — you can’t practice law
all alone and you can 1 t be a judge alone. You occasionally need
to bounce things off somebody else to see whether your approach
makes any sense or not.
NORTON — In terms of the court administration. How does that
work? How — the function of the Chief Judge and the sort of
administrative hoops that you all have to go through and the
administrative responsibilities that you have.
JUDGE HARRIS — We have almost none. It’s — serving on this
court is remarkably insular because we do have the individual
calendaring system. I just have my own little island.
Everybody has their own little island. We get some support of
course from the clerk’s office and more indirectly from the
Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. But basically we
each of us works in our own little world doing our best to move
our cases as effectively as we can.
NORTON — What responsibility then does the Chief Judge have?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well the Chief Judge has a lot of administrative
responsibilities which I couldn’t clearly define for you. He
also works on — handles all the grand jury matters that come up,
and if somebody is brought before a magistrate for presentment
and is detained, they, before the case is indicted or before it’s
referred to the judge for regular assignment, they would appeal
conditions of release to the chief judge, large number of those
…. I am thankful that my combination of age and years of
experience on this particular court are such that I will not have
to serve as Chief Judge.
NORTON — You talk about administrative responsibilities.
That’s mostly of the staff — I mean the support staff?
NORTON — There is very little I gather in terms of the other
JUDGE HARRIS That’s correct. Of course, the court has a
calendar committee that works out difficulties in case
assignments. It has a rules committee it has — a number of
committees that assist and work with the chief judge in dealing
with the day-to-day problems where we have to interact or
interface in … so that we function smoothly as a unit.
NORTON — I gather the assignments both criminal and civil are
basically at random.
NORTON – – – Yea.
NORTON — There are never any cases — I mean I guess I should
ask this where the Chief Judge says no I think judge so-and-so
would be the best one to handle it?
JUDGE HARRIS — I shouldn 1 t say totally because there is an
exception. The … after the Hinckley case there was a rule
change here that permitted the United States Attorney to go to
the Chief Judge when a — I forget the language of the rule -but
when a protracted or high visibility case was … indicted,
was about to be filed they could go to the Chief Judge and ask
that the case be specially assigned and if it was going to be a
very high visibility case or long case or something like that.
The Chief Judge — happens very rarely — but the Chief Judge
could then go to one or two or three judges and say how does your
calendar look for the next six months? Are you in a position to
take this on without busting your regular calendar?
NORTON — You mentioned the sort of different political
views of the appointees to this court. I’m not sure exactly how
to ask this but the — this is a visible court that handles a lot
of politically charged cases and a lot of politically charged
issues. To what extent do you think that the … the politics of
the issue or perhaps the the high visibility of the issue
affects the decisions or the way the cases are decided in this
JUDGE HARRIS — I would like to say zero and I think we are as
close to it as you can get. But we are all human beings and we
are all the end product of all of our experiences and thoughts.
I believe that everybody on this court does a super job of
leaving their political views behind them when they walk into
that courtroom. I personally think that it is not at all
difficult .to have a view about what a particular political
question may be and blot that totally out of your mind when you
go in and are faced with a set of facts and a legal problem.
NORTON — What sort of relationship do you and the judges on the
District Court have with the Circuit here since you are all in
the same building?
trial courts and
sides when I was
There inevitably is going to be tension between
courts of appeals. I have seen that from both
an appellate judge, which I was for nine and one
half years. I always took particular pains whenever I wrote an
opinion reversing a trial judge never to be critical of the trial
judge. I would say that the trial judge had made X mistake or Y
mistake, but do so in a way that didn’t make the trial judge look
bad because we are all part of the same system of administering
justice. I … I think sometimes that a little of that is lost
in the relationship between the D.C. Circuit and our court now.
I think some of the … some opinions are not written with the
same degree of sensitivity that I like to think I showed in
writing appellate opinions and that I think should be shown.
NORTON — What difference if any do you think it makes that an
awful lot of people on the D.C. Circuit are not — didn’t
practice in this area and are from various other parts of the
JUDGE HARRIS — I don’t know that that makes a difference, but I
think a greater difference would be attributable to … to a
person’s background whether somebody had a trial — had trial
experience, experience actually representing clients or whether
the experience is largely in academia.
NORTON — Do you think it applies to any circuit court or is
that a particularly — I mean do we — because of the nature of
the D.C. Circuit that we get more …
JUDGE HARRIS — Well, I think this is rightly or wrongly viewed
as more of a national circuit here and so people do come from
different parts of the country and there are plenty of good
lawyers here and I would be happy to see the D.C. Circuit
populated by District of Columbia lawyers. With 45,000 lawyers I
think we have got plenty to do it. But I don’t quarrel with the
fact that they bring in people from other parts of the country,
JUDGE HARRIS — But there — I have served for six years on the
Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United
States and have dealt with district judges from all over the
country and all of the different circuits and there is just
always tension between trial courts and appellate courts. It is
just part of the game.
NORTON — Did you ever have — when you were an appellate court
judge did you ever have a trial court judge call you up or
button-hole you and say [laughter] you were wrong?
NORTON — I’m not going to ask names, I was just curious.
JUDGE HARRIS — Well one of my closest — I served on Superior
Court for a time afld the number of the people on the Superior
Court when I was in the D.C. Court of Appeals were among my
closest friends and there was one who was uniquely close to me
who if he thought I was at all wrong would — had no reluctance
in saying so, and which I took very well. But only one.
NORTON — I know there has been a fair amount of publicity –not
not — well not quite as much recently but certainly over the
last four or five years about the increase in the criminal docket
in the District Court, in particular the drug docket. I mean is
that something that has affected the practice since you started
JUDGE HARRIS — Well it has had an enormous effect on the court
and presents an interesting question as to court management, but
I think it is more theoretical than real. When Jay Stephens was
the United States Attorney, two things happened that had great
impact on this court. The first was the development of crack.
Crack came in in late 1985 or early 1986, and it is such an
incredibly bad drug and almost instantly addictive, and at about
the same time Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984
which created the Sentencing Commission, which in turn adopted
sentencing guidelines; then Congress went beyond the Sentencing
Reform Act and the guidelines and created a series of mandatory
minimum prison sentences and among those was the mandatory
minimum sentence of S years in prison for possession with intent
to distribute s grams or more of crack which of course is a
smokable form of cocaine. And then you run into the problem of
what sort of prosecutorial discretion is exercised, and Jay
Stephens during his time as United States Attorney felt that the
people who were distributing crack were contributing to the
deterioration of the quality of life in the city and to the
addiction that was spreading, and I don’t quarrel with that
conclusion at all. I think it is absolutely correct. But the
U.S. Attorney could bring somebody, let’s say who has seven,
eight, nine grams of crack which — five grams of crack in weight
is equivalent to a twenty-five cent piece, a quarter — and it is
not a whole lot of crack.
1 But that was the cut-off for the presumption for
JUDGE HARRIS — For the mandatory minimum …
NORTON — distribution.
JUDGE HARRIS — If you had five grams you subjected yourself to
a mandatory minimum of five years. If you had SO grams of crack
with intent to distribute you had subjected yourself to a
mandatory minimum of ten years. And Jay Stephens had the office
bringing us a lot of cases that involved 7,8,9 grams of crack and
so before crack I could try — and I did run the figures — I
could try an average of 7 civil cases a year. After crack -it’s
about 1986 when the mandatory minimums and crack coincided
–1 went to where I could only try one civil case a year. And
needless to say that ill-served our civil litigants as we simply
couldn’t get to the civil cases. We could set civil cases for
trial but with the Speedy Trial Act and its highly undesirable -in
my view — 70 day provision, we would repeatedly have to bump
civil cases in order to try drug cases and other criminal cases.
But our calendar for-a long time was driven by a significant
percentage of cases with fairly small quantities of crack. When
Ramsey Johnson became the United States Attorney on appointment
by the Attorney General before President Clinton could name Eric
Holder as the United States Attorney, Ramsey Johnson changed the
policy to one pursuant to which they would bring to this court
only cases involving 50 grams or more of crack unless there was a
gun involved. And that meant that an awful lot of the smaller
cases that had tied us up so much were then going to Superior
Court which with over 60 judges is much more able to handle that
kind of quantity of cases.
NORTON — Has that continued with Eric Holder?
NORTON — So, that it is easing in terms of the calendar.
JUDGE HARRIS — That’s correct except we … every cloud has a
silver lining and every silver lining has a cloud. We’ve been
getting more and more in the last few years fairly significant
drug organizations being brought in where there are conspiracies
and continuing criminal enterprises charged in large quantities
– particularly, again, crack cocaine which is more common here
than the powdered cocaine, although heroin is beginning to make
somewhat of a comeback, unfortunately. But we are getting a
number of cases that are taking 3 or 4 months to try. And that 1 s
in addition to other cases that I had. Not too long ago I had an
11 defendant case involving money laundering and an undercover
police officer holding himself out as a drug dealer and buying
cars for cash and the car dealers not reporting that to Internal
Revenue Service as required by law, and that case took 5 months
to try. ?o we are getting some of these cases that take a long
time to try and there you go with your civil calendar. You can’t
get to it during those periods either.
NORTON — As a practical matter what happens to the civil cases?
Or what has happened to the civil cases?
JUDGE HARRIS — Basically we are trying … trying to increase
the number of cases that go to mediation or arbitration, but
that’s still only a small percentage. The Bar here still is
relatively unwilling to have their cases tried by magistrate
judges, although we have three very good magistrate judges and
they get the same juries that we do. I don’t understand why the
Bar won’t accept more cases. It may be that, and I don’t know
this, but perhaps some defendants simply want to put off … are
perfectly happy to put off the day of reckoning in a trial, and
so they may not be that aggrieved by the fact that we cannot
reach their cases.
NORTON — So, it still means that there is a substantial
possibility of delay if the folks don’t settle the case or agree
to a magistrate …
NORTON — Just sort of looking …
JUDGE HARRIS — … but this has a by-product. There was a time
when everybody would bring any case they could in this court. If
they could possibly create diversity jurisdiction, they would
come here rather than going into the Superior Court where the
delays were endemic. Then the Superior Court began to respond t o
its caseload b y assigning a number of judges to exclusively civil
calendars and then if you could manage to go to Superior Court,
it became more desirable for plaintiffs to go over there because
they could get tried because there is no Speedy Trial Act and
they didn’t have all the mandatory minimum prison sentences that
brought so many drug cases to us. These things have a strange
way of working out.
NORTON — Do you have any thoughts or a crystal ball as to
whether any of this tort reform — federal tort reform
legislation that they have talked about will have the same kind
of effect of having all the defendants removing their diversity
cases over here from Superior Court?
JUDGE HARRIS — I have no real feel for that.
NORTON — Yeah, me neither. It just occurred to me.
JUDGE HARRIS — (laughter]
NORTON – – -., How about the sentencing guidelines.
dealt with those and how have you felt about how
How have you
well they work?
JUDGE HARRIS — When they came in I was a member of the
Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United
States and we had to deal with them. And I have dealt
extensively with the Sentencing Commission through that role. I
started out, like I think 99 percent of the existing district
court judges in the c ountry, in not liking the sentencing
NORTON — Why was that?
JUDGE HARRIS — Because they do take … they do reduce your
ability to tailor your sentence to the peculiarities of a
particular defendant. That initial feeling has been changed and,
while I do not like the mandatory minimums — the mandatory
minimums result occasionally in gross equities. Some low level
mule gets talked into carrying a package from New York to here
may not even know what’s in it — and if there is 50 grams of
crack he’s off for ten years. But if you put the mandatory
minimums aside — which unfortunately we can’t — I have come to
think that the guidelines are a good idea because the strong
opposition that has continued from District Court Judges to the
sentencing guidelines seems to me to be coming more and more from
judges who l think would basically be using an awful lot more
probation than incarceration, and you would end up with
inequities or inconsistencies in sentencing that the sentencing
guidelines were intended to correct.
NORTON — Looking at sort of the bigger picture in terms of
federalizing an awful lot of crimes, I saw you did a Washington
Post Op Ed piece, in 1991 where you raised some concerns about
the ··- essentially making some more violent crimes — homicides
involving the use of a firearm that crossed state lines and that
sort of thing — as a federal offense and putting them in the
federal court as opposed to — to the state court system. Do you
still have the same feelings? I guess I have probably ought to
ask you what are your feelings about that?
JUDGE HARRIS — They are exactly the same as I expressed in the
Post Op. Ed piece. We have more work than we can handle now and
if you federalize any more crimes that typically are state or
here the District of Columbia within their bailiwick it just
would interfere more and more with our ability to handle those
cases which historically and properly belong in the federal
NORTON — And … has it made … I mean as a practical matter,
has it made a significant difference in terms of the type of
cases that you are able to handle.
I am not sure I understand what your question
NORTON — Well, it’s — it’s getting late and I am not doing
very well (laughter] with my questions. I guess as a practical –
– have you seen it since — because I gather there have been in
the past several years a bit of a trend towards federalizing what
used to be the old state law, common law type of crimes perhaps
in an interest of imposing more severe penalties or sentences
have you noticed that that really has made a significant
difference with respect to the — to the — your abilit y to
handle cases that You say are traditionally federal cases?
JUDGE HARRIS — It hasn’t made any meaningful di fference yet.
But the difficulty you have is with the politics of it in that
members of Congress cannot have an effect on the local
prosecution of what would traditionally be called local crimes.
And yet they have constituents that want — they want to believe
or they want to convince they are doing something in the area of
fighting crime. So how can they do it? They can’t affect the
local prosecution of traditionally local crimes and so they turn
to saying well lets federalize some of these things and they do
it I think for political reasons in ways that have a negative
impact on the federal court system.
NORTON — Over and above the federal court system, do you have
any feel for whether or not these — federalizing these crimes
and imposing perhaps stiffer federal penalties has had any effect
in terms of deterring crime or fighting crime?
JUDGE HARRIS — We are not seeing any of those cases yet. I
mean, for example, the deadbeat dad or the spousal abuse or those
things that I think have already become federalized. We haven’t
had any of those come in the court system yet that I have seen.
NORTON — Do you have any explanation as to why not?
NORTON — But you are not unhappy about it? [laughter]
JUDGE HARRIS — No. I have more than I can do as it is.
[laughter]. This is an interesting way to make a living but not
an easy way to make a living. [laughter]
NORTON — In terms of your — the difference between your
practice as an appellate court judge and a trial court judge,
which do you prefer?
JUDGE HARRIS — You have a lot of appellate judges who simply by
chance don’t have any real trial experience and they, I think,
would rot .?n hell before they would become trial judges, and you
have some trial judges who like the autonomy of functioning by
themselves and not having to get at least one more vote to
dispose of a case who would rot in hell before they became
appellate judges. I personally have enjoyed both jobs. I like
analyzing and writing in the legal area and I like the
interaction with people that you have on the trial courts. So I
have enjoyed them both.
NORTON — Did you see it as a sort of a — this is an unfair
question but let me ask it — as a step down going from the Court
of Appeals to a trial judge over here or did you look at it as a
step up because yoU were going to the federal system?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well … no, I certainly didn’t view it as a
step down at all. Indeed, as a matter of fact, when the Bork
vacancy existed on the D.C. Circuit, there was concern expressed
b y the Bar about the fact that so many people from other parts of
the country were being put on the District of Columbia Circuit
and my name and that of Judge Hogan were informally floated by
the Senate Judiciary Committee for the possibility of going on
the District of Columbia Circuit, and that was done without my
knowledge or approval. I have no desire — or had no desire. I
am now old enough so that I would not be put on the Circuit Court
no matter what. But I had — I concluded that whatever happened
I am perfectly happy to stay here.
NORTON — Can I ask you about memorable cases on the District
Court? I know you are looking through the wrong end of the
telescope, but has there been any that particularly stick in your
mind or particularly interesting trials or unusual situations?
JUDGE HARRIS — Well, when I learned that you were going to
come down and talk to me, I tried to think of whether there was
anything, but I didn’t devote any time to it. We tend to be
hummingbirds. We stop at a flower and we drink the nectar and go
to the next flower. I don’t know. To draw another silly
analogy, [laughter} we are sort. of wind up dolls. We come in and
our staff tells us, OK, you’ve got to do this today or you’ve got
to that today and I just — I can’t think of anything that was
really unique or extraordinary. I do — the most unique one that
I do have I hope that I never have, and by that I mean I have the
indictment in the Pan Am 103 case with the shooting down of that
plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, and if Colonel Khaddafi does not
kill his intelligence agents before they are — they are ever
turned over to anybody. If they are turned over to this country
I’ve got them. And if I’ve got that that’s going to be a
colossal mess. (laughter]
NORTON — What about memorable colleagues or
appear before you, that you have dealt with?
in your mind?
attorneys that
Anybody stick out
JUDGE HARRIS — No it’s a — the attorneys we get such a broad
range and again you — it’s … it’s like a movie buff, somebody
who goes to a movie every night and sees a different number of
actors. We go into that courtroom and we see such a range of
lawyers that — you deal with them and nothing really registers
that’s worth — worth passing on. And colleagues — it is a
great bunch — we do have very good relationships between the
judges on this court and … but you are closer to some than
others, but it is a good group and very helpful and cooperative.
NORTON – — How
is it set up?
about — how about your
How· many law clerks and
JUDGE HARRIS — Two law clerks.
that sort
How many
of thing?
NORTON — Is that standard? I — or is that sort of your
— how
JUDGE HARRIS Well when this courthouse was built — it was
completed in 1952 — the District Court chambers were laid out so
th at each judge would have one law clerk and one bailiff. And
the bailiff was typically — and back in the SO’s — would be a
black male employee who would kind of be present in your court
appearances, would help out with family things if you needed him,
and just generally became a part of the judge’s family
practically. Then as time went along and the case load increased
— as I’m sure you know back in the 40’s and SO’s and certainly
before, this court pretty much closed down during the summer.
Then as the case load became so great that was a luxury that
could no longer be afforded. Judges no longer could get along
with one law clerk but the money wasn’t there for more than two
employees, so the bailiff became kind of a vanishing breed as
virtually everybody went to two law clerks.
NORTON — Did you ever have a bailiff?
NORTON — That was pretty much gone by the time you got —
JUDGE HARRIS — Yes. Judge Gesell who was a marvelous fellow
and a great judge — Judge Gesell did have a bailiff who is still
here at the court, a wonderful fellow named Roy Smith who I hate
to think of not having him around. He is a real asset to the
institution. But that meant that Judge Gesell got along with one
law clerk but he also had an enormously talented secretary named
Doris Brown who had she been born a number of years later no
doubt would have gone to law school and been a stick out lawyer.
But she became a secretary many years ago when the openings -opportunities
for women — were not so great, and she is now back
in the courthouse following a time away from it as secretary to
Judge Tat?.l on the D.C. Circuit.
NORTON — How about … outside court activities. What do you
do in your spare time?
JUDGE HARRIS — Don’t have that much. It is a very demanding
job. Frankly, I, and I don’t say this in the complaining way but
I remember when I came on this court I thought — I do like to
play golf occasionally and I thought that I would be able if my
calendar broke down from time to time to be able maybe once in a
while go out and play golf on an afternoon. Well I have been on
this court for nearly 12 years and have not gone out to play a
round of golf since I have been here. [laughter]
NORTON — Right
JUDGE HARRIS — We just stay swamped. [laughter]
NORTON — Do you find its hard to cultivate friends outside of
the courthouse — I mean because you are a federal judge?
JUDGE HARRIS — Very very hard question to answer. I am not by
nature a social gadfly. I do have a number of very close friends
but I do think that there is a lot to the idea that casual
invitations are not extended to judges by a lot of people because
somebody may think that they are trying to cultivate them or what
not. And that’s fine with me. I’m happy to go home [laughter]
at the end of the day.
NORTON — [laughter] OK. Do you, in terms of sort of overall
judicial philosophy and I don’t know if that 1 s too broad of term,
but do you have one in terms of how active the court should be in
terms of social affairs and that sort of thing?
JUDGE HARRIS — This jurisdiction is so different. If I lived
in Helena, Montana, for example, that would be a real problem.
But here with 45,000 lawyers I mean, hell, you can hardly have a
case of significance that I am not likely to know some lawyer and
you socialize with lawyers through social lawyer organizations
and through long time friendships and I think in a city like this
judges and lawyers can mix very easily. I really do sometimes
sympathize with my colleagues who are in the smaller communities
where they really do face difficult problems as to what they -what
appearance they can create by close socialization with a
very good friend who also happens to be trying cases before them.
NORTON — Do you have any feeling as to what the most significant
problems that now face the judicial system or the administration
of justice at the present time? You know this is a big sweeping
question. Do you have any thoughts on that?
JUDGE HARRIS — Just the only one that really occurs to me is
having more to do than we can handle. I think — I think all
judges are,more clerk dependent than would be ideal. I — very
few judges really are able to read all the pleadings that they
would like to read and do all the analysis they would like to do.
We have to find that happy medium between the best possible
justice and the speediest possible justice. They are
incompatible goals and you try to find a middle ground that
doesn’t leave you compromising one of those two goals too much
and we are always giving up something. If you spent as much time
on a case as you would like to you would never get it out.
NORTON — Why do _you think that that judges have become more
swamped now than they were say 15 or 20 years ago? If that’s a
fair statement? I mean it just seems that way to me so …
JUDGE HARRIS — Well Congress keeps passing statutes which add
to our jurisdiction. Society as a whole seems to become more
litigious. We have more people incarcerated for crime. Crime
has increased. That means more prisoner complaints. We have
more … more people now on the street who a number of years ago
might be in a mental institution. They are out there bringing
lawsuits. We are just [laughter] — there are that many more
cars on the road with that many more automobile accidents and
that many more things going wrong to that many more people.
NORTON — Do you think — this is a pet question that I have
do you think that the court going full tilt through the summer
made it more efficient? This is my own personal opinion. I
always thought it was nice to have, for all us lawyers and the
court to have a month or two off in the summer where we didn’t
have to appear before the court.
JUDGE HARRIS — I — I think at the present time I don’t see any
choice to it. I think we have to. But there are lots of judges
and I am among them who … who feel that the pressures that do
exist are such that it would be great to work out some sort of a
sabbatical system so that we could turn our backs on it and get
away from it for four to six months and just — because it is
just — it always is g rinding on you.
NORTON — How do you think that the — I mean in terms of that
pressure and in terms of the pressure that the members of the bar
feel as well? I mean do you feel that there is a tension between
your obvious interest to move cases along and get things resolved
in the — I guess in the professional and personal interest of
the members of the bar? … Or has that not been a problem with
JUDGE HARRIS — Well, I have a lot of friends who are civil
trial lawyers and I say to them, I hope you all understand that
we really wish we could get to these civil cases, but the
criminal case load is oppressive particularly with this Speedy
Trial Act ;– and I might digress to say we … that it has a
seventy day limit and for reasons which I don 1 t understand,
Congress continues to treat that seventy days as though it is
magic that came down from Mt. Hamurabi. If it were for example a
hundred days we wouldn 1 t have to bump so many civil trials. We
would be able to have a little more flexibility and try more
civil cases. The lawyers that I talk to say they understand, we
understand you all are buried, but I really don•t think they do.
You can talk to people who have never been a judge before and let
them come on a court like this or a circuit court or wherever and
they will tell you. after several months they didn’t have any idea
how much work there i s to do on a court.
NORTON — Yeah. Do you — do you really feel that there is this
difference in perception between the bench and the bar about
perhaps how hard each of us work and what the other’s function
JUDGE HARRIS — Yes. Yes … the old saw about you can’t know
someone until you have walked in their moccasins or whatever and
you can … I remember Chuck Halleck who was one of our more
colorful former Superior Court Judges, who used to be at Hogan &
Hartson when I was there, attracted some colorful press when he
made the comment that here in the District Court — here in this
courthouse, at four o’clock in the afternoon you could shoot a
cannon down the hall and not hit anybody. Well, he was — that
was partly true. Superior Court is a high volume court with
domestic relations stuff, juvenile stuff, landlord and tenant
stuff. I mean, it’s a beehive of people. Even when we are in
trial, there aren’t that many people around. So … I think that
the perception of lots of people very understandably would be
that … an understandable lack of recognition of what we are
looking at with the number of cases that we have and the
attention that they demand.
NORTON — Well, I’m going — I think I am going to wrap it up
because it has been about two hours and they say you don’t want
to wear out your interviewee or interviewer
JUDGE HARRIS — I’m afraid I have worn out your ears.
NORTON — No, you — this has been just great. Let me just ask
one last thing, just sort of a catch-all question. Is there been
any sort of particularly memorable moment or event or person that
you can remember in your many years in the bench and bar that we
haven’t talked about?
JUDGE HARRIS — No. If I tried to single somebody out I’d be
unfair to others …
NORTON — [laughter] Well that’s OK. I don’t — but maybe I
framed the:question wrong. Is there anybody else you that think
would be interesting? That’s fine.
JUDGE HARRIS — No, but I think that and I say this very
sincerely that the — the courts have been fortunate to attract
an awful lot of very dedicated and talented people. And they are
a good bunch to work with and its — its a nice environment where
people pull for each other and pull together and its a good
NORTON — Thank you. I’m going to turn off the tape now.
JUDGE HARRIS — (laughter] OK.
[End of second tape] [End of interview])
Arlington County, Virginia, 11
Bacon, Sylvia, 6
Barry, Marion, 14
see Harris, Stanley S., Early life, father’s career
Belson, Jim, 8
Bork, Robert H., 26
Boston Red Sox, I
Brown, Doris, 27
Brown University, 9
Burford, Ann, 15-16
Burford/EPA contempt case, 15-16
Capitol Police, 7
Carter, President, 12
Charlottesville, Virginia, 3
Clinton, President, 22
Cohen, Lester, 4
Corporation Counsel, 14
Court Reform Act of 1970 (District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970, P.L. 91-358,
84 Stat. 475), 5, 7, 8
Court Reorganization Act of 1970 (District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970,
P.L. 91-358, 84 Stat. 475), 5, 7, 8
Covington & Burling, 4
Crews, Keith, 10
Crews case (United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (1980)), 10
DiGenova, Joe, 12
Detroit Tigers, ·1
District of Columbia:
City Council, 14
Corrections, Department of, 14
Home Rule legislation (District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental
Reorganization Act, P.L. 93-198, 87 Stat. 774), 10-11, 13-14
Parole Board, 14
U.S. Attorney’s relationship with, 13-14
Appendix B-1
District of Columbia Court of Appeals:
Jencks Act cases, 10
Belson, Jim, 8
Ferren, John, 8
Fickling, Austin, 7
Gallagher, George, 7, 9
Hood, Andy, 7
Kelly, Catherine, 7
Kern, John, 7, 9
Meyers, Frank, 7
Nebeker, Frank, 7, 9, 10
Newman, Ted, 8-9
Reilly, Gerry, 7, 9
Rogers, Judith W., 14
Yeagley, Walter, 7
Jurisdiction, changes under District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970, 5, 7, 8
Relations among judges, 7, 8
District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970, P.L. 91-358, 84 Stat. 475, 5, 7, 8
District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, P.L. 93-198,
87 Stat. 774 (Home Rule legislation), 10-11, 13-14
El Paso Natural Gas Company, 4
Environmental Protection Agency, 15-16
Fairfax County, Virginia, 11
Federal Power Commission, 4-5
Federal Radio Commission, 4
Ferren, John, 8
Fickling, Austin, 7
Fielding, Fred, 16-17
Friedman, Paul L., 12
Gallagher, George, 7, 9
Gesell, Gerhard R., 27
Gorsuch, Ann
see Burford, Ann
Greene, Harold,H., 6-7
Griffith Stadium, 2
Halleck, Chuck, 30
Hall of Fame, 1-2
Harris, Stanley R. (Bucky), 1-2
Harris, Stanley S.:
on District of Columbia Court of Appeals:
appointed to, 6, 7
criticism from trial judges, 20-21
Appendix 8-2
Jencks Act cases, l 0
law clerks, 17
opposition to reappointment of Chief Judge Newman, 8, 9
resigns from, l l
term on, 8
United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (1980), JO
Early life:
early childhood and family history, 1-2
father’s career, 1-2
athletics, 2-3
Horace Mann Elementary School, 2
Landon School, 2
Woodrow Wilson High School, 2, 3
University of Virginia, 2-3
University of Virginia Law School, 3
Judicial philosophies:
congestion in, 21-23, 29-30
politics, effect of, 19
problt:ms facing the court system, 28-29
D.C. Circuit as national or local circuit, 20
federalizing crimes, 24-25
collegiality among judges, 17-18
judge’s focus in a case, I 0, 26
judges’ social activities and conflicts of interests, 28
judicial selection process, 11
judicial workload, 10, 28-30
magistrate judges, 22-23
sensitivity of appellate judges to trial judges, 19-20
trial and appellate court judges compared, 25-26
rnediati?n, 22-23
probation and parole, 14, 24
prosecutorial decisions compared to judicial decisions, 13
rehabilitation of prisoners, 14
sentencing, 14
Sentencing Guidelines, 21-22, 23-24
tort reform, 23
Appendix B-3
Legal career (prior to judgeships):
admitted to Bar, 3
at Hogan & Hartson, 3-5
administrative law practice, 4-5
Personal life:
bobbies, 27-28
social activities, 28
Political activity, 12, I 7
on Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 9
appointment to, 5-6
assignments, 6-7
Judge in Chambers, 6-7
Vietnam protestors case, 6-7
U.S. Anny service, 3
as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia:
appointment as, l 0-12
Burford/EPA contempt case, 15-16
served with contempt citations, 15-16
District of Columbia government, relations with, 13-14
Hinckley case, 15
prosecutorial decisions compared to judicial decisions, 13
prosecutorial experience, lack of, 12, 13
role of U.S. Attorney, 13
size and growth of office, 13
drug cases, effect of, 13
term as, 14-15
on U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
appointment to, 15, 16-17
chambers staff, 27
drug cases congesting calendar, 21-23, 29-30
judges’ dining room, 18
law clerks, 3, 17, 27
money laundering case, 22
Pan Am 103 case, 26
relationp among judges, 17-18, 26
sworn in, 16
U.S. Judicial Conference committee service, 20, 23
Washington Post Op Ed piece, 24
Hinckley, John, 15
Hinckley case, 15, 19
Hogan & Hartson, 3-5, 8, 30
Size of firm, 3-4
see also under Harris, Stanley S., Legal career (prior to judgeships)
Appendix B-4
Hogan, Thomas F., 26
Holder, Eric, 22
Home Rule legislation (District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental
Reorganization Act, P.L. 93-198, 87 Stat. 774), I0-11, 13-14
Hood, Andy, 7
Horace Mann Elementary School, 2
Homing, George, 4
House of Representatives, U.S., J 5-16
Internal Revenue Service, 22
Jackson & Campbell, 17
Jencks Act (Witnesses’ Statements and Reports), P.L. 85-269, 71 Stat. 595, IO
Jencks Act cases, l 0
Johnson, Ramsey, 22
Jones, Edmond (Nubby), 4
Article I, 9
Article ill, 5, 9, 10-11
Nomination of, 5, 6, 10-11
Senior/retired status, 9
Workload, IO, 28-30
Judicial Conference of the United States, Criminal Law Committee
see U.S. Judicial Conference, Criminal Law Committee
Judicial Nomination Commission, 5-6, 10-11
Justice Department, U.S., 5-6, 12
U.S. Attorney’s Office, 19, 21-22
Burford/EPA contempt case, 15-16
District of Columbia government, relations with, 13-14
size and growth of office, 13
drug cases, effect of, 13
see also under Harris, Stanley S.
Kelly, Catherine, 7
Kem, John, 7, 9
Khaddafi, Colonel, 26
Korean War, 5-6
Landon School? 2
Lockerbie, Scotland, 26
Lorton prison, 14
Magistrate judges, 22-23
Medaglia, M. Elizabeth, 17
Meyers, Frank, 7
Money laundering case, 22
Montgomery County, Maryland, 11
National Labor Relations Board, 7
Appendix B-5
Nebeker, Frank, 7, 9, IO
Newman, Ted, 8-9
New York, New York, 3
New York Yankees, I
Nixon Administration, 5
Pan Am 103 case, 26
Patrick, Duke, 4
Philadelphia Phillies, I
Prince Georges County, Maryland, 11
Reagan, President , 12, 15 , 16-17
Reilly, Gerry, 7, 9
Revercomb, George H., 5•6, 17
Rogers, Judith W ., 14
Ruff, Chuck, 12
Santarelli, Don, 6
Senate Judiciary Committee, 26
Sentencing Commission, U.S., 21, 23
Sentencing Guidelines, 21 , 23-24
Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, P.L. 98-473, 98 Stat. 1837, 21
Smith, Attorney General, 16
Smith, Roy, 27
Speedy Trial Act of I 974, P.L. 93-6 I 9, 88 Stat. 2076, 22-23, 29
Stephens, Jay, 21·22
Superfund cleanup sites, 15-16
Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 9, 30
Creation of , 5
Belson, Jim, 8
Greene, Harold H., 6-7
Halleck, Chuck , 30
Revercomb, George H., 5-6, 17
Jurisdiction, 6 , 22
Vietnam protestors case, 6-7
Supreme Court, U.S.:
United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (1980), 10
Sutherland, Howard, 1
Sutherland, Mary Elizabeth, I
Tatel, David S., 27
United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (I 980), IO
U.S. Army, 3
U.S. Attorney’s Office
see under Harris, Stanley S., and Justice Department, U.S.
Appendix B-6
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 18
Bork, Robert H., 26
Rogers, Judith W., 14
Tatel, David S., 27
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:
Administration of:
assignment of cases, 18-19
calendaring system, 18-19
chambers, staffing of, 27
Chief Judge, responsibilities of, 18
committees, 18-19
drug cases, effect of, 13, 21-23
Judges’ politics affecting decisions, 19
Judges’ relations with Court of Appeals, 19-20
Friedman, Paul L., 12
Gesell, Gerhard R., 27
Greene, Harold H., 6-7
Hogan, Thomas F., 26
Revercomb, George H., 5-6, 17
Jurisdiction prior to 1970, 5, 6
Magistrate judges, 22-23
Money laundering case, 22
Pan Am 103 case, 26
Speedy Trial Act and calendar congestion, 22-23, 29
U.S. Judicial Conference, Criminal Law Committee, 20, 23
Vietnam protestors case, 6-7
Virginia, University of, 2-3, 5-6, 17
Washington Monument, 10
see also United States v. Crews, 445 U.S. 463 (1980)
Washington Post, The, 8-9, 11-12, 15, 24
Washington Senators, 1-2
Watergate, 16
Weiser, Ben, 9,
West Virginia, 1
White House, 12
White House Counsel, 16-17
Woodrow Wilson High School, 2, 3
World War II, 3
Yeagley, Walter, 7
Appendix B-7
Judge Harris was appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in
November, 1983. In February, 1996, Judge Harris took senior status. He continued to serve the
court until his retirement in June, 2001. Currently, Judge Harris is an arbitrator for JAMS
Resolution Center in the District of Columbia.
Professional Career
Arbitrator, JAMS Resolution Center, 2001 to present
Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, 1983-200 I
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, 1982-1983
Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, 1972-1982
Judge, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, 1971-1972
Associate and Partner, Hogan & Hartson, Washington, DC, 1953-1970
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Chairman, Committee on lntercircuit Assignments of the Judicial Conference
of the United States, 1994-2000
Member, Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference, 1988-1994
President, The Lawyers’ Club of Washington, 1998-1999
Secretary, Executive Committee, The Barristers, Washington, DC
Distinguished Career Award, Bar Association of the District of Columbia, 1996
Distinguished Alumnus Award, Landon School, Bethesda, MD, 1988
Lawyer of the Year Award, Bar Association of the District of Columbia, 1982
J.D., University of Virginia, 1953 (Articles Editor, Virginia Law Review)
B.S., University of Virginia, 1951
Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1945
C – I
Ross was born in Washington D.C. in 1926. He graduated from St. John’s
College, Ann apolis and the Yale Law School, and served in President Truman’s and
Eisenhower’s Executive Offices, the Department of Justice and the Federal Power
Commission. He was in private practice in the District from the late 1950s with the firms
of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, Wald, Harkrader and Ross (where he was a foundrng
partner}, and Pepper, Hamilton and Scheetz. His principal practice areas were antitrust,
public utility regulatory law, and appellate litigation. He retired from practice in 1992.
Ross has been active in bar, civic and political affairs both nationally and in th e
District. He served as Chairman of the Administrative Law Section of the American Bar
Association as well as a standing Committee of the Association and as Chairman of the
American Civil liberties Union of the National Capitol Area during the 1960’s riots. He
served on the Board of Directors of the D.C. Bar Association and as Chairman of its
Administrative Law Section. During the 1970s he also was chairman of a Commission
which authored a report recommending revisions in the appell ate procedures of the D. C .
government, and as head of a committee which prepared a practice manual for D.C.
regulatory agencies.
Ross has served for many years on the Executive Committee of the Lawyers
Alliance for World Security, the principal legal organization in the arms control field. He
has written extensively on legal and public policy issues.