My name is BiU Causey. I am here with Dan Gribbon for the Oral History Project for the
District of Columbia Circuit Oral History Program. Today’s date is September 18, 1997 and we’re
conducting this first interview session in Mr. Gribbon’s office.
Mr. Causey: Good morning Mr. Gribbon.
Mr. Gribbon: Good morning Bill.
Mr. Causey: Let me begin by just getting some information about what you are doing
today and then we’ll go back and chronologically talk about your life. Now, we’re here at Covington &
Burling and I know you’ve been here at Covington for a long time. How many years have you been here
Mr. Gribbon: I came here in December of 1945 and have been here ever since.
Mr. Causey: Are your still working full time now?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, my partners would deny it. I am what is called senior counsel. I
have no obligation to practice law and I do very little. I continue on with some things; much of my time
is taken up being an executor or trustee of my deceased partners’ estates. I also spend a lot of time on
the Historical Society attempting to get our history book published. I do some mediation and arbitration
in the courts and privately. I come to work every day I’m in town but am not terribly productive.
Mr. Causey: Where are you presently living?
Mr. Gribbon: I am living right in Washington, D.C. at 4655 Hawthorne Lane, where we
have lived since 1954.
Mr. Causey: So clearly you are someone of some stability and permanence in many
things that you do.
Mr. Gribbon: I’m not a job hopper.
Mr. Causey: Well, that’s good. Let me get one of the most indelicate questions out of
the way first. What is your present age?
Mr. Gribbon: 80.
Mr. Causey: What is your birthday?
Mr. Gribbon: January 27, 1917.
Mr. Causey: Were you born in Washington?
Mr. Gribbon: No, I was born in Youngstown, Ohio.
Mr. Causey: Tell me something about your parents. Let’s start with your mother. What
can you say about your mother?
Mr. Gribbon: I can say an awful lot about my mother. She was wonderful. My mother
was born and lived the first twenty years or so of her life in Portland, Oregon, where she became a
school teacher. My father was born and lived in Youngstown, Ohio. He had relatives out in Portland,
Oregon. He went to visit the relatives and, I gather, swept my mother off her feet so that she made the
long journey at that time from Portland to Youngstown, Ohio which I’m sure she’d never heard of and
had no idea what she was getting into.
Mr. Causey: Most people make the opposite trip these days – from Ohio to Portland.
Mr. Gribbon: That’s right.
Mr. Causey: What was your mother teaching in Oregon?
l\llr. Gribbon: Normal school. They called it normal school. It was regular elementary
school. All subjects.
Mr. Causey: Were they married in Oregon or Ohio?
Mr. Gribbon: They were married in Lakewood, Ohio, which is up near Cleveland, where
my father’s cousin was the pastor of a parish up there.
Mr. Causey: What did your father do?
Mr. Gribbon: My father was a banker. A small town banker in Youngstown, Ohio. Lots
of sort of community prestige but not very much money. That is not to say that we didn’t live
comfortably but, in those days at least, bankers were really paid in community prestige rather than
Mr. Causey: Did your father ever try to encourage you to go into the banking business?
Mr. Gribbon: Never did.
Mr. Causey: Did he try to encourage you to go into any particular profession.
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t recall that he did. As far as the banking business was concerned, as
you maybe not remember, the 1930s were a very bad time for banks. Practically every bank in the
country went under and had to be rescued by the Federal Government. That was the time that I was
growing up, going to high school and college and it was not a particularly good time to encourage
anybody to go into the banking business. I don’t recall that he ever did. My mother, on the other hand,
very much encouraged me to have a profession. When I showed I didn’t have a great deal of instinct for
science, she fastened on to law and persuaded – probably too soft a word – me to go to law school.
Mr. Causey: Why do you think your mother was interested in having you go to law
Mr. Gribbon: She put a high value on education. At her time in life for a woman to go
through not just high school but a couple of years of college was quite a thing. She also had seen
through the way the banks had sort of fallen apart, that you couldn’t really rely on a business for a
livelihood but you had to have a profession of your own where you could be somewhat the master of
your own fate.
Mr. Causey: Now, I would suppose that with your mother being a teacher and interested
in education you were an early and avid reader.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, I was.
Mr. Causey: What kinds of things would you read when you were young?
Mr. Gribbon: I was an omnivorous reader. I don’t think there was any rhyme nor reason
to it but I would read the comics and would also read worthwhile things. I enjoyed reading. I still do .
Mr. Causey: Did you have a local library that you could go to?
Mr. Gribbon: We did. We had a fine library.
Mr. Causey: Did you read fiction and non-fiction when you were young.
Mr. Gribbon: Both. I did like non-fiction. History books, biographies.
Mr. Causey: How old were you when you went to high school?
Mr. Gribbon: Well that was in 1930 I started, so I would have been 13.
Mr. Causey: What was the most influential book you read up to the age of 16?
Mr. Gribbon: l can’t recall.
Mr. Causey: Did you have a favorite book?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think I did.
Mr. Causey: But you liked history and social studies.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. Government. Civics they used to call it. I don’t whether that term is
used any more or not.
Mr. Causey: Did your parents survive to see you become a lawyer?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes they did. My father died in 1975 and mother died in a year and a half
later. So I was well along in the legal profession. They moved to California where he enjoyed about 30
years of retirement. My sister lived out there so it was a family grouping.
Mr. Causey: Did your mother ever tell you that she thought her strong recommendation
of going into the law was a good recommendation.
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think she ever did. I think she’d probably deny that she pushed me
into the law. She was happy for me but I don’t think there was ever any “I told you so” business.
Mr. Causey: Do you think she ever had any interest in going to law school?
Mr. Gribbon: I doubt it very much. It was almost unheard of for a woman to go to law
school the early part of this century.
Mr. Causey: You mentioned your sister. How many siblings do you have?
Mr. Gribbon: One sister who was older and a brother who was younger. Both are now
Mr. Causey: What was your sister’s name?
Mr. Gribbon: Rosemary.
Mr. Causey: Can you tell me something about Rosemary?
Mr. Gribbon: Rosemary went to high school in Youngstown and then, interestingiy in
retrospect, she went to Immaculata Junior College here in Washington which is maybe five blocks from
where we now live. That was, as I say, only a two year college and she finished out at St. Mary of the
Woods right next to Notre Dame out in South Bend, Indiana. She got married to a young man who was
something of an engineer, although he was not an accredited engineer. They moved to California at the
time of the war because there was lots of activity out there building airplanes. He got involved in that.
They had one daughter. He founded a small metal bending company and then in I 959, I believe, he died
of a heart attack. So she was then left a widow. She and her only daughter lived in the same house with
my mother and father for many years. Rosemary died just a few years ago.
Mr. Causey: What was your brother’s name?
Mr. Gribbon: James. James E., Jr.
Mr. Causey: What did he do?
Mr. Gribbon: The best thing he did, I th?nk, was play golf and tennis. He was quite an
Mr. Causey: He already has my admiration.
Mr. Gribbon: He was injured in the war. Late in the war he was sent as a replacement in
.· •. • .
Italy when we were having troubles over there. They were just pouring men in there, really on a terrible
scale. He was hit in the leg and hospitalized for awhile and sent home. He really never got too much of
a start after that. He never complained about it. He never told me anything about his war experience.
He lived in California, too and then he moved to Idaho. Caldwell, Idaho where he sold automobile club
subscriptions to people living up in Idaho and Montana and Oregon. He used to enjoy driving around
seeing people. It was sort of a social matter for most of these people. They didn’t see many salesmen.
He enjoyed talking with them. I guess he had, for him, a pleasant enough life. I visited him out there
once or twice and as far as the world’s goods were concerned he never had very much. One night he was
driving home from a trip and, apparently, had a heart attack and just died right there in the field.
Mr. Causey: Were you close to your brother and sister?
Mr. Gribbon: I am afraid not. In the last years of her life, I did grow closer to my sister.
She would visit us here and I visited her. I was in California a lot at that time trying a lawsuit. In fact, I
was in California on a lawsuit when my father died which was fortunate. But there’s a long distance
between Washington and California, Washington and Idaho. I don’t mean there was any estrangement
but as I look back on it I probably could have taken more steps to be closer to both of them.
Mr. Causey: What are some of the more vivid memories you have of your childhood?
either personalities or incidents that still stay with you today?
Mr. Gribbon: I have one very vivid memory. We moved into a new house up in a nicer
section of town. It was a new section that was populated essentially by Jews and Catholics. I don’t quite
know why that was but that’s the way it was. Very shortly after we moved into the house, there was a
terrific explosion at night. About 10 o’clock at night or so. A big flame and noise. I was very
concerned because I had dropped a couple of golf balls down the toilet that day and I was afraid that I
had caused this explosion. Well, it developed that the Ku Klux Klan had planted one of their fiery
crosses about one block away from us in a public park. That was the fire and that was the explosion.
So, I was greatly relieved. Curious how something like that would stay with you.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember what year that was?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, it would have been in the late ’20s.
Mr. Causey: This was in Ohio?
Mr. Gribbon: Youngstown.
Mr. Causey: Youngstown, Ohio
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: What was Youngstown like in those days? Was it an industrial city?
Mr. Gribbon: Oh yes, it has always been although it is less of an industrial city now.
It was the center of the steel-making operations for the Youngstown Sheet & Tool, Republic Steel, and
U.S. Steel had a plant there. It was busy. It was quite prosperous. As I look back on it, it was pretty
dirty. I remember in the wintertime when it would snow it would remain white for a couple of hours and
then it would be ‘gray or black all over the place but I didn’t notice that at the time. It’s all a matter of
what you’re used to. It was an entirely pleasant, fine place to live, I thought.
Mr. Causey: Who were some of your childhood friends in the neighborhood? Do you
still keep in touch with them?
Mr. Gribbon: I keep in touch with one. He became a doctor. His name is Joseph
Hafkenschiel. Quite a long name. But, we’ve kept in touch over the years. I don’t think that any of the
others I’ve kept in touch with- a couple I used to have a correspondence with but they’re all gone now.
I don’t think there are any others that I have anything to do with. No.
Mr. Causey: Other than playing with golf balls, do you have any other memories, as a
child, that stay with you?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was very routine. I remember lots of occasions at school. We
had a nice preparatory school, St. Edwards, taught by nuns. There was one, in particular, in the fifth
grade that used to wallop me on the back of the legs with a ruler. I remember that fairly distinctly.
Mr. Causey: You got better in the sixth grade?
Mr. Gribbon: A different teacher.
Mr. Causey: What were some of your favorite subjects in school?
Mr. Gribbon: I suppose that English, History and Civics. I think I did best in them so
they probably were my favorites.
Mr. Causey: Most people remember one or two teachers that really stand out and were
very influential when they were younger. Do you have any teachers you remember?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t much about the teachers in the grade school. The high school that I
went to was a public high school, Rayen High School. It was quite a superior school. It was one of two
schools, at that time, in the City of Youngstown which had 160,000 people or so, and they had some fine
teachers. They nad an English teacher and a French teacher, in particular, both of whom, I think, made
quite an impression on me. The French teacher, Miss Thomas, loved France and she was able to inspire
me and many others, I believe, to be interested in France – to think something about its art, history.
The English teacher, I think was Miss Rogers – these were essentially spinsters or old maids who had
devoted their life to teaching – enjoyed it and were very good at it.
Mr. Causey: Did you have a favorite subject?
Mr. Gribbon: Again, I believe English and History and Civics, whatever it was called. I
tolerated Physics and Chemistry and Math, but I was never particularly interested in them. I did have a
good math teacher. He used to be a football coach at some other school and was new at the school. He
had a nice easy manner about him and he made mathematics relatively painless.
Mr. Causey: That’s hard for me to believe. What kind of student were you?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, by the grades, I was a pretty good student. Whether I was or not, I
don’t know. I had good grades all the way through school.
Mr. Causey: Did you play any sports in high school?
Mr. Gribbon: I never played on the varsity teams. I did play on what they called the
class teams in basketball. They had independent leagues at that time, church leagues something like
that, and I spent quite a bit of time in the winter on these various church basketball teams.
Mr. Causey: JJo you remember when was the first time you seriously thought about
becoming a lawyer?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was probably in my, possibly my junior year, but more likely the
early part of my senior year in college when I began thinking about what I was going to do. I had in
mind going out and going into some kind of a business. That’s when my mother stepped in and decided
that I would not do that, that I would go to law school instead.
Mr. Causey: So you didn’t have dreams about becoming a lawyer when you were in
Mr. Gribbon: No. Or even college.
Mr. Causey: When did you first meet your wife? Did you know her at this time?
Mr. Gribbon: I did, indeed. I went to the mens’ school of Western Reserve, which was
at that time called Adelbert College. A year later, she came to the women’s school, which was Flora
Stone Mather. We have known each other since then.
Mr. Causey: So you met when you were a sophomore and she was a freshman in
Mr. Gribben: Yes .
Mr. Causey: You didn’t know each other in high school?
Mr. Gribben: No.
Mr. Causey: Was she from the Youngstown area?
Mr. Gribben: No, she was from Dover, Ohio which is 70-75 miles away.
Mr. Causey: What do you remember about your choice of college? Did you know you
wanted to go to this school?
Mr. Gribben: No. This was the Depression. This was ’33, ’34, and nobody had very
much money. I was pretty well limited to, I guess, first, schools that would give me a scholarship and,
second, those that were reasonably close. I didn’t even think of going outside the state of Ohio at that
time. My recollection is that I applied for, and got nice recommendations and received a scholarship, a
tuition scholarship, at Reserve and at Oberlin. I’m not too sure why I selected Reserve rather than
Oberlin. Oberlin is a very fine school. I would have thought I would have been happy there too but for
some reason that I’m not clear on I elected to go to Reserve.
Mr. Causey: You mentioned the impact that the Depression had on your upbringing.
Other than the Depression, were there any other particular historical events that made an impact on you
when you were in high school and the early years of college?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, impact may not be the word but I distinctly remember sitting with an
English professor named Richardson, whom I guess I haven’t seen since then, listening to King Edward
YID renounce the throne for the woman he loved. That would have been, I guess, ’36 or ’37. There also
were rumblings of war at this time. We had a very good International Relations professor named White,
Wilbur White, who made us read The New York Times and kept us aware of things of interest outside of
the United States. In particular, he was alarmed much before most of us were about Hitler’s aggression
against Austria and Czechoslovakia. Those events were taking place about the time. He was a very
intelligent man and he foretold much about what happened.
Mr. Causey: Were you interested in politics and government in your high school years
and your early college years?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think it ever dawned on me to run for political office. My father’s
cousin was a local politician. He was a mayor of Youngstown and he was judge of the Common Pleas
court, an elective office, so that I was exposed to a lot of politics and government but I don’t think I ever
had the slightest desire or inclination to run for political office. I never have had.
Mr. Causey: Did you get a chance as a youngster to go into the courtroom and watch
your uncle on the bench?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think I ever did. The first political activity that I can recall was
distributing circulars from house to house supporting a repeal of the constitution of Ohio which imposed
double liability upon the stockholders of failed banks. You can see where that would have come from.
Mr. Causey: This was around the time period that Franklin Roosevelt was elected
President. What’recollections do you have of Roosevelt coming to office?
Mr. Gribbon: He was a hero, I guess, to my family. They were Democratic to begin with
but mostly for Al Smith, who had faded from the picture but my father felt that Roosevelt did a
tremendous job in bailing out the economy. He founded the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation. The
banks, at that time, were largely in the business of financing personal residences. It’s hard to believe
but, at that time, long-term mortgages, 30-year mortgages, weren’t available. The banks would lend out
on a demand note to doctors, lawyers, good people. But when things got tight these people, some of the
finest, supposedly richest people in town weren’t able to pay any money. You couldn’t sell the houses
because there were no buyers, so that they had what were called frozen assets. Well, Franklin Roosevelt
set up among other things a Home Owners’ Loan Corporation which took over from the banks all of
these frozen loans and converted them into long-term mortgages. Bailed the banks out by paying cash.
My father was vitally interested in that so that he had a rather favorable impression of Roosevelt.
Mr. Causey: Was he one of the few bankers in Ohio that supported Roosevelt or was
the trend for bankers to be Democratic at the time?
Mr. Gribbon: No, most of the bankers – the big bankers – were all Republicans and,
indeed, it was charged, and there may be some merit to it, that the Republican administration –
Hoover’s administration – maintained the big banks, the big Cleveland banks, which were the ones that
we were interested in and let the little fellows go by the wayside. So that I think in the end, the little
fellows supported Roosevelt. The big fellows continued to support the Republicans.
Mr. Causey: Did you listen to Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1933?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t recall that. I listened to a number of his fireside addresses. The
only one I recall with any great specificity was when he spoke down at the University of Virginia. This
was later on, immediately after Italy joined the Axis which might have been ’38, ’39. He made that
statement about the hand that held the dagger stabbed somebody. But I do remember the fireside
addresses. I remember Father Coughlin. He may not be known to many of you, but he was a Catholic ·
priest out in Detroit who was somewhat of a stemwinder. He had a beautiful voice. He got carried
away, finally and, I think, became anti-Semitic, somewhat fascist in what he was thinking. Also, at the
same time, there was another Catholic who became a Bishop later, Fulton Sheen from up in New York
State –Rochester. Actually he lived at that time in a house right across the street from where I now am,
before I was there. He was on _the television in the early days of the television at the same time Milton
Berle was coming into play and it used to be a joke among the Catholic priests around there, “Are you
going to listen tonight to Uncle Miltie or Uncle Fultie?”
Mr. Causey: What did they listen to?
Mr. Gribben: Well, probably Uncle Miltie.
Mr. Causey: The University of Virginia speech that you made reference to, did you see
Roosevelt give that speech?
Mr. Gribben: No, I heard that on the radio.
Mr. Causey: Did you ever have any military service?
Mr. Gribben: I did.
Mr. Causey: This was after college?
Mr. Gribben: After law school, in fact. I had graduated from law school in May or June
of 1941, several months before Pearl Harbor changed things. After Pearl Harbor it became increasingly
clear that people my age, married or unmarried, etc. – and, I was married at that time – were going to
have to go into the service. I preferred the Navy and I tried to get into one of their V-7 or V-12
programs, where they took you and trained you for deck service. They turned me down because of my
eyes. A couple of months later I learned that they had another program where the physical requirements
were not quite as great and I qualified for that and went into the Navy in May of 42. Served first up at
the New York office of the Personnel Department of the Navy and then was transferred down here to the
Bureau of Personnel over in Virginia. Then I was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A friend of mine
in law school, Chuck Barber, who had been in the ROTC had been called into service well before Pearl
Harbor, I believe, and he was serving down here and in a position called Secretary of the Joint War Plans
Committee. That was a working group of the Joint Chiefs of Staff headquartered in the old Public
Health building on Constitution Avenue across from the old Navy Department. He was ready to be
transferred out to serve as Flag Secretary for Admiral Spruance. He brought me over to meet Admiral
Cooke who was Admiral King’s Chief of Staff and he took me on to succeed Chuck as Secretary of the
Joint War Plans Committee. I served in that position for the rest of the war. I was released from the
Navy in Marci of 1946 but I had tenured leave, I think, the last two or three months of that period.
Mr. Causey: So, you spent about four years in the service?
Mr. Gribbon: Just about, yes.
Mr. Causey: Let me come back to college. What years were you in college?
Mr. Gribbon: I graduated in ’38, so I must have begun the Fall of ’34.
Mr. Causey: Did you live on campus?
Mr. Gribbon: I lived in a fraternity house. They had very little in the way of housing for
students at that time. They now do. But you either lived in a rooming house or a fraternity house. The
expense was about the same and a fraternity house seemed to me more companionable.
Mr. Causey: This is the first time you lived away from home?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, except for Scout Camp and things like that.
Mr. Causey: Was it a social fraternity or was it an academic honorary fraternity?
Mr. Gribbon: Social. Delta Kappa Epsilon (“DKE”).
Mr. Causey: What memories do you have of camp?
Mr. Gribbon: I remember one event in early childhood. This would have been in 1924,
so I was not very old at that time. I was at a Boy Scout camp run by the Knights of Columbus. There
was a lot of interest in the Democratic presidential convention. I remember listening with a group of
people, a number of priests and some campers. I was only about that high, I guess. I remember the
radio. It was a little box about that big out in the woods but the reception was pretty good. I think they
had 105 roll calls at the Convention, I didn’t remember that at the time, but I have since learned that. Al
Smith was the popular candidate for everyone at camp. I so well remember the Secretary of the
convention droning out roll call after roll call -Alabama casts 24 votes for Oscar Underwood. Another
one of those things that sort of stay with you for no reason at all.
Mr. Causey: This is what you were listening to at camp?
Mr. Gribben: At camp, yes. Because of the overriding interest in the Al Smith
campaign. That was his last shot. John W. Davis finally ended up with the nomination.
Mr. Causey: When you went to college did you have to select a major?
Mr. Gribben: I think so but I don’t remember much about it. I don’t think you did for
the first year. I believe those courses were prescribed but then you had to take extra credits the following
years in whatever your major was. And, I think they had a minor too. So, I believe I had a major in
history and a minor in English.
Mr. Causey: Was your major American history?
Mr. Gribbon: Just all history. I remember I had a course in Greek and Roman history
and another in mediaeval history.
Mr. Causey: When you studied history in college, was there any particular era or time
period that interested you more than the others?
Mr. Gribben: I don’t think so.
Mr. Causey: With a minor in English, were you reading a lot of fiction then as well?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. It would be prescribed largely. It was essentially English novelists.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember any novelists that had an influence on you or books that
Mr. Gribbon: I’m afraid not.
Mr. Causey: How about teachers? Do you have any teachers that you remember from
college that influenced you?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, this one English teacher, Richardson, that I spoke of. Relatively
young man that I paid a lot of attention to. And, there was another economics – Economics 10 l , I
guess it was – a man named Marvin Barloom who looked like Clark Gable. Maybe I remember him
because of that, but he was a good teacher.
Mr. Causey: You say you met your wife when you were a sophomore?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Was there an active courting period during your college years?
Mr. Gribben: Off and on, I guess.
Mr. Causey: Did it interfere with studies?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I am sure it did. But, l got along alright. She got along alright too.
Mr. Causey: What would you do in the summertime during college?
Mr. Gribben: The summer times, aside from one summer between my junior and senior
years, I would work in Youngstown either at a gas station that my uncle owned, out on the other side of
town, or in the bank that my father was associated with. I can’t remember. I think I may have worked
one summer at the gas station and then two at the bank. I was a teller. I wasn’t very good at it either.
Mr. Causey: It required that use of math, I take it?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t know what it required. They used to have to help me settle up at
the end of the day.
Mr. Causey: It’s a good thing that you were the president’s son.
Mr. Gribben: There were six or eight tellers. None of them could go home until
everybody had balanced. So that when I was messing around trying to balance I had some furious
people there and they would help me balance.
Mr. Causey: I imagine that contributed to your lack of interest in becoming a banker?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, it certainly didn’t inspire me.
Mr. Causey: What were your extra-curricular interests in college?
Mr. Gribbon: Sports to some extent.
Mr. Causey: Did you play any sports?
Mr. Gribbon: No varsity sports.
Mr. Causey: Was that because of lack of interest or lack of ability?
Mr. Gribbon: Lack of ability. I wasn’t very fast and I couldn’t jump very high.
Mr. Causey: Were you interested in baseball?
Mr. Gribbon: Mildly. I never was a rabid baseball fan. The Cleveland Indians were
there and there were a lot of talk about them. I suppose I followed the box scores and I knew by name
many of the players, but I wasn’t wrapped up in it.
Mr. Causey: What extra-curricular intellectual interests did you have during college?
Mr. Gribbon: I did some debating. I wasn’t very good at that either.
Mr. Causey: Why do you say that?
Mr. Gribbon: Ijust know it.
Mr. Causey: Were you losing your debates?
Mr. Gribbon: No. I wasn’t interested. It seemed to me to be rather phoney. Much like
the law, I guess. But I never cottoned-up to debating.
Mr. Causey: But, do you think it helped prepare you for your legal career?
Mr. Gribbon: Mildly, perhaps.
Mr. Causey: Was there a period during college when you said, “Gee, I think I’ve got to
make a decision on what I’m going to do in life, and it’s going to be the law.”
Mr. Gribbon: No, I think it was rather gradual. I knew I had to do something after
college and began thinking about it. I don’t think there were recruiters around the school at that time as
there now and have been for many years. I thought I could get a job with one or the steel companies and
that was when my mother stepped in and said let’s have some more education.
Mr. Causey: Did you willingly accept that or did you resist it?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think I resisted it, no. I guess it rather deferred for awhile what I
was able to do with respect to the young woman that later became my wife. But other than that I didn’t
have any real problems with it.
Mr. Causey: You graduated from college in 1938?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, ’38.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember who the commencement speaker was?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: What is your wife’s name?
Mr. Gribbon: Jane. Jane Retzler.
Mr. Causey: Your wife had one more year when you graduated?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, she had another year.
Mr. Causey: What law schools did you apply to?
Mr. Gribbon: Harvard.
Mr. Causey: Was that the only one?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Was there a concern that you might not get it?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so. At that time, of course, the standards – even today at
Harvard the standards aren’t that heavy. They take in a lot of people. They have big classes. I applied
to Harvard and at the same time applied for a scholarship and I got one.
Mr. Causey: Why did you pick Harvard over Yale or Columbia or Virginia?
Mr. Gribbon: My recollection is at that time Harvard was, more so than now, regarded as
the preeminent law school. That may not have been true among the cognoscenti, but among the people
out in the midwest, Harvard was – there was no comparison.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember the day you heard you were admitted?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: So you packed up your bags and went off to Boston?
Mr. Gribbon: That’s about it. One thing I do remember about that, there was a professor
at college who, when he heard that I intended to go Harvard, warned me. I don’t know whether he
intended to persuade me not to go. He had been at Harvard at the undergraduate school. He taught
Bible, Bible Studies by the way. I got an A+ as I recall. But he told me that’s a very, very rigorous
program up there. You can go by at night and see people in the library until 11-12 o’clock at night
every night, no weekends. You don’t want to go there, essentially he was saying. Or, if you do, be
prepared for a lot of work. But that didn’t have too much effect.
Mr. Causey: When you arrived at Harvard and after you started in the program, did you
find it to be different than what you thought it would be?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. I was bewildered for quite awhile. I don’t think I ever had any
preconceptions of what it would be. But when I got there it continued to surprise me for quite awhile.
Mr. Causey: When you say you were bewildered, do you mean academically or
Mr. Gribbon: Socially I didn’t see any particular difference. It was really the subject
matter and the method of teaching. Almost all of the professors used the Socratic Method almost
exclusively and I had never been exposed to that. I had, by and large, had assignments, did them and
turned them in —- maybe a few questions in class, but nothing like this. I was also awed by the
students. There were a lot of them. Some of them spoke all the time and seemed to know much much
more than I’ did.
Mr. Causey: Did that intimidate you at all?
Mr. Gribben: Semi. It did until – at that time we received one examination at the midyear
in criminal law. All the other exams were put off until the end of the year, maybe that’s the same
now, I don’t know. But, I didn’t think I did very well on the exam but I had very good grades and some
of these people who were doing all the talking in class didn’t get very good grades so that gave me some
Mr. Causey: What did you think of Boston?
Mr. Gribben: Interesting, very interesting.
Mr. Causey: Slightly bigger than Youngstown?
Mr. Gribben: Yes, it was. It was bigger than Cleveland too. And, it had its own ways.
We were a subway ride to Boston from where I lived. Went to the old Howard there, the old burlesque
show, from time to time. It was enjoyable. Although, I did a lot of studying. I wouldn’t say I worked
hard but I spent a lot of time with the books.
Mr. Causey: Did you have a favorite subject your first year?
Mr. Gribben: No.
Mr. Causey: Who were some of the professors you had at Harvard?
Mr. Gribben: Luckily, I had Samuel Williston for Contracts. He had retired but Jim
Landis, the Contracts professor, went off on some public activity and they brought Williston back. So
that was a great experience. He was pretty well along in years but bright and beautifully mannered. He
was a real gentleman.
Mr. Causey: We were talking about some of the professors you had at Harvard. Do you
remember any other professors you had at Harvard?
Mr. Gribbon: Warren Seavey taught a number of subjects. He taught me torts. A
splendid teacher. Probably the master of the Socratic method. He simply peppered the students with
questions, questions, questions. I always left the room totally confused and had to spend quite a bit of
time trying to understand where I was. But as I look back on it, it was a great experience.
Mr. Causey: You had three years at Harvard?
Mr. Gribbon: Three years, yes. I had Austin Scott, Professor Scott, who wrote the
treatise and he was a fine teacher and also used the Socratic method. One of his sons, Gordon, was in
my class and I well remember – this was after the first year, it was the second year, I guess or maybe
even the third when he and Mrs. Scott very nicely invited me to their house for a Sunday dinner with
Gordon and maybe some others there and during the course either of the dinner or after the dinner –
luncheon, around noontime – he spoke to me about my exam paper, which he had graded the year
before, etc. He was very complimentary about it but, he said there is one thing I should know – there is
no such word as “irregardless.” I apparently had used that word on the exam and he remembered.
Mr. Causey: Who were some of the students at Harvard that you met that you have kept
in touch with over the years?
Mr. Gribben: I suppose the principal one is Oliver Schroeder. Oliver and I lived
together at the Deke House while I was in college. We went to law school together and spent three years
there. He went on the faculty of Case Western Reserve Law School for many many years. He is very
highly regarded out there. I haven’t seen him all that much although I just did see him last year. But we
have kept in very close touch .. I lived for two years there in a house where we had a woman that came in
and took care of things and Oliver was there. Fred Warne, who went on to become the General Counsel
of the Ethyl Corporation down in Richmond. I keep in touch with Fred. Another one, Bill Pfister who
worked for Allied Signal formerly Allied Chemical. I keep in touch with him. Tom Mulligan who
became a partner in the Jones, Day firm in Cleveland and did a fine job, now retired. I guess the other
one was poor Howard Khorman who was shot down in the war. I keep in touch with those people. One
of my classmates was Harry Shniderman who was a partner in this firm, and still is. I didn’t know Harry
very well at law school. We were not bosom friends but I’ve obviously kept in touch with him. A
fellow by the name of Chet Ross, Chester Ross, up in New York, I see from time to time. Al Rosenthal,
who went on to teach at Columbia, and I believe is still there as a professor emeritus.
Mr. Causey: Do all of you get together?
Mr. Gribben: No, I’ve not been very good. I went to two reunions. The last one was my
50th Reunion. I guess that will be my last one. We came out, you see, at just about the time of the war
and that disrupted everybody’s life. People went off in different directions and as a result, I think, the
cohesion that might have been there was probably lacking.
Mr. Causey: Were you generally a good law student?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, again, I had good grades.
Mr. Causey: That would be a good indication.
Mr. Gribben: I was on the Law Review. I was the case editor of the Harvard La.w
Mr. Causey: That was your senior year, your third year?
Mr. Gribben: Yes.
Mr. Causey: What did the case editor do back then?
Mr. Gribbon: At that time, case notes were a much more important part of the Law
Review than they are today. That was purely student work. The articles were written by professors and
people outside. The booknotes were sometimes written by people outside. The notes were student work
but they would be big long projects. We would have several months to write a note, but on the case
notes, I think we would run fifteen of them maybe in a single issue. One of the students would have to
do all the research and the writing and it would be my job to edit that which sometimes would be
painless and sometimes take a lot of time.
Mr. Causey: Did any of them use the word “irregardless”?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so but I don’t know.
Mr. Causey: You would have spotted it if they did.
Mr. Gribbon: I didn’t know I used that in the exam paper.
Mr. Causey: Did you also have to write a case note, even though you were editor?
Mr. Gribbon: The way it was you qualified for the Law Review solely on the basis of
your first year grades at that time. There were no written competitions, nothing. Just the highest “X”
percent of the class went on the Law Review. The next percent went on the Board of Student Advisors
and then the next went on Legal Aid. It was a fairly automatic thing. Then the summer of your –
between first and second year – you had to do a lot of prelims, what they called. They’d give you these
advance sheets, federal advance sheets, New York, and maybe Massachusetts, and you’d look them over
for what you thought were interesting cases. Write up a little note on it and then the case editor would
select from among all these submissions which cases should be done. All through my second year I did
four or five notes.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember any of the cases that you noted?
Mr. Gribbon: There was quite a famous estate tax case. The reason I remember it is that
a party to it was a good friend of one of my fellow members on the Law Review. The friend on the Law
Review was Ed Gignoux who later went on to be a Federal District Judge in Maine and was runner up to
go on the Supreme Court when Paul Stevens was put on there. He was a very good friend of mine. A
Mr. Causey: Did you like law school?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I think “like” is a strong word. I tolerated it. It seemed to me that I
was learning something that would come in handy. Be very handy. But I didn’t revel in it. It was not,
I’d much rather read books, and not law books.
Mr. Causey: Did you have time to do that in law school?
Mr. Gribbon: Not very much. I really worked pretty hard. The Law Review at that time,
and I don’t know think it’s so true now, the reason I say that is because I have a granddaughter up at
Yale and she was on the Yale Law Journal last year and she didn’t seem to me to spend an awful lot of
time in school. But, yes, I did work pretty hard. The second year when I was there, when I was really
working hardest, my lady friend, Jane, decided she would go to school in Boston where she went to
Simmons School of Store Service Education.
Mr. Causey: That choice of Boston was purely coincidental, I take it?
Mr. Gribbon: Her father didn’t seem to think so. So that I had that added distraction
during that time: I spent a lot of time on the subway.
Mr. Causey: Did you go to Fen way Park to watch the Red Sox?
Mr. Gribbon: A couple of times.
Mr. Causey: What did you do during the summers when you were in law school?
Mr. Gribbon: I think we talked about that. I worked in a gas station and in a bank. I did
mention that except for the summer between my junior and senior years in college and then I had a
wonderful trip to Europe with _three classmates of mine. We went to Germany. Not to Europe. We took
a German boat, landed in Germany, rented a car and traveled all over Germany. This was in 1937. Sort
of the beginning of the tide of Nazism and I must say I was not sufficiently alive to what was going on.
It was a great trip. The mark was very low. I think the whole trip cost $500 over and back and 60 days
there. Great trip.
Mr. Causey: Was there a time in law school when you began to realize that you were
interested in trial work?
Mr. Gribbon: No. I don’t think I ever focused on any aspect of the law except I did
begin to think that my interests were, in terms of public law rather than private law. I was interested in
what the government was doing, how it was doing it, what individual’s rights were when the government
undertook to regulate them, but I don’t recall ever focusing on trial work as against appellate work, or
any other kind of work, or corporate work.
Mr. Causey: Did you take any courses at Harvard in trial practice or appellate practice?
Mr. Gribbon: No. they didn’t have any, I don’t believe. Now the Legal Aid Society was
good practical experience. I didn’t do that, but that’s the only thing we had in the way of trial practice as
I recall. I guess one thing I did do that would have pushed me in the direction of corporate practice, I did
a term paper in a securities course on a problem arising out of an SEC order directing that the fee of
Morgan Stanley be taken away from it because there was a lack of an arm’s length relationship between
Morgan Stanley and the utility for whom they were doing work. Sort of a complicated case and it
pushed that concept of lack of an arm’s length relationship further than it had been pushed before. I
remember working fairly hard on that paper, but nothing about trial work.
Mr. Causey: You graduated from Harvard in 1941, June of ’41. What did you do right
out of law school? We talked about this a little bit before but I want to get into it in more detail. What
did you do right out of law school?
Mr. Gribbon: Actually, before I graduated, I went to work for Learned Hand in about,
sometime in May of ’41. I worked with him until I went into the Navy in May of 1942.
Mr. Causey: How did you come to work for Judge Hand?
Mr. Gribbon: Very simple. Dean Landis called me into his office one day. He was a
fairly abrupt man, somewhat intimidating. Gruff. He had a scowl always. He said almost in an abrasive
way, “How would you like to work for Learned Hand next year?” I said I would like to. That was the
end of it.
Mr. Causey: You obviously knew who Learned Hand was?
Mr. Gribbon: Oh yes, he was quite well known. Sort of a legendary figure. Known for
not making the Supreme Court when he probably should have. And his opinions were quite highly
Mr. Causey: There had to be a reason why the Dean selected Dan Gribbon as opposed
to hundreds of other students. Do you know why you were asked?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t know. I never asked him. He never volunteered. The Judge never
told me why. I was among the top students in the class and I’m sure that was a factor. But I think there
were others ahead of me. I never did know how we finally ended up.
Mr. Causey: Had you ever met Judge Hand before?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: This was your only time being in the Dean’s office?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was. He had a big round table there. I had him in a class, so I
knew him but we certainly weren’t friendly. I had him in the first part of that contracts class that I
mentioned for just a couple of months and he went off to do something or other and Williston came in.
Mr. Causey: You didn’t have any idea the Dean was going to ask you this?
Mr. Gribbon: No. None whatsoever.
Mr. Causey: But you accepted right there?
Mr. Gribbon: Right there. There was no question.
Mr. Causey: I take it that means you didn’t have any other plans?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I did have other plans. I shouldn’t say that. In the early winter of
my senior year, third year in law school, people were coming up to the law school interviewing. that is
law firms, mostly New York law firms. I received an invitation from Covington & Burling to visit with
them down here over the Christmas holidays. I didn’t know very much about the firm but except Dean
Acheson had had a good deal of publicity in the previous June. He had been Under Secretary of the
Treasury and had then resigned and was in private life. He wrote an opinion that appeared in The New
York Times declaring entirely legal the President’s lease of destroyers to Great Britain to protect the
Atlantic Coast seaways. There was a lot of publicity but that was all I really knew about Covington &
Burling, except that a couple of the people who had been on the Law Review before me – a couple of
presidents of the Law Review – I knew were down here. And, as I say, I had an interest in public law
and at that time the New York firms were really rather disdainful of public law. They didn’t think it was
here to stay. So, I was interested and I came down and had a wonderful luncheon with them. They took
me over to the Metropolitan Club. Judge Covington, Mr. Burling, Dean Acheson, Charlie Horsky and
Graham Claytor. We all sat at the big round table up there. They invited me to come and go to work for
them when I finished. I accepted. I think I went back and thought a little about it. I had clerked the
previous summer at Sullivan & Cromwell and they had asked me to come back, so I had to make my
peace with them. But I had accepted to come here before Dean Landis asked me if I wanted to work for
Mr. Causey: So how did you explain to the roundtable that you would be delaying your
Mr. Gribbon: I simply wrote a letter to Mr. Burling and told him. I was surprised to
learn that Mr. Burling and Judge Hand were old, old friends. They had been in law school together. I
remember there was a little mix-up at that time. I received a letter addressed to me from Mr.
Burling but the interior of the letter read, a very short one, something like this: Dear B: (That was the
name Learned Hand went by to most of his good friends. His first name was Billings, Billings Learned
Hand. I could understand why he would drop the Billings after awhile. But Mr. Burling knew him as
“B” and the letter said,) “Dear B: You are going to have a bang-up law clerk next year. When he
finishes with you, he is going to come with us.” Mr. Hurling’s secretary had apparently directed that to
me instead of to Learned Hand. So I sent it back to Mr. Burling and never heard another word about it.
That was the first time I had any notion that Mr. Burling and the Judge were good friends. When I was
working with the Judge he spoke often and favorably of Mr. Burling and this firm and, to an extent, I
guess he agreed with my decision to come here after I worked with him.
Mr. Causey: What do you recall about your first day at work with Judge Hand?
Mr. Gribbon: Nothing.
Mr. Causey: How about those early weeks? How did you enjoy your new job?
Mr. Gribbon: It was great. I got used to his working habits. I had a little room, a nice
little room, beyond his secretary’s desk and room, so he would have to go by me whenever he went out
to go to other judges offices. He would, certainly every day and sometimes several times a day, would
invite me into his chambers and talk about the issues in a case. Sometimes we would just talk and
sometimes he would send me out to do some research. He never asked me to write a memorandum
which the judges at that time exchanged immediately after argument. They would write a two or three
page memorandum of how they looked at the case and would exchange those memos before a
conference. He would always do those himself. Then when the opinions were assigned, he’d come back
and say, “Well sonny, this is what we’ve got to do.” He’d line them all up on a big table – the briefs
here and then the next case, next case, next case. He would go at them sort of methodically. Just taking
this pack and getting done with. And in that process he would write out many drafts. He never dictated.
He’d sit up at his desk and he’d pull the drawer out and put his feet up here. He had a big piece of
plyboard – oh, about two to three feet – and he’d write, and write and write and write and have a
draft. I once said to him, “Judge, why don’t you dictate, you could get this done a lot better, easier?”
He said, “Manton dictated.” Do you know Manton?
Mr. Causey: Yes.
Mr. Gribben: Manton was the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit who was indicted and
convicted for bribery. A great blemish on the record of the Second Circuit. He was senior to Learned
Hand and he never got along with him. This was a real blemish on the Court. It went so deeply that he
wouldn’t dictate because Manton did.
Mr. Causey: Circuit Court judges only had one clerk at that time?
Mr. Gribben: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Would he normally have clerks for just one year?
Mr. Gribben: Yes.
Mr. Causey: What year did he go on the bench?
Mr. Gribben: Oh, dear. I think he must have gone on the Circuit Court around 1922. I
think Coolidge appointed him. He had been on the District since about 1908 or ’09.
Mr. Causey: So, he had been sitting on the court for about 15 years? Court of Appeals?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. He was the Chief Judge when I clerked with him. Manton, I think,
was convicted and off the court at about 1938 or ’39 and then Learned became Chief Judge.
Mr. Causey: So he had seen many law clerks before you came to work for him?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, quite a few.
Mr. Causey: What was it like working for him?
Mr. Gribbon: Well you know it’s very difficult to think back and be at all precise. It was
interesting, largely because of the one-on-one conversations that we would have on various issues that
arose. You will read in Gunther’s book, if you get around to it, that he never wrote an opinion for the
Judge. I don’t think anybody ever wrote an opinion for the Judge. He would give you drafts to read and
listen to what you had to say. Occasionally, defer to your suggestions and make changes but not very
often. I learned early that there was one suggestion of mine that he would never pay any attention to.
When I would say, Judge, I think I understand what you’re driving at in this paragraph but I believe it’s a
little bit unclear, it made no impression on him. It was clear to him. The other idiosyncracy was that he
invariably remembered having written something on the issue before him, particularly in patent cases or
admiralty cases. I would spend days looking through the books for something that he had said that was
remotely relevant to the subject matter. He usually was right. He had done it but often it would take me
quite awhile to find it.
Mr. Causey: Did you get to be close to the judge?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I would think so. I believe I mentioned to you that in about the
middle of June, I think it was, the Judge’s wife went up to Windsor, Vermont, where they had a summer
place and he was living alone in his house out on 65th Street. He invited me to come and stay with him.
So I did for the rest of the summer until about Labor Day, I guess. I say he was living alone – one other
judge was with him, Alfred Coxe. But this was a delightful experience – to be with him. We would
have breakfast together at his place and then walk, sometimes all the way down to the courthouse on
Foley Square, which is a good _hike.
Mr. Causey: Several miles?
Mr. Gribbon: About five miles, I think he said. Sometimes we’d only go as far as 14th
Street where we’d get the old Lexington Avenue subway which would take us down to the courthouse.
That would be on real hot days. But throughout we’d carry on a conversation. I was mostly the listener,
as you would imagine. But he talked about everything under the sun except law. He never mentioned
any of the cases we were working on. He seemed to close his mind on his work when he left the office.
Mr. Causey: What were his interests outside the office?
Mr. Gribbon: He read a great deal. He was a philosopher at heart and he continued to
read a lot of philosophy. He enjoyed going to the Century Association up on West 54th, I think, in the
evenings. That was a semi-intellectual group, unlike any other clubs I know around here, where many of
the members were authors, explorers, philosophers. They had a lot of evening sessions. He quite
frequently and, indeed, regularly attended them. But I don’t recall any particular interests beyond that
that he had. Very interested in what was going on. Again, the Germans were beating up on everybody
in Europe. What the Russians were going to do was open to question. I think while I was there maybe,
or maybe the year before, they had signed the Russian-German pact which freed Germany to go west.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember any particular cases that you worked on when you
worked for him?·
Mr. Gribbon: I think I remember a few. I had a collection of his opinions that he wrote
while I was with him. I recently went through them and sent them over to my daughter and told her she
could learn some lessons from them. A lot of them came back to me. I had really forgotten them almost
completely but a number of them did. I do remember one. I mentioned earlier that I had done a paper in
law school about this Morgan Stanley fee arrangement – what constituted an arm’s length relationship
or the absence of such a relationship. While I was with the Judge this came up before his court on
review of the SEC order. And, he affirmed the order. It was largely speculation but I remember
distinctly him saying in a fairly non-judicial moment, “I know Tom Lamont, who was at Morgan, and
those fellows down there. You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”
Mr. Causey: He probably was right about that.
Mr. Gribbon: Well, he probably was but that’s not the kind of thing you put in the
opinion. There were a couple of patent cases. We had a patent case on Tampax. He had a wonderful
time messing around with that. Then there was an NLRB case on what constituted substantial evidence.
I think it was Universal Camera and I think it went up to the Supreme Court. It was one of the early
cases on how much of a role the courts had to play when an Agency, such as the NLRB, made a
decision. This is all taken care of now but at that time they were piecing their way. He found in favor of
upholding the order, although he had serious doubts about whether it was correct because he said there
was enough evidence there and that under the law, as he understood it, he practically invited Supreme
Court review and got it, and they upheld him. Another one was under the Fair Labor Standards Act,
which was new at that time. The question was whether elevator operators in an office building that
rented space to companies that were clearly engaged in interstate commerce were “affected by interstate
commerce,” I think the phrase was. And he concluded that they were. Again, he anguished about the
result but concluded that he couldn’t do anything but conclude that they were affected by interstate
commerce. I forget the name of that case. One name was Walling, but I believe Walling was the federal
official who was the administrator of the Wage and Hour Act.
Mr. Causey: Did you have an opportunity to watch any of the oral arguments?
Mr. Gribbon: Infrequently. He discouraged it. He said it was not worthwhile.
Mr. Causey: Why was that? Did he think oral argument was valuable?
Mr. Gribbon: He thought it was almost useless in most cases, but you couldn’t pick out
which ones were which. No, he discouraged me from attending them.
Mr. Causey: I take it he read the briefs before the arguments?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, he did. I wouldn’t say he studied them. He was pretty expert at
reading briefs and it didn’t take him long to get through one.
Mr. Causey: Did he have a certain routine or procedure on reading briefs?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, first thing in the morning he’d pick up and read them and he’d just go
Mr. Causey: So you didn’t get to see many oral arguments?
Mr. Gribbon: Not very many. Occasionally I would go down with him on motions.
They would have motions at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, maybe two days a week of something of that
kind. We would be working together and he would say, “Come on down.” So I’d go down with him but
those were fairly short. He didn’t allow much time for argument on motions. They tell a wonderful
story about him which is true. In one of these motions sessions, I was not present, and John Harlan who
was in private practice at that time, appeared and asked leave to file a brief which exceeded the page
limits by so much. The Judge must have been in a foul mood that day. “Well, let me see this.” So
Harlan handed up the brief and the Judge said well, you don’t need this; you don’t need this.” He pulled
it apart. So by tne time he finished it the motion had been ruled on and I’m told, and I guess this is true,
that he later wrote Harlan and apologized for having treated him that way.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember any of the lawyers that appeared before the Judge?
Mr. Gribbon: Not very many. Judge Covington, whom I had met and was going to go to
work for, appeared in one case. So I did go down and hear that argument. I think the argument that I
remember the most was an action by networks, radio networks – Blue Network and Red Network, I
believe they were called – the predecessors of CBS and NBC. They were contesting before a 3-judge
court, there were a lot of them at that time, some regulations, so-called chain regulations by the FCC. I
think they were sort of astounded that the FCC would try to tell them how to run their business. And so
they brought this action in the 3-judge court. And the two networks were represented by John Cahill,
head of the Cahill, Gordon firm and Charles Evan Hughes, Jr., who had been the Solicitor General. The
FCC was represented by a relatively young lawyer named Telford Taylor, who went on in later years to
be the assistant trial counsel at Nuremburg. Then he went back to New York. What I remember about
the argument is that Taylor outclassed these two top-flight lawyers. I think it was because he knew his
subject completely, whereas as unfortunately many lawyers do, this was just another case for these two
bright lights who probably had been briefed by their associates and didn’t know the case as well as
Mr. Causey: How many months were you with the Judge?
Mr. Gribben: May of ’41 through May of ’42. Just about one solid year.
Mr. Causey: Were you sorry that your tenure came to an end with him?
Mr. Gribben: Oh yes. Although aside from the personal pleasure of dealing with a man
of his charm and intellect, the job had worn out. I had learned about as much as I think I could learn as a
clerk. I think for many reasons that a clerkship for a district judge is somewhat more helpful and
educational except when the circuit judge is Learned Hand.
Mr. Causey: After you got into practice and developed your own career, did you have a
chance to see him or talk to Judge Hand?
Mr. Gribben: I saw him with considerable frequency because I was in New York quite a
bit the first ten or fifteen years I practiced, maybe twenty. I saw him quite a bit and we carried on
something of a correspondence, particularly during the war years. I may have mentioned to you that I
passed up a wonderful opportunity to learn all about monopoly in the antitrust laws. One day in late
1945 he was in town for the meeting of the American Law Institute. I think it was about May of ’45. He
and I had lunch together and the old Inn of the Allies on New York A venue at about Seventeenth Street.
A nice little place. And, he spent about an hour and a half telling me what he was thinking about and
what he had· meant to say in the aluminum case. The United States v. Aluminum Company of America
which was the landmark on monopoly for many many years. The district judge had found against the
government, that there was no violation of the Sherman Act. An appeal was taken directly to the
Supreme Court and there weren’t enough judges who didn’t disqualify themselves to hear the case, so
many had worked for the Department of Justice at one time or another. Congress then passed a law
directing that this case should be heard on appeal by a special court of the Second Circuit sitting
essentially as a Supreme Court of the case. The Second Circuit with Hand presided, decided the case
and elaborated, or explained or maybe made new iaw. The district judge was Goddard, who was a grnat
friend of his and Judge Hand had found a way to reverse him without appearing to challenge his findings
of fact. I didn’t really realize the importance and significance of all he was telling me. Years later I kept
scratching my head, why didn’t I listen more carefully?
Mr. Causey: What year did Judge Hand die?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was ’61.
Mr. Causey: When was the last time you saw him before he died?
Mr. Gribbon: I believe I saw him in ’60. He was failing. I had invited him to come
down to speak at a firm dinner in late ’59, November ’59. I had some correspondence back and forth
where he said he didn’t think he could make it and the next one said now he was pretty sure he couldn’t
make it, his legs were going bad on him. Then I saw him once in the following year.
Mr. Causey: Did you ever have conversations with him or did you ever sense that he
was disappointed at not getting on the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribbon: I never had conversations with him. And I never sensed that he was
disappointed. Looking back on it, maybe I was insensitive. He loved to ridicule the individual members
of the Supreme Court. He had favorite names for some of them. Not all of them, but the real new
dealers. Maybe that, unbeknownst to me, was a manifestation of his feeling that perhaps he should have
been there instead of them. Now Gunther’s book says that he was deeply disappointed and there were a
couple of letters that he wrote to Felix Frankfurter in which he says something like, “Yes, by God, I
would have loved to have been there, who wouldn’t?” But I didn’t sense anything like that. He
confided in me a number of interesting things but not something like that. Although I think, at the time,
he must have been rather disappointed. People whom he felt were inferior and lacked judicial
experience were on the Court, and he wasn’t.
Mr. Causey: Did he ever consider writing an autobiography?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so. I’m quite certain he did not. He did save a lot of things.
Mr. Causey: Who has his papers now?
Mr. Gribbon: Gunther got them all from Learned Hand’s son-in-law, Norris Darrell, who
was a leading partner in Sullivan & Cromwell for many years. I think he was the literary executor and
maybe even executor of Hand’s estate. Darrell chose Gunther to write the biography and either gave or
made available t’o Gunther all of the papers that he had. It took Gunther twenty years to try to get the job
Mr. Causey: It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Mr. Gribbon: Exactly. And then, I think, Gunther turned them over to the Harvard Law
School where they had quite a collection of Hand materials that Gunther had access to but they belonged
to the law school. A woman named Chadbourne, I think, was a curator of a Learned Hand collection
there for many years.
Mr. Causey: What bar examination did you take?
Mr. Gribbon: I took the New York bar examination while I was working with Judge
Hand. He let me off a day or so, two days.
Mr. Causey: When did you have time to study for it?
Mr. Gribbon: I didn’t do very much studying. I didn’t take any courses. The thing I
most remember about the exam was that seated next to me was a man named Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. I
later learned that wasn’t very much distinction because he had taken the bar three or four times. Then,
after the war when I came back I took the D.C. bar. It was a choice of either taking the bar or paying
$125 to get admitted on motion. I chose to take the bar.
Mr. Causey: Well on that note, this might be a good time to stop. It’s been a good
Mr. Gribbon: Alright. I hope you like it.
My name is Bill Causey. I am with Dan Gribben. We are continuing with his oral
history for the Oral History Project for the Historical Society for the District of Columbia Circuit. Today
is October 27, 1997 and we are in Mr. Gribben’ s office with a beautiful view of the Washington
Monument out .of the window.
Mr. Causey: Good morning, Mr. Gribben.
Mr. Gribben: Good morning.
Mr. Causey: When we finished several weeks ago, we had completed your tenure with
Judge Hand and I believe you stated that you went into the Navy after you clerked with Judge Hand, is
Mr. Gribbon: That’s correct.
Mr. Causey: Why did you select the Navy?
Mr. Gribben: Because I didn’t want to go into the Army.
Mr. Causey: Why is that?
Mr. Gribben: It just seemed to me that if you had to be in service, I preferred not to have
to crawl around in the mud and do the things that the Army does.
Mr. Causey: You joined the Navy in May of 1942?
Mr. Gribben: Correct.
Mr. Causey: So World War Il was 6 months old.
Mr. Gribben: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Tell me a little bit about your experiences in the Navy.
Mr. Gribben: I was commissioned as an ensign directly without going through any kind
of preparatory courses. I was first assigned to the :–:avy office for recruiting up in :–:ew York. Within a
month or two or three I was brought down to Washington to the Bureau of Naval Personnel still
handling Navy recruiting of officers – rather than of enlisted people – and within a few months
thereafter I was assigned to the staff of Admiral King, Chief of Naval Operations; more particularly, I
became Secretary of a Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called the Joint War Plans Committee.
This committee was set up to accomplish two purposes. One, to help bring the services together. They
had historically been rather far apart and there was a compelling necessity for joint action. Second, and
perhaps equally important, was to have an organization that could deal with the British. The British
Chiefs-of-Staff had long been in existence and were far ahead of us in combined operations. The Joint
War Plans Committee was of several joint committees that reported to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who
were Admiral King, General Marshall, General Arnold and Admiral Leahy. We were called Plans, and
did some planning, but it was more a matter of doing staff work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, preparing
papers, doing research on a great variety of matters.
Mr. Causey: How many of you were doing this work?
Mr. Gribbon: The Joint War Plans Committee consisted of 9 senior officers – 3 Navy,
3 Air Force, and 3 Army- and 2 Secretaries – l Army, and I Navy, and I was the Navy Secretary.
We were housed in the old Public Health Building on Constitution at about 18th, across from the old
temporary buildings which were built in the first war on Constitution Avenue. That’s where the Navy
Headquarters were. The Chiefs-of-Staff and their supporting committees occupied the entire building
catercorner from the Navy Department.
Mr. Causey: You were in one of the temporary buildings?
Mr. Gribbon: No, we were across the street.
Mr. Causey: For a young person out of law school and out of a judicial clerkship, that
was quite a position. How did that come about for you?
Mr. Gribbon: It came about largely because my predecessor in that job had been at
Harvard Law School on the Law Review with me – Charles Barber, who later went on to become
Chairman of ASARCO, the American Smelting and Refining Company. He had been an ROTC
graduate of Northwestern and had been called into the service, I think, before Pearl Harbor. He had to
leave law school to go into the service. When it was time for him to leave and go out on another
assignment; he called me and asked if I would be interested in this. I said I would. He brought me over
and I met Admiral Cooke, who was Admiral King’s Chief-of-Staff. He said a couple of gruff words and
I had the job. I think it was attributable very largely, first to Barber’s recommendation, and secondly, to
the fact that I had .clerked for Learned Hand.
Mr. Causey: What were your responsibilities and duties in this job?
Mr. Gribben: I say this not entirely facetiously, I think my assignment was to turn into
readable English language the thoughts expressed by the various top military officers. They sometimes
were close to incoherent in what they said at these meetings; although they were sound, they used a
jargon and shorthand, and I think my job was largely to put it into English that could be understood by
everybody and go on from there. I did a little bit of research in war areas, particularly the Pacific
Islands, what the tides were, what the weather was, populations, things like that.
Mr. Causey: Who would be the readership for your translation of their meetings?
Mr. Gribben: A Navy Senior Officer, either a Commodore or a Captain, conducted the
meetings, and I would either write up reports of the meetings or prepare first drafts of plans, largely for
Pacific Operations, that they agreed upon. What I wrote would be circulated to senior officers in all
Mr. Causey: Do you think there is some poor soul today buried in the Pentagon doing
this same thing with the current Joint Chiefs of Staff?
Mr. Gribbon: I suppose.
Mr. Causey: How long did you have that position?
Mr. Gribbon: I remained in that position through my service. I was discharged in
December of 1945.
Mr. Causey: So you were in Washington, D.C., during the War?
Mr. Gribbon: I was. We did a good bit of traveling, but I lived here and was stationed
Mr. Causey: Did you read David Brinkley’s book, Washington Goes to War?
Mr. Gribbon: I did not, no. I did read some reviews of it.
Mr. Causey: As you know, it talks about Washington during the war years. You
probably had some very similar experiences to what he had. Where were you living at the time.
Mr. Gribbon: Out in Arlington in the Colonial Village Apartments.
Mr. Causey: Were you married at this time?
Mr. Gribbon: I was. I married in September of the period I was with Judge Learned
had a baby.
Mr. Causey: What was Mrs. Gribbon doing while you were helping fight the war?
Mr. Gribbon: She went to work for about a week at Woodward & Lothrop, and then we
Mr. Causey: When was your first child born?
Mr. Gribbon: While we were living in – it was born in Columbia Hospital.
Mr. Causey: What year was that?
Mr. Gribbon: 1943.
Mr. Causey: Which child was this?
Mr. Gribbon: My daughter, Diana.
Mr. Causey: Do you only have one daughter?
Mr. Gribbon: No, two.
Mr. Causey: Two, that’s right.
Mr. Gribbon: She is now a Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Mr. Causey: Who are some of the higher level military leaders you met here in
Washington during the war?
Mr. Gribbon: I met in a broad sense of the word, the Joint Chiefs of Staff- Admiral
King, General Marshall, Admiral Leahy, and General Arnold. They were not close friends, but I was
exposed to them. I was exposed to their work. Admiral Cooke, I have mentioned. Admiral Biery,
Captain Forest Sherman — no other persons of note. They were all good solid Navy officers, but they
wouldn’t be remembered now.
Mr. Causey: Did these officers that you worked for at any time feel that we were losing
Mr. Gribbon: No. The closest to it was in ’42 and ’43. The submarines were giving our
shipping a very hard time out in the Atlantic and one or two of the naval officers were very concerned,
not that we’d lose the war, but that we would be held back for a long time; then suddenly it turned, and it
was all optimism.
Mr. Causey: And were you responsible for working on matters regarding the war in the
Atlantic and in the Pacific?
Mr. Gribben: Yes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were responsible.
Mr. Causey: You weren’t assigned to one theater?
Mr. Gribben: No, no. It was over all.
Mr. Causey: What about the war in the Pacific? How did the Navy commanders feel
about the war in the Pacific?
Mr. Gribbon: That was the Navy’s war. That’s how they felt about it. And a good deal
of the planning work that we did related to projected operations in the central Pacific where we were
recovering from Pearl Harbor. The Navy and Marines started out across the central Pacific islandhopping,
so to speak, to Bikini, Kwajalein, finally the Marianas, Saipan, Guam, and then into Okinawa.
We did a lot of the forward planning. The Committee would establish what kind of force was necessary,
what time of year was best to do it. These plans would then be approved as plans, but not as operations,
and sent out to the Pacific commanders who had their own staff and would then take the plans and adapt
them, throw them out, or adjust them as they wished. This was a fairly big part of the operation of the
Mr. Causey: There has been a great deal written recently about whether we knew about
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor before the attack. Were you ever exposed to any information that
would suggest that we knew that that attack was coming?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: Everybody then seemed fairly surprised when it happened?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, you see, I was not in the service at that time. So it would be unlikely
that I would later pick up very much about it.
Mr. Causey: In May of ’42 were there still recriminations going on about Pearl Harbor?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, questions were being raised, particularly by the Chicago Tribune
and people on the very, very conservative side, but it was more important to try to win the war. We had
suffered a helluva defeat there and I think all or most energies were devoted at recouping rather than
trying to lay blame. Later on came the recriminations.
Mr. Causey: Were you privy to any of the plans for the upcoming invasion of Japan?
Mr. Gribbon: Oh, yes. But that was far off. When it came I was privy to the plans to go
into Kyushu and then go into Tokyo Bay, expecting enormous losses.
Mr. Causey: Was the dropping of the two bombs a surprise to everybody?
Mr. Gribbon: It was to me. That was a very closely kept secret. I remember distinctly
lots of papers that would come by my desk relating to the Manhattan Project and I never knew what it
was. I think that was true of a great many of the people in the service.
Mr. Causey: So you say you were surprised when the bombs were dropped in Japan?
Mr. Gribbon: Completely surprised.
Mr. Causey: Did you sense that your superiors who you were working for were
surprised as well?
Mr. Gribbon: I did. I guess I should say that after the bomb had been dropped, I did hear
some of them talk as if they had known about it, but it never really was involved in any of the work that I
was doing. It was carried on at a very high level with very great secrecy. They must have known about
it, some of them, but there was no discussion of it. For example, I never remember any papers going
back and forth as to whether the bomb should be dropped, which of course was the big question. There
must have been a lot of thought given to it, but I didn’t see any of it.
Mr. Causey: When did you leave the service?
Mr. Gribbon: December ’45.
Mr. Causey: What are your recollections about how the service reacted to the death of
Mr. Gribbon: It was a tremendous shock. Tremendous shock. I think particularly in the
Navy because President Roosevelt was the Navy’s best friend. He had been Assistant Secretary of the
Navy and he always thought of the Navy, it seemed, as his own service. The Navy knew that when it
came to appropriations and things like that he was a great friend. So I think that underneath that there
was a concern that maybe their favorite position would no longer obtain.
Mr. Causey: How long did it take the naval officers to warm up, if at all, to President
Mr. Gribbon: When you say “warm up,” I don’t think there ever was any antipathy
Mr. Causey: How about just suspicion?
Mr. Gribbon: I never noted any suspicion, but it was just that Roosevelt was such a
complete friend of the Navy that they couldn’t believe his successor would be as friendly, particularly
since he had been an Army officer in World War I.
Mr. Causey: You alluded too earlier about how the British were ahead of us in many
ways in terms of operations and management and consolidation of their different services. How did the
Navy view Churchill during the war?
Mr. Gribbon: With suspicion.
Mr. Causey: Why is that?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, it’s hard to say quite why. I think basically Churchill’s prime
concern quite naturally was Europe. The Navy’s prime concern was the Pacific, and Japan. So that
there were bound to be clashes and they really centered over landing craft. Oddly enough, in a big war
with all those guns and things, it was the landing craft that was the bottleneck or the limiting factor on
what operations could take place in the central Pacific.
Mr. Causey: Because there were not enough of them?
Mr. Gribbon: There were not enough of them. There never were enough landing craft
and of course they were pretty expendable. Every time there was an operation, you came back with
fewer. And the European War, beginning down in Africa and carrying up through Italy, and then into
France, utilized an awful lot of landing craft that the Navy thought ought to be used out in the Pacific.
So this was a constant bone of contention.
Mr. Causey: From your perspective in working with then Joint Chiefs during the war,
who would’ y?-? say, if you had to pick one person who you thought was instrumental in the war effort,
who would you pick? Let’s exclude Roosevelt or Churchill – below that level.
Mr. Gribbon: General Marshall, I think by far.
Mr. Causey: Why is that?
Mr. Gribbon: He seemed to have a broader view of what had to be done. The others
were more parochial in their interests. Marshall seemed to grasp the national interest, or seemed to, I
may be wrong in this, but the appearances were that he looked the whole scene over, Roosevelt said,
when it came to pick a Commander for the European Operations, that he just could not get along without
Marshall. And I think that was probably right.
Mr. Causey: If we had to break it down to the Pacific theater, who would you say in the
Pacific theater was the most instrumental?
Mr. Gribbon: I was less involved in the actual operations, the Navy kept that pretty much
to itself, it didn’t expose too many things to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think Nimitz has to be given the
greatest credit; Halsey, I think was greatly overrated. He appealed to the newspapers, but I don’t think
he was the real force. I think it was Nimitz. And a little publicized hero in the Pacific War was Admiral
Spruance. He would command the fleet when Halsey was off duty. They would sort of rotate. I think
they called them the Fifth Fleet and the Seventh Fleet, but they were the same ships, and Halsey would
be in command for a period, and then Spruance, and Spruance was a very, very able man – intelligent,
not publicity-seeking, and his role has never been truly appreciated, I don’t think.
Mr. Causey: Did you ever meet him?
Mr. Gribbon: I met him after the war. My friend, Barber, who had been my predecessor,
went out as Spruance’s flag secretary, and it was through him that I met the Admiral later on.
Mr. Causey: What was he like when you met him?
Mr. Gribbon: A pretty taciturn fellow.
Mr. Causey: Now, did your tenure with the Navy end because of the end of the war, or
was there another reason you left the Navy?
Mr. Gribbon: No, it was the end of the war. There were too many people; they didn’t
need everybody. I could have stayed on, but I had no particular desire to. They asked me to stay on and
work on the development of what ultimately became the Defense Department, combining all the military
services. I had no particular desire to do that, particularly because I would have had to urge the Navy’s
point of view, which was essentially that there should be limited unification. I didn’t have any interest in
Mr. Causey: Why did the Navy commanders not want to unify the services?
Mr. Gribbon: I think quite honestly they felt that naval warfare was totally different from
ground warfare and that there wasn’t any particular reason, and there were some complications in
bringing them together. I think they originally thought that about air, but they soon came to embrace air,
so that it was part of the Navy operation. In addition, of course, the Navy had its own ground forces, the
Marines, and they thought they would do the job rather completely without the help of the Army.
Mr. Causey: When December of 1945 came and you decided to leave the Navy, what
did you do?
Mr. Gribben: I came to work right here.
Mr. Causey: I think you said that you had met with some people here before you went
into the Navy. Did you basically ask Covington & Burling to hold a spot for you, or did the firm offer to
hold a spot for you?
Mr. Gribben: I don’t think there was anything very formal about it. I kept in touch with
them and sometime when the war was coming to a close, Mr. Burling called me up and invited me out to
lunch and said, “We want you whenever you’re ready to go to work,” so it was fairly casual. On the
Navy service, let me just mention, the real high points, in a sense, were my attendance at the military
conferences – two of them up in Quebec attended by the British and American military people.
President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister were up there too on one of the occasions. And those were
sort of exciting, to bring everything together. And then at Cairo the British and Americans again met –
this time with Chiang Kai-shek — after the African landings had been fairly successful. Those were
interesting, a lot of history involved, and high points, so to speak.
Mr. Causey: Did you keep a journal of your Navy experiences?
Mr. Gribbon: No, I didn’t. I remember a lot about it though. One incident I remember
in particular. After the landings in Normandy, France it was planned to have sort of a counterpunch
landing in Southern France, down around Marseilles. I think it was called Operation Anvil. Churchill
never was completely sold, first on the Normandy landing, I think he would have postponed that another
year or two, or three years. And on the Southern operation, he never did like that because it meant
curtailing his operations in Italy, and in what he called the soft underbelly of Europe, Yugoslavia. So
sometime in the summer of ’44 after the landing and the beachhead had been secured (but they were still
fighting hard up there), it came time for this Operation Anvil, and Churchill wrote a long letter to the
President, five or six pages, explaining his position that the operation should be canceled, and the troops
should be kept in Italy and Yugoslavia. He had been urging this in one way or another for a long time,
and this was his final effort, and it was only a few weeks before the landing was to take place down
there. Everybody on our side knew the reasons why we opposed it, but I was given the job of drafting a
letter for Roosevelt to send to Churchill in reply meeting his various points and explaining why we were
going to go ahead with it. I stayed up all night drafting that and sent it up to my superiors and went
home to sleep and came back at 12 o’clock or so and found that the President had sent the letter out
without changing a comma. I thought that was the highlight of my wartime achievement. Both of those
letters are printed in Churchill’s books, his six-volume, I think it is in the Appendix – not attributed to
Mr. Causey: Not attributed to you?
Mr. Gribben: No.
Mr. Causey: But attributed to Franklin Roosevelt.
Mr. Gribben: Well, he signed it. We did a lot of things though not quite that on that
scale, preparing letters which of course had to be approved by the Chiefs of Staff, and then sent over to
the President. Churchill kept him very busy with his letters.
Mr. Causey: Churchill was a great letter writer.
Mr. Gribben: Yes.
Mr. Causey: What would you say would be the – you mentioned Churchill’s sixvolume
History of the Second World War.
Mr. Gribben: I think it was the sixth. It’s one of those six volumes.
Mr. Causey: What do you think was the best history of the Second World War that
Mr. Gribben: I haven’t read a great many, I haven’t read anything as comprehensive as
Churchill’s. I would have to say that to my knowledge that is the best, although it is written clearly from
his point of view. I guess any participant would have to do it that way.
Mr. Causey: Well, so Mr. Burling calls you up and says, “Are you still interested in
coming to practice with us,” and you said, “Yes?” You hadn’t thought about anyplace else?
Mr. Gribben: I really hadn’t, no.
Mr. Causey: Let’s talk about your early experiences in coming to the firm? Do you
remember the day you started?
Mr. Gribben: Not the exact day, and there wasn’t anything very auspicious about it. It
was fairly close to Christmas. I do remember they gave me a $50 bonus at Christmas which I thought
was pretty good.
Mr. Causey: When did you start your career at Covington & Burling?
Mr. Gribben: Late ’45, in December. I was still actually in the Navy, on terminal leave.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember what your first assignment was at the firm?
Mr. Gribben: I believe it had to do with representing American Airlines over at the Civil
Aeronautics Board. The firm had just taken on the representation of American and the Civil Aeronautics
Board had countless new route proceedings. They had been suspended during the war and now that the
war was over they were starting them up and they had them all over the country and American was
involved in a great many of them. Howard Westwood in the firm here was doing the work. He had
charge of it but a lot of people were helping and the earliest recollection I have is that he called me in
shortly after I came here and said something like, “They tell me you’re a smart son-of-a-bitch, here’s
something for you to do.” And he pointed over in the corner and there were a pile of briefs about that
high, and he says, “We need to have reply briefs here, as soon as possible. Take these and get at them.”
That’s what I did.
Mr. Causey: It was easier than writing letters for Roosevelt.
Mr. Gribbon: Much easier.
Mr. Causey: What are some of your early recollections here at the firm about some of
the people who were at the firm at the time you joined. Let’s start with Judge Covington. Did you ever
meet him before he passed away?
Mr. Gribbon: I had met him while I was still in Law school, but he died in 1942 and so I
never really knew him.
Mr. Causey: How about Mr. Burling?
Mr. Gribbon: I had a lot to do with Mr. Burling. You see, he lived until 1966, so there
were twenty years or so there. Fine man. Very smart, excellent mind, not necessarily a people man. He
didn’t go in very much for back-slapping or things of that kind. The firm was his life. He had been very
successful as a lawyer in Chicago and as an investor in a tool and die company out there that later
actually ended up as part of Thompson Products in Cleveland, but he’d had quite a career. He came to
Washington with the Shipping Board and stayed on. He was pretty old by the time I came here and was
not awfully active. I do remember one occasion, this must have been in the spring of 1946. It was on a
Saturday morning, we all worked Saturdays at that time. He was out in Chicago and he called me up.
He was planning an acquisition for his tool company and apparently had learned, or knew that it was
fairly debatable whether it would violate the Clayton Act and he asked me supposing I go over into
Canada and do ttiis, would I be all right? That’s probably not the whole story, but that’s what I
remember of it.
Mr. Causey: What are your recollections of Dean Acheson?
Mr. Gribbon: As I recall Dean was not at the firm in ’45. He was still an Assistant
Secretary of State. He did come back and I worked with him. Indeed, I worked fairly closely with him,
in the early stages of what later turned out to be the DuPont-General Motors litigation in
which after a long, hard struggle DuPont was ordered to give up its General Motors stock because it was
held to be a violation of Section 7. I marveled at the way, after doing great things and being involved in
them, that he could buckle down and write a brief and talk to witnesses and deal with these very, very
mundane things, but he could. He was a very bright man. Little tolerance for mediocrity, but a very fine
person. I distinctly remember one incident with him. This was in connection with the 1948 election
when Truman was reelected over Dewey to the consternation of just about everybody. He and I and a
number of other people had attended an election party at Gerry Gesell’ s house and the evening started
out fairly slow and somber. Everyone there was a Democrat, they were expecting a defeat, but as the
evening wore on, the returns looked better and the libations flowed, and I don’t think anyone left there
until 3 o’clock in the morning. We all had a big time, and the next morning I was with him going up to
Wilmington to the DuPont Company on this DuPont-General Motors case and we were both a little the
worse for wear, but he was pretty jolly and talked about the great victory. At that time I had absolutely
no notion that I was talking to Truman’s Secretary of State. I don’t think he did either.
Mr. Causey: What year did Mr. Acheson become his Secretary of State?
Mr. Gribbon: It would have been in ’49.
Mr. Causey: Right after the Inauguration.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Did Mr. Acheson come back to the firm?
Mr. Gribbon: He came back after he was Secretary of State. But he wasn’t particularly
interested in practicing law at that time. He devoted a good deal of time to his book, Present at the
Creation, and did a lot of writing.
Mr. Causey: Witnesses and briefs became a little mundane at that point?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, he wanted to write, and he did write. He wrote a lot of lovely things,
intimate portrayal of people he had known. He had some wonderful things on Mr. Burling, very deft at
writing. At that period his office was right next to mine, right down the hall, and I used to stop in and
talk with him. I saw a lot of him at that time, in a very informal kind of way, and learned to appreciate
him as a human being.
Mr. Causey: When you joined the firm in 1945 where were the offices located?
Mr. Gribbon: 701 Union Trust Building, comer of 15th and H.
Mr. Causey: How long were the offices at that location?
Mr. Gribbon: It stayed there until, I think until about 1967, or maybe 1968. Yes, I know
that’s the date. We then moved over to the Motion Picture Producers Building on 16th Street between H
and I. The reason I remember that is Gerry Gesell did all the planning for that and then went on the
Court before we occupied the building. I think I got the room that he had counted on.
Mr. Causey: Let me ask you about a few more people who were at the firm when you
joined. What are your recollections of Charlie Horsky?
Mr. Gribbon: Very happy. Charlie was a prince of a person. I did a good bit of work
with him along the way. We worked together in the DuPont-General Motors case which came up later.
Initially I don’t think I had very much to do with Charlie. It wasn’t until about 1952 or 1953 that I did.
But he was just a delightful man to have around.
Mr. Causey: Did he work right up to his recent death?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. He was away from the firm from ’62 to ’67, as Advisor for National
Capitol Affairs to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Then he came back and was with the firm right up
to the end. He was pretty sick for the last 18 months, I guess.
Mr. Causey: Let me ask you about a few more people. What are your recollections of
Mr. Gribben:. Well, I knew Graham very well. Graham had clerked for Judge Hand a
couple of years before I did, and we had that in common. We did a lot of work together and he was an
exceedingly capable person. He could do just about anything.
Mr. Causey: Who were other people who you were close to when you first came to the
Mr. Gribbon: Howard Westwood I was closer to than anybody. Gerry Gesell. I got
relieved from that Civil Aeronautics Board work after awhile and went to work with Gerry on some
antitrust matters. Newell Ellison I did a lot of work with. I guess until 1950 those were the main people
who I worked with. And in 1951 I guess Hugh Cox came into the firm and I did a lot of work with him
Mr. Causey: Did Judge Gesell want to be a Judge?
Mr. Gribben: I don’t think he pined for it. He clearly did not want to be an appellate
judge, although ironically, he sat often later on on the appellate court and enjoyed it. But he always
swore he didn’t want to be on that court. He liked to run the show himself. I know that being named a
judge was a complete surprise to him. Complete surprise. And if Johnson himself had not called him
and said, “I’d like for you to be a judge here,” I’m not sure he would have taken it. But I think he was
complimented that the Head Man called him up.
Mr. Causey: I tried one case in front of Judge Gesell and I had a very pleasant
experience. He went on the bench in 1967, I believe.
Mr. Gribben: December of 1967. He spent 25 years here, and 25 years on the Court.
Mr. Causey: Did he ever say afterwards in a moment of candor that he was sorry he left
Mr. Gribben: No. He enjoyed being a judge very much.
Mr. Causey: His father was a psychiatrist?
Mr. Gribben: He was a child consultant; he was an M.D. who wrote books about rearing
children. He was sort of a predecessor of Dr. Spock.
Mr. Causey: He was fairly well-known nationally, I believe.
Mr. Gribben: Quite, yes.
Mr. Causey: Did Judge Gesell ever reveal to you why he became a lawyer and not a
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so.
Mr. Causey: Is there anybody else who was at the firm when you came that you want to
Mr. Gribbon: I’ve had very happy experiences with a great many people here. I don’t
necessarily want to talk about them.
Mr. Causey: Maybe this is a good time to break for lunch.
Mr. Gribben: O.K. Good enough.
Mr. Causey: We are now continuing the Oral History with Dan Gribbon. We were
talking about some of the people here at the firm that you worked with in the 1950s and 1960s when you
were in active practice here in Washington. I would be interested in your recollections and comments
about some of these people. What are your recollections about Ed Williams, for example.
Mr. Gribben: All good. I don’t recall that I ever had a case in court against him. I was
in some negotiations – I know, it had to do with filing a stockholder’s suit against the owners of the
Washington Senators when they were threatening and did ultimately move out there. The Washington
Post got after Ed to file such a lawsuit and we were representing Gabe Murphy at the time who was a
large minority stockholder of the Redskins and had some litigation going but we didn’t have a
stockholder’s suit. I remember talking with Ed about it. I used to see Ed socially in the early years. He
was a good lawyer and a good person as far as I know.
Mr. Causey: What was it that got Ed Williams the reputation that he had in this town?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t know, and I don’t really have any inkling of what it was.
Mr. Causey: Was it the notoriety of client?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was his success at the Bar that got him the famous clients. I first
knew Ed I guess early in ’46, right after I came here. He and Bob Scott were great friends and we used to
play poker and he had none of the greatness about him at that time, but he was still a nice person. He did
Mr. Causey: Who was the better poker player?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t remember. I don’t think any of us were very good.
Mr. Causey: Did you know Ed Campbell?
Mr. Gribbon: I knew him only very slightly. I distinctly remember him when Ken
Parkinson, I guess was a partner of Ed Campbell, wasn’t he? Was hauled up before the Board on
Professional Responsibility for misdeeds or failure to do things during the Watergate operation. Ken
had been represented and was represented by Jake Stein and they had received a favorable bill of health
from the Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility. I was the Chairman of the
Board at that time and when it came to the hearing before us, he was there and Jake and Ed Campbell. I
am sure Ed intended to intimidate me and maybe he did, but there he sat and didn’t say a word through
the whole proceeding. Just sat there eyeing me.
Mr. Causey: Did you know Ed?
Mr. Gribbon: No, I didn’t. I knew who he was, of course.
Mr. Causey: Did you know Judge Barrett Prettyman?
Mr. Gribbon: I had cases before him, but I never knew him well. I always had a high
respect for him. I thought he was able, fair.
Mr. Causey: Do you know his son, Barrett, Jr.?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I’ve seen a lot of Barrett over the years and have a high respect for
him but I don’t think we’ve ever done anything closely together.
Mr. Causey: Both of you have argued quite a bit in the Supreme Court. You never had
a chance to work together on a case in the Court?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: Who would you say were some of the other, to use a trite expression, legal
giants in the ’50s and ’60s in this town.
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I would have to put John Wilson up there. I tried one case, it wasn’t
a trial, it came up on a motion for summary judgment. It was a libel action where John was representing
the plaintiff, a newspaper columnist named Ralph de Toledano, who was suing a man named Costello
who had written a book, The Facts About Nixon. And there was a certain similarity between what he
had written and what de Toladano had written before. And we were representing Costello because he
had published it in The New Republic and I was representing them at that time. This was several
ownerships ago of The New Republic and John really bit into this and he was taking depositions all over
the place and we thought we had a good motion for summary judgment, so we filed it. It went before
Judge Walsh. I’d never been before him. John opposed our motion for summary judgment with a paper
that had a lot of attachments. It was about three inches thick. At this argument he said, “Judge, in order
to decide this motion, you’re going to have to read all of these papers.” That’s about all John said. He
defeated the motion, and the case was later settled by our payment of$ I 00 with a check that was never
cashed. I saw a lot of John. He was a great friend of Newell Ellison, my senior partner here, and
through Newell I used to see a good bit of John. Another man who I think was very prominent in the
Bar was Francis Hill. I don’t think he was so big in litigation, but he was a counselor, a very wise man,
and a good lawyer.
Mr. Causey: Where did he practice?
Mr. Gribbon: He was here, in the District. I think he was President of the Bar
Association one year.
Mr. Causey: Are there any other leaders of the Bar you recall?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, I think Lloyd Cutler surely was a leader of the Bar. You mentioned
Ed Williams. If you list a lot of people, I would agree, yes they are leaders of the Bar.
Mr. Causey: The people who come to my mind are probably more in the ’70s than they
are in the ’50s and ’60s. Did you know Steve Pollak?
Mr. Gribbon: Steve, I knew very well. He worked here quite a while before he went to
Mr. Causey: You mentioned that you were Chair of the Board of Professional
Responsibility. When were you Chair of the Board? You said Ken Parkinson came before you. That
would have been in the early ’70s.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: Watergate was 1974, I believe.
Mr. Gribbon: This would have been ’75 or ’76. I guess it was in that ’75 to ’80 period,
sometime around that.
Mr. Causey: Let me ask you a somewhat philosophical question.
How do you think the practice of law from an ethical point of view has changed over your career?
Mr. Gribbon: I find that very difficult to answer. I think there has been a loosening of
ethical values. I think the law practice now is much like the advertising business or any other service,
and I think that the notion of loyalty to your clients, loyalty to your firm, is largely passe. It’s now an
individual entrepreneurship, and with that I think there has been a loosening of the concepts of the
provisions of service to your clients and to the public.
Mr. Causey: Do you think that change is in response to society in general or do you
think this would have happened anyway with the legal profession?
Mr. Gribbon: I would think quite likely it’s the larger forces. I don’t think that the law
profession independently has set out to change the way it did things, I think it has been imposed upon as
business and government became more powerful. The lawyer sitting in his office and providing wise
counsel has become more or less a thing of the past. The lawyers are largely a part of other enterprises
one way or another.
Mr. Causey: If we were to do this Oral History five months ago, there would be eight
big accounting firms. Now there are probably going to be four because of consolidation. Do you think
that’s the trend in the practice of law too, that the big firms will be consolidating?
Mr. Gribbon: I just don’t know. I don’t think we’re going to get to anyplace like the
accounting people have gotten. There’s always going to be room, I believe, for the talented person or
two, three, four of them who want to practice together. Probably fewer in numbers, but I don’t see a
proliferation of Baker & McKenzies or Skadden, Arps – things like that.
Mr. Causey: You’ve seen a lot of young people come through the firm over the years.
How have young lawyers changed over the years?
Mr. Gribbon: I think they’re probably smarter. They’re certainly more assured, selfconfident,
with some justification, and less interested I think in the law than they are in doing something
else. Usually it’s going into business but it could be other things. I think many fewer of the young
people coming in now have in mind practicing law for the rest of their life. They are really equipped
though, they can do the job, they work hard.
Mr. Causey: You were Chairman of the Board of Professional Responsibility. Did you
perform any other Bar related services or activities?
Mr. Gribbon: I suppose the principal other one was serving on the Court of Appeals, I
think it’s called, Committee on Procedures. I served on that and then I was Chairman of that for three
years. That and the Board on Professional Responsibility, I think were the main efforts outside the firm.
Mr. Causey: Let me ask you some questions about judges. I asked you some questions
about who were the leaders of the Bar in the ’50s and ’60s. I noticed in reviewing some of the cases that
you provided to me that you were involved over the years. I looked at one case which was called Ethyl
Corporation v. EPA which was a case that was argued in front of the United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia Circuit in the mid-’70s. I think it was argued en bane. There were some great
judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals here in D.C. in the ’50s and ’60s. Let me ask you what some of your
recollections are of those judges. Let me start with Judge Bazelon. Did you know him well?
Mr. Gribben: Not too well. I had really rather little to do, or very few appearances
before Judge Bazelon considering he was the Chief Judge there for a long period of time. I don’t know
how that happened. The one case he did vote on although he didn’t sit as I recall was that Ethyl case.
We had won the case before a panel on which Judge Skelly Wright was the dissenting member and the
Government moved for rehearing and they got it. There were nine judges on the Court at that time and
the vote on rehearing was five to four, Judge Bazelon who didn’t even bother to sit in the argument
casting the deciding vote.
Mr. Causey: Do you know why he didn’t sit through the argument?
Mr. Gribbon: Probably had other things to do. He wasn’t all that interested in civil
Mr. Causey: You mentioned Judge Skelly Wright. What do you recall about Judge
Mr. Gribbon: Judge Wright is highly thought of by legal scholars. That’s all I want to
Mr. Causey: Did you have some unpleasant experiences with him?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, the Ethyl case that I mentioned was not altogether happy. I’m sure
he was the one who got the Court to rehear the case en bane. I believe that he controlled Bazel on’ s vote
in circumstances like that. I remember in the course of that argument Ethyl and DuPont were on the
same side and I was representing DuPont. The Ethyl lawyer had occasion to say that a Subcommittee of
Congress had looked into the matter and had come up with certain findings and Judge Wright leaned
over and he said, “Who was the Head of that Subcommittee?” And the Ethyl lawyer said “Senator
Biden.” And Judge Wright said, “He’s from Delaware, isn’t he?” “Yes.”
Mr. Causey: I guess that made a point. Some of the other judges on this particular
panel include Judge McGowan. Did you know him?
Mr. Gribbon: I knew Judge McGowan well. I knew him before he went on the bench,
saw a lot of him, had a very high regard for him. He was one of the ablest men who sat on the bench and
a fine judicial approach to things. I guess he was mostly on the liberal side, but I don’t think a
conservative could really complain about his decisions. I think Pat Wald was right at his memorial
service. She said (maybe it was Ruth Ginsburg), I get mixed up, the thought was “The court of appeals
doesn’t have a king, but it does have a prince.”
Mr. Causey: Do you have any recollections of Judge Leventhal?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t have a distinct recollection. I knew I had something to do with him
before he went on the bench. Not too much afterwards. He always seemed to me to be terribly wordy.
He couldn’t quite say yes or no. It was always 50 pages. I think he was a very smart man, good judge.
Mr. Causey: Did you know Judge MacKinnon?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, I did. I got to know him pretty well. He was a sage, pretty wise
fellow. I don’t think he had quite the education of some of these other judges or the polish, but he had a
good sense of what was right and wrong, and what was just and unjust, and he could spell it out pretty
well. I think he had a period there where the Supreme Court upheld him twenty-four out of twenty-five
times, when he had dissented from the decisions below.
Mr. Causey: Do you think he would be surprised with some of the writings of his
Mr. Gribbon: He stood by her. He must have disagreed rather thoroughly with most of
what she was doing, but he was proud of her and stood by her.
Mr. Causey: Judge Wilkey?
Mr. Gribbon: I knew Malcolm Wilkey quite well, both before he went on the bench and
afterward. He was a good judge. He never quite fitted in I don’t think with the court down there and I
don’t know why that was. I don’t think he was too happy, I don’t think he was quite as well liked as he
might have been, but I always found him quite a nice person and an able person.
Mr. Causey: Did you know Judge Robb?
Mr. Gribbon: Very slightly.
Mr. Causey: How about Judge Tamm?
Mr. Gribbon: Tamm I knew. He was a very able man, a nice person.
Mr. Causey: Did you know well some of the more recent judges on the Court of
Appeals? You mentioned Pat Wald, for example.
Mr. Gribbon: I’ve known Pat over the years. She’s a very able person.
Mr. Causey: Did you know her when she was in the Justice Department?
Mr. Gribbon: When I argued the Penn Central case in the Supreme Court, the “Takings”
case, she argued as an amicus on behalf of the United States, and I guess that’s the closest that I ever
came to having anything to do with her. She was busy mostly on pro bono matters before she went to
the Justice Department.
Mr. Causey: How about Judge Edwards? Harry Edwards. Did you have any dealings
with him? Do you know him well?
Mr. Gribbon: Not too well. I’ve had a few meetings with him in a sort of semi-official
way, actually in connection with this Historical Society. He seems to be a very capable man. I gather
he’s a great manager from what I read and hear from the other judges.
Mr. Causey: Of all the judges that you have either appeared before or knew on the U.S.
Court of Appeals here, who stands out the most in your mind?
Mr. Gribbon: Warren Burger stands out maybe because he later went on to become the
Chief Justice, but he was a pleasure to argue before. He took an active part in the proceedings. He never
tried to hide what he was thinking about but I think that was helpful to getting the oral argument to come
out right. Again, it’s like the lawyers. If you’d mention a dozen of them, I could comment on them.
Mr. Causey: Is there anyone who stands out in your mind who should not have been on
Mr. Gribbon: Bennett Champ Clark should not ever have been on the bench, any bench,
except at the Bar. I think on the whole, they made a pretty – Judge Danaher, did not seem to have a
judicial background or temperament, probably a very nice man, I didn’t know him personally, but he
seemed to be intense about the wrong things.
Mr. Causey: . You’ve had a fairly active and impressive appellate practice in your career.
Did you find appellate work more enjoyable than trial work?
Mr. Gribbon: Not necessarily, no. It simply happened that way. I think that I did more
probably. But many of the cases that I tried I found to be exacting and interesting.
Mr. Causey: Did you enjoy trial work more?
Mr. Gribbon: I wouldn’t say more, but I liked them both. It was different.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember your first argument in the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribbon: I do.
Mr. Causey: Was that the Penn Central case?
Mr. Gribbon: No. Way back.
Mr. Causey: What was your first argument in the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribbon: It was a case called Grunenthal v. Long Island Railroad. Long Island was
a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Hugh Cox had been the outside counsel for the
Pennsylvania for Supreme Court matters. He asked me if I would like to argue this case and I jumped at
the chance. It was only later that I realized that it was a sure loser. It had to do with the power of a
circuit court of appeals to upset a jury verdict. It was a Federal Employers Liability case and in those
days the only rule was that the plaintiff always got something. In this case the plaintiff had sued and a
jury had given him twice as much as he had asked for and the district judge had said, “Well, it’s all right.
Let them do it if that’s what they want to do.” And the Court of Appeals had reversed it as being sort of
outlandish, out of the question, etc., etc., and it came up to the Supreme Court. We all thought that it
was going to turn on whether the Court of Appeals under historic common law jurisdiction had the
authority to tamper with a jury verdict that a district judge had let stand. So that was quite an interesting
question. I got up there and they weren’t interested in that question at all. They simply held that the
Court of Appeals was wrong and left unanswered the constitutional questions.
Mr. Causey: What year did you argue that case?
Mr. Gribbon: It would have been maybe the late 60s, ’65, ’66, ’67, or ’68. And that
question, interestingly, whether the Court of Appeals has that authority remained mooted and unsettled
until a year or so ago, when the Supreme Court finally put at rest that they did have that authority.
Mr. Causey: They finally got interested in that?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, they finally got interested.
Mr. Causey: Do you have a distinct recollection of your argument in that first case, who
was asking questions?
Mr. Gribbon: The only recollection I have is that Justice Fortas, this would place it in
time a little bit, he was still on the bench. Somehow or other I said in the course of the argument that
something was just a matter of words, I can’t recall why or in what context I would have said that, but
Fortas leaned over and said, “Well, if we don’t believe in words, we’re in pretty bad shape,” something
similar to that. It had nothing to do with the outcome.
Mr. Causey: Were you nervous during this first argument?
Mr. Gribbon: I think so. I’m nervous today when I argue.
Mr. Causey: That nervousness doesn’t go away in the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribbon: No. Well, it goes away as you get into the swing of things, but in
anticipation, I’m always nervous.
Mr. Causey: What do you do to prepare for a Supreme Court argument?
Mr. Gribbon: I’ll tell you I don’t go through dry runs which I think is quite common.
Indeed, around here I’ve sat in on some dry runs with some of the fellows who have had cases up there.
I’ve never found that helpful but I may have been wrong. I try to master the record and then what I do is
dictate an argument. Then I read that over several times and try to get it fixed in my mind. Sometimes I
will note on a card five or six points that I want to make. Then I try to forget about the thing I’ve
Mr. Causey: How many cases have you argued in the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribbon: I’m not sure. I think about fifteen.
Mr. Causey: Is there any one case that is a favorite that stands out, or any case that you
wish you had never even come close to taking?
Mr. Gribbon: I think I can remember most of them, but I suppose two cases might stand
out. One, the Penn Central case, where I think we were robbed by Justice Brennan, and the Upjohn
case, the attorney-client privilege case, which was interesting and very gratifying. It was a unanimous
decision of the Court after the case had been lost in the lower courts. I remember in that case the day the
decision came out I had not heard the result but Larry Wallace over in the Solicitor General’s Office who
had argued called me up, “Dan,” he said, “I guess you got about nine more votes than I did,” which I
thought was a very graceful way to deal with the matter.
Mr. Causey: What was, was there one argument that you had in the Supreme Court that
was the most troublesome, or the most embarrassing, or the more difficult?
Mr. Gribbon: I suppose Grunenthal was all of those things.
Mr. Causey: Let me talk for just a few minutes about the Penn Central case. I did have
a chance to read it over the weekend. It was decided in 1978. You are right in that. Justice Brennan
wrote the opinion. Why did he rule against you?
Mr. Gribbon: He has never voted for me in any case I’ve ever put before him in the
Supreme Court. I’m sure he didn’t recognize that at the time but that’s what the records will show.
Mr. Causey: Of course it had nothing to do with the merits of the case.
Mr. Gribbon: One factor in that case which I think may have been critical and certainly
was significant, which doesn’t appear in the record, Jackie Kennedy Onassis led a delegation of deep
breathers down from New York to the argument after publicizing greatly their position in favor of land
over preservation at any cost.
Mr. Causey: Tell me about that.
Mr. Gribbon: It was well publicized. She and her group appeared in the courtroom
saying they didn’t know what the case was all about except that somehow they thought the railroad was
getting away with murder, and I’m sure that was a very important factor in that decision.
Mr. Causey: Against you.
Mr. Gribbon: Oh yes. The argument was going along very nicely, seriously, and Justice
Marshall sort of leaped up and said, “How’d you get this property in the first place, did you steal it fair
Mr. Causey: Well, looking back from Penn Central 20 years later, do you think it was
Mr. Gribbon: No. I think there was a real taking of a part of the property. They were
forbidden for purely aesthetic reasons to use 20 stories out of 60 stories which was all right. We didn’t
contest, that it was a taking for the public interest. We just wanted to be paid for what was taken from
the Railroad. Arid he developed this notion of takings law. He said you’re still getting some money of
that building so it isn’t being entirely taken and therefore your investment expectations are being at least
Mr. Causey: Is this Justice Brennan?
Mr. Gribbon: Brennan, yes. Have not been completely demolished.
Mr. Causey: Would you say that the Penn Central case was the most memorable case
you had in the Supreme Court?
Mr. Gribben: Upjohn created a lot more furor at the Bar than did Penn Central.
Mr. Causey: Upjohn was argued and decided in 1981 and that was the attorney-client
Mr. Gribben: Yes, that was argued on the day after Reagan was elected President.
Mr. Causey: I noticed that when I was reading the case again this past weekend.
Mr. Gribben: It was decided in January of the next year.
Mr. Causey: Right. It was argued November 5, the day after he was elected President,
and decided just before the Inauguration. I noticed that when I was reading this. One more question
about Penn Central. Did working on that case get you interested at all in the issue of historic
Mr. Gribben: No.
Mr. Causey: Let’s talk about the Upjohn case for a moment. Did you realize when you
argued that case that it was going to be as groundbreaking and as famous as it’s become?
Mr. Gribben: No, I don’t think so. There had been a case up there six or eight years
before – Radiant Burners, I think was the name of the case – in which the Court had split, affirming a
decision that was somewhat against the privilege of a corporation, so it wasn’t a totally new issue. In
anticipation it dian’t attract very much attention although there were a number of amicus briefs filed. I
think what made the difference is that the Court went a lot further than it had to. The narrow issue was
whether the corporate privilege was limited to those in a control position or whether it extended to all
employees of the corporation who might know anything about the matter. But the Court in addition to
resolving that in our favor which was the broader test, not the control test – indeed, the Court really
refused to adopt one test or the other, indicating the matters had to be approached on a case by case
basis. But the important part of the decision was that the Court gave a ringing endorsement to the
privilege itself and that was a shot in the arm I believe to everybody. The privilege has always been
somewhat suspect as being a way of hiding the truth but Rehnquist’s opinion just gave a philosophical
twist on it which was quite important for the entire privilege.
Mr. Causey: I think you did get Justice Brennan’s vote in that case.
Mr. Gribbon: Could be. Yes, I guess if he’s still on the Court.
Mr. Causey: Now, Justice Rehnquist did write the opinion and of course he was not the
Chief Justice at the time.
Mr. Gribbon: The Chief Justice wrote a concurring opinion.
Mr. Causey: When you argued Upjohn, did you get any sense during the argument that
Justice Rehnquist would be writing the opinion?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so.
Mr. Causey: Have you ever had that feeling in arguing in the Supreme Court that you
kind of knew who would be writing the opinion?
Mr. Gribbon: I never have. I never have been able to really tell how they’re going to vote
in most cases.
Mr. Causey: Of course they vote after the argument on the opinion and the assignment
is not made until after the argument. I’ve talked to some people who have argued in Court that say they
could get a sense of whose asking what questions, and who seems to be more knowledgeable.
Mr. Gribben: I think you can get a sense of how certain Justices stand on the point, but
not to the point to say “Well, he’s going to write the opinion,” except there may be cases where a
particular Justice has handled other matters that are very close to this where you can sort of bet he’s
going to get this one.
Mr. Causey: Or she.
Mr. Gribbon: She.
Mr. Causey: Now, with Upjohn you were the petitioner and you were swimming
upstream on that case. Did you find in arguing with the Court that it was more difficult to be the
petitioner than the respondent, or did it make any difference?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think it really made any difference. I never detected or even
suspected that any questions or votes reflected that you were on the petitioner’s side or the respondent’s
Mr. Causey: Another case that you gave me to look at that I thought was interesting was
not a Supreme Court case, but I thought one that had very interesting issues and I suspect a case that has
stayed with you and that is the NFL Football case.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: In reading over the opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit in 1986, I noticed
that Joseph Alioto was one of the lawyers. Was this Mayor Joe?
Mr. Gribbon: That’s Mayor Joe.
Mr. Causey: What was it like working with him on this case?
Mr. Gribbon: Very affable fellow. He really is.
Mr. Causey: How did he get involved in this case? Just simply his political
connections in the San Francisco Bay Area?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, he was very prominent, you know, in the antitrust plaintiff’s Bar.
He was one of the leaders.
Mr. Causey: I didn’t know that.
Mr. Gribbon: He was quite the threat to the defendants in the Antitrust Bar. I’m sure
that’s how he got on the NFL cases.
Mr. Causey: What recollections do you have of this case?
Mr. Gribbon: I remember it pretty well. I did not try it. I argued it twice, once on a
matter of liability, and once on a matter of damages, and tried to get the Supreme Court to take it both
times and failed. So that I had more than a passing experience with it.
Mr. Causey: Why did it take the Ninth Circuit a year and a half to decide this case?
Mr. Gribbon: Was that the second one or the first one?
Mr. Causey: This was the second one. This was the damage case. It was argued in
October of 1984 and decided in June of 1986.
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think that’s unusual for that court. The second one, having to do
with damages, Judge Spencer Williams from the District Court, who was sitting by designation, came up
with some compromise theory which cut down considerably on the amount of money that the plaintiff
was entitled to and that may have taken more time.
Mr. Causey: He imposed an offset?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes.
Mr. Causey: On the amount that the value of the Los Angeles expansion opportunity
exceeded the value of the Oakland expansion opportunity.
Mr. Gribbon: That was a concept that nobody had argued.
Mr. Causey: There were no expert witnesses on that issue, and he just came up with
Mr. Gribbon: That’s right. He was out of sympathy with the opinion. But he had not sat
on the original opinion, I think, so he couldn’t do anything
Mr. Causey: It was Judge Pregerson, Howard Pregerson, was the original judge on the
Mr. Gribbon: On liability, yes. He was one of three in the Court of Appeals. I don’t
think Williams sat on that bench. Williams couldn’t do anything about the liability finding, but he rather
cleverly devised this offset which helped the defendants but the precedent remained, and indeed it still
remains. It is not yet resolved. Right now there is a lawsuit going on by the City of St. Louis against the
League trying to recover a very substantial amount of money which the City paid to the League when the
Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis. The League asserted the right to stop them, etc., and St. Louis
paid the money for permission to relocate, and then within a matter of a month or so, Al Davis, moved
his original Oakland Raiders from Los Angeles back to Oakland, and nobody paid any money. So the
St. Louis people claimed they were bilked by the League out of whatever money they paid them. That’s
being tried right now.
Mr. Causey: How did you get involved in the NFL case?
Mr. Gribbon: We had represented the League from the time John Lord O’Brian was
asked to defend the League in a suit brought by the AFL when it was a separate organization. AFL had
brought a suit over in Baltimore and Gerry Gesell represented them in that suit and thereafter
Commissioner Pete Roselle came back to us and we were their antitrust counsel for a number of years.
First, Gerry, Ham Carothers, and then Paul Tagliabue, who is the Commissioner of Football now. So we
had had that relationship with them and then when they lost the case, I forget who tried it in the district
court, it was only then that I was brought in, simply to argue the appeal.
Mr. Causey: Let me go over just a few of the other cases that you have argued over the
years that I thought were interesting cases. You argued a case for DuPont in the Supreme Court – the
Collins case, the SEC-Collins case? This was decided in 1977 and you got 8 of 9 votes in this case.
Justice Brennan dissented. What are your recollections about this case because I thought this was an
Mr. Gribben: I remember it distinctly. That was one I was in on right from the start.
The DuPont family through its ownership in the Christiana Securities Company held a very substantial
block of DuPont stock. And it was decided that it would be better if they would do away with that
holding company and make DuPont a wholly publicly-owned company. They would be able to attract
better people as executives, directors, etc., and the question came up on what terms should it be done?
Christiana was a closed-end investment company. Such companies, as you know, frequently sell in the
market at a discount at net asset value so say they had a million shares of DuPont stock. The market for
Christiana reflected only about 750 thousand of those shares. But the shares were just like all the other
shares and their intrinsic value was for a million shares rather than 750. It was decided to do the
exchange essentially on a share-for-share basis without regard to the market value of the Christiana
stock, with a slight discount – one percent or two percent, more or less for the trouble the DuPont
company was put in effecting the exchange. So I was up in Wilmington when they negotiated the price.
Then it had to be cleared by the SEC because this was a closed-end investment company. A couple of
stockholders of DuPont protested to the SEC saying this wasn’t fair, that DuPont should have exchanged
on the basis of the market price, rather than the net asset value. They also filed a lawsuit up in Delaware,
one of the stockholders did, arguing the same thing, and I argued that, so I was really in the middle of
this all the way through. We were confident that we were right in the matter. The President of the
DuPont Company testified – J.B. McCoy, Irv Shapiro, who was the next President also testified and
was a wonderful witness. They persuaded the SEC that the exchange was in the public interest and that
the terms were fair and reasonable. This one stockholder, a nice young man named Collins from St.
Louis, took the case out to the Eighth Circuit and to our great surprise the Eighth Circuit upset the SEC
ruling, found that it was not fair and reasonable for all the reasons you can think of. I remember Collins’
favorite argument was to insist that we had traded a dog for an elephant or an elephant for a dog, or
something like that. My big concern was getting the Supreme Court to take the case because there
wasn’t any conflict in the circuits and it was hardly a matter of great public interest. We worked hard on
that petition for a writ, and they did take it, and we came out all right on the matter.
Mr. Causey: What did you find was the secret to getting the court to take the case.
Mr. Gribben: I wish I knew.
Mr. Causey: If there is a secret.
Mr. Gribben: I think it has to be done differently in each case. I think in this case we
were helped by the Solicitor General who filed on behalf of the SEC, simply stressed that here is a
federal agency entrusted by law with matters of this kind and you have to have a pretty powerful
showing to reject that agency’s decision, and there was not such a powerful showing here. The SEC
brief filed by the Solicitor General was very pale, as most of their briefs are, and I think we filed a better
brief and were able to prevail, that is, on the petition for cert.
Mr. Causey: Of all the cases that you have handled, either at the trial or the appellate
level, do you have a favorite?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t have a favorite, no. I don’t really think in those terms.
Mr. Causey: Do you have one that is at the bottom of the list? One that stands out as
being a bad experience, or an unpleasant experience?
Mr. Gribben: I guess I haven’t really given this much thought, but one I’ve always been
unhappy about was a case that was, again, for DuPont. I did a lot of work for DuPont over the years.
This was a tax case which I had not been in at the beginning. It had to do with the apportionment of
profits between the U.S. DuPont company and the European company which it set up after the War, The
claim was made by the IRS that DuPont had allocated too much of the profits to the European company
which paid a much lesser tax than the U.S. company. DuPont had gone and paid the full amount of the
tax award tax and then sued for a refund which was a bad thing to do because as you know, it puts you in
a worse situation. But DuPont was proud of not having any outstanding even contingent liabilities so
their treasurer insisted, “We’ve got the cash, we’ll pay it, and sue for refund.” Well, they did. Then it
was an uphill battle from then on and we finally got it into the Court of Claims, I guess it was at that
time, it’s now the Court of Federal Claims. It was also the immediate predecessor of the Court of
Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The appeal was only to the Supreme Court. We lost badly. There was
about $20 million dollars at stake and I just felt thwarted all the time, we weren’t really able to get
anything across, I thought there was a lot of merit to what we were saying. The government brought out
an expert who pointed out that the profits we had allocated to this European company were about five
times what the average profits were, or any company of comparable size. Maybe we were on the wrong
side but I just didn’t like the way it went and I didn’t like the result.
Mr. Causey: You were involved in a major piece of litigation that went over a long
period of time and that was the IBM v. United States litigation. What are your recollections in that?
Mr. Gribbon: You mean that tax case?
Mr. Causey: Yes.
Mr. Gribbon: That was a great victory. That was a fine result – an $18 million
judgment. The Supreme Court refused to take the case despite a noble effort by the Head of the
Department of Justice Tax Division, Louis Oberdorfer.
Mr. Causey: How did it feel to be in the middle of IBM slugging it out with the United
Mr. Gribbon: The main thing, not the main thing, but one of the things I remember, the
United States was IBM’s biggest customer and the business people at IBM were forever concerned that I
was going to do something or say something that would alienate their biggest customer, so I had to wear
kid gloves in a sense. They had to vet everything I said to make sure that what we were doing would not
upset their biggest customer. I didn’t think what we were doing in the litigation would make a bit of
difference to the people purchasing machines and services for the various U.S. agencies.
This is Tuesday, December 16, 1997. My name is Bill Causey. I am here with Dan
Gribbon at the offices of Covington & Burling and this is Part ID of his oral history for the Oral History
Project for the Historical Society for the D.C. Circuit.
·Mr. Causey: Good afternoon.
Mr. Gribbon: Good afternoon, Bill.
Mr. Causey: It is a pleasure to be with you again. We’ve covered a number of areas in
your oral history but there are several others I would like to go back over and maybe even cover a few
new topics this afternoon. I would like to ask you how you became involved in the Historical Society
for the D.C. Circuit and the Oral History Project. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Mr. Gribbon: I can. It’s very simple. One day, then Judge Ruth Ginsburg called me and
asked her to come down and see her. I didn’t know Judge Ginsburg very well. I had no idea what she
had in mind but, somewhat haltingly, she told me that they were forming an historical society of the
district courts. Strike that. She didn’t tell me they were forming a society, she said they would like to
have a history of the court written. She had been influenced by the sesquicentennial celebration, and at
that time she noted with some apprehension that there was no history of her court. She had talked with
Judge Wald, then Chief Judge, and decided they would embark on a venture and that they would try to
get assistance from some members of the bar I said, “Yes, I would help.” I then set about establishing
the Society and getting the directors, all under her gentle guidance, and that’s how we got started.
Mr. Causey: Do you know why she called you to become involved in the project?
Mr. Gribbon: She never told me, of course. I think she and Judge Wald together went
over a list of people. There were some who had done a lot of work for the court. John Pickering was
one. I had served as Chairman of the Court’s Committee on Procedures, and in that capacity, as I recall,
I had a good bit to do with then Judge Ginsburg. I’d sort of forgotten about that. I think that may have
been, as they got turning over names, how she came upon mine.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember when it was when she first contacted you?
Mr. Gribbon: It was in 1990. In the Springtime of ’90.
Mr. Causey: Were you surprised to learn that there had not been an historical study of
the D.C. Circuit up to that point?
Mr. Gribbon: Not particularly. It had never occurred to me. I wasn’t at that time aware
of other circuit court histories. But, in view of the fact there were a number of such histories, I could see
the Judge’s concern that the District was not in the parade.
Mr. Causey: Was the original plan to do both oral histories and a book on the history of
Mr. Gribbon: No, the original plan was to do a history. Judge Ginsburg had already
made tentative arrangements with Jeffrey Morris and was headed in that direction. It took a year or two,
maybe three, before the Oral History took hold. I’m a little unclear just how that came about. I think
Judge Ginsburg was still involved at the time and okayed the project quite enthusiastically, and then we
set about doing it. I just can’t say where the original notion came from.
Mr. Causey: You mentioned Jeffrey Morris as the author suggested by Judge Ginsburg.
He had written a history of the Second Circuit?
Mr. Gribbon: He had.
Mr. Causey: Is that how Judge Ginsburg knew about him?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. She was a good friend of Judge Oakes, on the Second Circuit. He
had shepherded the Second Circuit History much the way the Society and Judge Oberdorfer and I are
doing now. She had talked to him about Jeffrey and had read, or at least was knowledgeable about, his
history book. He was highly recommended by Judge Oakes and, as far as I know, she was the one that
made the selection.
Mr. Causey: When Judge Ginsburg was elevated to the Supreme Court, she basically
turned the project over to you and Judge Oberdorfer?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. I had been working with her before, so I was available but I believe
Judge Mikva, who was then the Chief Judge, selected Judge Oberdorfer to take over. And, we dutifully
Mr. Causey: Without objection, I’m sure.
Mr. Gribbon: Oh, yes.
Mr. Causey: Well, it has been a marvelous project. I certainly have enjoyed it. I trust
you’ve enjoyed working on it.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. Parts of it have been a little tiresome and you never like to nag at
somebody, which I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. But Jeffrey is an easy person to deal with.
He doesn’t work very hard or very fast but he is not unpleasant.
Mr. Causey: If we were to rewind the tape of life and you were able to do the project all
over again, what would you do differently, if anything?
Mr. Gribbon: I think I probably would have, in the first instance, and maybe Judge
Ginsburg did this, look over possible candidates to see whether Jeffrey was the best available. I would
have pinned him down more severely for a timetable. We had a timetable, and all I’m suggesting is that
we might have enforced it a little better. But he gave us a timetable and he just never did live up to it.
Mr. Causey: I think we’re only about three years behind schedule?
Mr. Gribbon: Four years and a couple of months.
Mr. Causey: Well, everything’s relative in the big scheme of things. Maybe that’s not
Mr. Gribbon: He keeps throwing up to me that it took Gerald Gunther 25 years to do the
Learned Hand biography. Of course he says this isn’t the same thing.
Mr. Causey: What would you like to see the Historical Society do in the future that it
hasn’t done so far?
Mr. Gribbon: In the first place, I think the Oral History Project should continue. At one
of our meetings, as I recall, somebody urged that we call a halt to it. I forget who it was – but some
respected person. I don’t foresee the time when we will really have completed that. Therefore I’m not
in favor of setting up a deadline and saying we’ll call it off after that. I think the Society probably should
focus on certain prominent judges and prominent practitioners and do rather in-depth essays, not books,
on them. And, in particular, should deal with the members of the Bar. I think that’s one singular defect
in what Jeffrey has done. Maybe it’s impossible, but I do think there could be more written about Bill
Leahy and Charlie Ford and people like that who really contributed a great deal to the practice of law
here. Then I think exhibits, maybe for children even – school children. This project that you’re now
involved in shows promise, I think, but other items of that kind.
Mr. Causey: You mentioned Bill Leahy and Charlie Ford. Can you take a minute and
just talk about both of them and what contributions they made to the Bar?
Mr. Gribbon: I didn’t know either of them personally, but they were legendary characters
in their own way. Leahy was a brilliant advocate in all kinds of matters. And, as I understand it, most of
the good lawyers in this town, or many of them in the ’50s-’60s were trained by Leahy. He didn’t have a
firm but he’d have people working with him for six months, two years, three years. They all turned out
to be very good lawyers. Ford was a different character. He was the mouthpiece of the gamblers and the
racketeers around town. I don’t know that he was ever involved himself in any improper way but the
kingpins always showed up in court with Charlie Ford. Jake Stein, I think, knew Charlie Ford pretty
well. He thinks he’s an amazing character.
Mr. Causey: Who would be some of the other people you would suggest we do more
in-depth essays of who practiced law in Washington?
Mr. Gribbon: John Wilson would be one. The same could be said of various of the
judges. I just single out the members of the Bar because I think they got a little bit the short end of the
stick in Jeffrey’s work.
Mr. Causey: I think in one of our earlier sessions we talked about Edward Bennett
Mr. Gribbon: Williams, yes. Of course; he has written his own book so that maybe he’s
less in need of being written about than some of the others.
Mr. Causey: Perhaps more in need of some historical correction?
Mr. Gribbon: Correct.
Mr. Causey: Since you began practicing law in Washington, who would you say were
the two or three most influential judges who have served on the bench here in Washington?
Mr. Gribbon: If by influential you mean those who had the biggest impact on the
development of the law, I would think Judge Bazelon and Judge Wright probably would be the most
influential in that respect. Carl McGowan, I believe, was influential in a different respect. He had a very
judicial attitude and was able, to some extent, to bring the opposing sections of the court together. In the
District Court, Bill Jones was very important. And, I think, Gerry Gesell might well be on a list of
Mr. Causey: Who do you think would be the best person to write a lengthy biographical
about Judge Gesell?
Mr. Gribbon: Well, Morris knows a lot about him. He interviewed him for six hours or
so and Gesell talked to him about matters that he declined to discuss with John Kester who did his oral
interview. I can’t think of anybody else.
Mr. Causey: Would you be a good candidate for that?
Mr. Gribbon: No, I don’t think so. I think I was too close to him in many ways. That
would disqualify me.
Mr. Causey: Do you think you would have some conflict of interest?
Mr. Gribbon: I would see things unobjectively, I guess. Both good and bad.
Mr. Causey: Let me stay on the topic of judges and lawyers for a moment. You’ve seen
a lot of judges in your career. You’ve known a lot of judges. What do you think are the qualities that
make a good judge?
Mr. Gribbon: Some years ago after Gerry left the firm, I was called upon to say
something – not a major address, but something or other, more like a toast – about him. I did a lot of
thinking about it. I came to the conclusion that the principal qualities of a judge probably in this order
too: integrity, intelligence and industry. That capsulizes it but I think it does encompass the things that
are important. Sometimes a judge can be highly successful by having two of those qualities. There are
some judges, I think, that have sufficient integrity and intelligence that they don’t really need to work too
hard. I think they would be better if they did work hard.
Mr. Causey: When people talk about the qualities of judges, or the quality of judging,
we hear frequently the phrase “judicial temperament.” What do you think that means?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it simply means a reputation for listening to the parties and calling
the shots in a fair way that, almost always, both of the opposing parties will agree was a rational way to
come out on the matter. They may not quite like it but they would be forced to agree that they got their
Mr. Causey: Do you think that there is a greater fear today than in the past that judicial
independence is threatened?
Mr. Gribben: I don’t think so, but I can understand if somebody did think so because
more potshots are being taken at them today than ever before. I don’t sense in any decisions or other
judicial activities that these judges are concerned about Republicans, conservative Republicans,
impeaching them or doing anything like that. But that’s something that’s very hard to tell. They’re
going to have to ride it out.
Mr. Causey: What role do you think the Bar should play in defending judges who are
under attack or whose judicial independence is being questioned?
Mr. Gribben: I have no pat answer on that. I don’t think they should be guardians of the
judges. The danger there is that he who comes forward incurs the pleasure of the judges and that may
not make any difference in their decisions but there is an appearance of favoritism because of that. I
would think only in egregious situations only where an attack is headed up by the Bar Association or
some group endeavor, and I don’t see that arising very often.
Mr. Causey: Were you active in Bar Association matters?
Mr. Gribben: I was not. I gave it a try. At one time a long time ago, I was head of the
Administrative Law Section of the Bar here. I just didn’t get anything out of it and I didn’t think I was
giving anything. It seemed to me to be a futile endeavor. Probably my fault.
Mr. Causey: Looking back on your career, would you have wanted to do more Bar
activities than you’ve done? Or, do you think that if you had it to do all over again it would not matter
Mr. Gribbon: I guess I have no regrets about having failed to do that.
Mr. Causey: You talked about what makes a good judge. What makes a good lawyer?
Mr. Gribbon: That’s a little more difficult, I think. I’ve seen all kinds of personalities,
quite a range of intellects, and degrees of industry, and I don’t come to any conclusion as to just what
makes a good lawyer. Now, there you’ll have to define what a good lawyers is as to what a successful
Mr. Causey: Do you think there’s a difference?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, and frequently, I think, there are a lot of good lawyers that are far
Mr. Causey: Can you elaborate on that?
Mr. Gribbon: They don’t have client appeal or they don’t get opportunities. There’s a lot
of luck in this as to what comes on and at what time. But I don’t think that people of the same ability,
for example, achieve the same degree of success. Appeal to clients certainly is important but what
causes appeal to clients it’s hard to know. We’ve had lawyers here who were essentially people persons
-jovial, friendly- took clients to lunch and dinner and every other place and they were very
successful. Then others were practically hermits and were equally successful. I think underneath there
has to be a pretty sound knowledge of whatever area of the law you’ re dealing in, whether you’ re a
gladhander or a hermit. And, I think, basic hard work is also essential. Some people may hide it but I
think whenever there’s a good result there’s a lot of hard work behind it.
Mr. Causey: There is a fine distinction between being a good advocate and being a
good counselor. Do you think that one has to have both qualities to be a good lawyer?
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t think so. I think it is probably helpful. I think it’s particularly
helpful for a litigator to be a decent counselor. To some extent, I think, a counselor doesn’t need to have
quite the insight that a litigator carries along with him.
Mr. Causey: If you had to define your role as a lawyer, would you call yourself a
Mr. Gribbon: Yes, I think so only because I haven’t done very much corporate work.
Mr. Causey: Most of your work has been in the courtroom?
Mr. Gribbon: Most of my work has been in either the District Court, Court of Appeals,
Supreme Court. Not necessarily here but in other courts. I’ve done quite a bit of counseling in the
antitrust field, but I would say 75 percent of what I’ve done would be in the litigating area ..
Mr. Causey: Over the years, what change have you seen in younger lawyers – not only
in your own firm but in the practice generally?
Mr. Gribbon: I think pretty clearly, and this is based largely on my experience here, the
younger lawyers are better trained, smarter, and get into the practice of law quicker. Probably do it
better than they did in my generation. At the same time, I think they are less human, less literate – very
narrow in their interests, and also as part of it, much more interested in making money. All lawyers like
to make money to live but it wasn’t considered the way to make a lot of money the time I came into the
Bar and shortly thereafter. I think it now is on a par with investment banking, and corporate executives.
That’s one reason that so many lawyers have become successful in those areas that the younger people
think that is the way to do it. And, therefore, you find much less firm loyalty; people looking for
Mr. Causey: It sounds like you are describing baseball players.
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. Maybe it is the civilization, as you noted earlier in your question in
Mr. Causey: I know we’re generalizing, but what do you think is the reason for many
younger lawyers apparently being less literate, having less sensitivity for human relationships?
Mr. Gribbon: · I think one reason is the decline in faculty guidance towards the law.
Many, if not all, of the professors I had were genuinely fine human beings who liked the practice of law
and thought it an honorable way to make a living. My impression is that a great many law school
professors now, although they are smart – maybe even brilliant – don’t have very much feeling for the
practice of law and these youngsters come out of school feeling well, this is all I’m trained to do right
now but maybe I’ll get on to better things. I think faculty members notoriously are out of touch with the
Mr. Causey: Have you ever taught yourself?
Mr. Gribbon: No, I haven’t. I never taught a course. I’ve given some lectures.
Mr. Causey: Looking back, did you ever think you may have wanted to teach law?
Mr. Gribbon: I never did. Never can remember ever thinking I would like to teach. I
think I lack the patience that is necessary for a good teacher.
Mr. Causey: Can you think of some examples in your career of where you think you’ve
lacked patience in doing something?
Mr. Gribbon: No.
Mr. Causey: Just generally?
Mr. Gribbon: I would say generally I probably have been less engaged in training young
lawyers that ha?e worked with me. I probably fell down on that. My habit was simply to tell them what
the project was, what my original views of it were, ask them to do some research and when a paper came
back, instead of sitting down and going over it with them line by line I would simply x out whatever I
didn’t like and write in whatever I did and hope that they could understand what I was driving at. That’s
probably not the best way.
Mr. Causey: How do you think technology has changed the practice of law?
Mr. Gribbon: Tremendously. I don’t even understand much of it.
Mr. Causey: I look around your office and I don’t see a computer. Do you use a
Mr. Gribbon: I don’t. I never learned to type and it’s pretty late in the game to learn to
type and I think you have to learn to type before you can do much with a computer.
Mr. Causey: You’d be amazed how quickly you pick it up though when you start doing
Mr. Gribbon: I have some books over there that I threaten to go to from time to time and
learn how to compute.
Mr. Causey: Let me go to a new topic for a moment. You started practicing law in
Washington in, if I’m not mistaken, in the ’40s, right?
Mr. Gribbon: 1946.
Mr. Causey: You’ve seen probably eight or nine different presidential administrations
come through Washington. How do you evaluate them? How do you compare one against the other
and, if you can, what administrations were more friendly to the practice of law in Washington and what
administrations, were not? Can you talk about that a little bit?
Mr. Gribben: Well, I’m not a real student of the presidency. All I know is what I’ve
read in the paper from time to time and I’ve never made an effort to compare one administration with
another. Probably the most significant aspect of the presidency as I recall was when Eisenhower came
in. The Republicans did a great deal of talk about cutting down on the government and for a firm like
ours that meant cutting down on business because a great deal of it was representing people who were
either being injured or threatened with injury by the government, or representing people who wanted to
get something from the government. And, for a couple of years there our firm did suffer a decline in
Mr. Causey: In the ’50s?
Mr. Gribbon: In ’52, ’53, ’54. I think the firm has had a steady progression except a
leveling off and maybe a slight decline by the end of the Eisenhower administration. Even by the second
term that effect had worn off at least as far as we were concerned. And, I think generally much less
change or reduction in government services took place than had been promised not by Eisenhower
himself but by the Republicans who were so anxious to get in after all the years they’d been out in the
wilderness. However, they found that government was bigger than they ever thought it was. The second
happening along that line was when the craze for deregulation came about. I think that was, it might
have been when Nixon was elected. Yes, I guess it was when Nixon was elected the same feeling and it
was now put in terms of deregulation and a lot of economists agreed with them that a pretty good case
could be built for eliminating the Civil Aeronautics Board, changing the Atomic Energy Commission,
re-engineering or rejuvenating some of the agencies. That did not really cause a decline in business but
it sort of introduced a new kind of business – “how do you behave during a period of deregulation”
and there were legal problems involved there too.
Mr. Causey: Did you personally meet any presidents?
Mr. Gribben: I met Franklin Roosevelt in a way. A group of us, when I was in the
military. George Bush, I knew fairly well and was at the White House with other people as a guest of
him and Barbara.
Mr. Causey: How did you know George Bush?
Mr. Gribben: Largely through a social club that we both belong to.
Mr. Causey: What recollections do you have of George Bush as president and a person?
Mr. Gribbon: He was a sincere, vigorous fellow. I think he was completely honest.
Everything he did he thought was in the public good. He probably was a little shy of being a real
statesman, as I think Reagan was too, although one could say that a that lot of great things happened
Mr. Causey: In the early ’60s when you were in active law practice, were there any
rumors going around about what we’re now learning about John Kennedy?
Mr. Gribbon: Rumor would maybe even be too strong. I can distinctly remember before
he got the main nomination, I was up on Cape Cod, a lot of Massachusetts people were there and one
woman who was bitterly anti-Kennedy insisted that he was a womanizer and that’s really the only solid
rumor that I heard. I passed that off as being just her antagonism to him, but there was nothing like the
knowledge there is now out. Nothing at all.
Mr. Causey: Has that changed your view of Kennedy and that era, what we’re learning
now about him?
Mr. Gribbon: Oh I think it must have although I don’t know that it makes much
difference. I was enthusiastic about Kennedy. He brought a new spirit in and I liked the way he went
about things. He was a charming person over the radio and television, etc. and, naturally I was a little
disappointed to come to know that he really was pretty much of a rogue when it came to personal life
and the things that most of us regard as important. I don’t think there’s any suggestion that he took
money, while the people at the time said he’s a good man to have there because he’s got enough money.
He won’t try to steal.
Mr. Causey: Well we’re learning, of course, a lot of things about Kennedy now that
apparently are true that we didn’t know at the time. And it seems that almost on the other side of the
spectrum we’re learning a lot about Richard Nixon that we didn’t know. Perhaps suspected, but didn’t
know as fact.
Mr. Gribbon: Confirms most people’s suspicions about Nixon.
Mr. Causey: Does it confirm yours?
Mr. Gribbon: I never was as much of an anti-Nixon person as most of my partners were
around here. Most of this city is a liberal city. Almost everybody in Washington were glad to find out
anything bad about him. But he had trouble in a personal way. Not the same way Kennedy did. These
tapes show him to be a pretty narrow minded; he had a feeling everybody was ganging up on him. That
the whole world was a conspiracy. Now that’s not a very happy frame of mind. But I guess I’m affected
less by these confirmations than I otherwise would be if he had ever been a hero of mine.
Mr. Causey: Why do you think Washington is perceived as a liberal city?
Mr. Gribbon: Because a large part of the city came to be settled during Franklin
Roosevelt’s four terms of office. The people who came here were largely Democrats, largely liberal.
Their children grew up under that kind of influence and the black people here, ever since the tum of the
century I guess, have been almost 100% liberal Democratic believing, perhaps correctly, that the liberals
are going to do more for them than anybody else.
Mr. Causey: There are a lot of lawyers in Washington and lawyers by nature are
conservative. Why do you think Washington remains such a liberal community with all of the lawyers
we have here? Isn’t that a dichotomy that is hard to explain?
Mr. Gribben: I think so. Many of them were influenced either by personal participation,
their parents’ participation, maybe even by the presence of federal agencies. They’re turning now and
maybe in another generation they’ll be Republicans and conservatives. I don’t think the courts here had
very much influence on whether people were liberal or conservative. I’ve wondered about that but I
think, perhaps recently, there has been more of the Republican-Democratic conservative-liberal division
of the courts. It doesn’t make too much difference in the District Court but it does in the Court of
Mr. Causey: Do you think that is a reflection of what is happening in society generally
or do you think it is due to personalities?
Mr. Gribbon: I think the judgeships have become more political. It would be hard to
document that but at one time, I believe, almost all presidents sort of went out of their way to select
outstanding people who might or might not be of the same political party, usually they were. But rarely
were they rabid Democrats, or rabid Republicans and therefore I think you got a better bench. Beginning
with Roosevelt it became very common to appoint to the bench people, many of whom, had been
counsel to the Democratic Committee or Republican National Committee. I think that had its effect.
Mr. Causey: How were you able to avoid that kind of political world?
Mr. Gribbon: I guess I don’t have much aptitude for it or I probably would have been it
m. And I was kept very busy. That isn’t to say that others weren’t busy but I just didn’t have the time,
or I didn’t think I had the time, and I didn’t value that kind of an association very much.
Mr. Causey: Let’s move to a new area. We’ve already talked briefly about the
significance of the cases you had in the Supreme Court. That’s a significant, but still relatively small
area of your practice over the years. Why don’t you talk about some of the cases that were important to
you and why they were important to you.
Mr. Gribbon: A lot of my practice has been in courts other than the District of Columbia,
New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida. The cases in the District I seem to remember more clearly
than any others. There are three of them. Only one of them is of any real importance. That’s a case that
we mentioned earlier where some government agency, I think it was EPA, banned the use of tetraethyl
lead in gasoline. There were very few factual findings that supported the notion that leaded gasoline was
causing terrible problems for children, in particular. Other things like paint, many other things made
greater contributions. The tetraethyl lead industry consisted of two companies, DuPont and the Ethyl
Corporation down in Virginia. They were an easy political target because you just threw them out of
business and you answered all the consumers groups, etc. people; see we’re doing something about lead.
I representing DuPont and a young fellow, whose name I forget, representing Ethyl down in Richmond
appealed that ban to the Court of Appeals, and won by a decision of 2 to I holding that there was not
significant evidence to support the government’s drastic action.
Mr. Causey: Why the Court of Appeals?
Mr. Gribbon: I am not sure. I believe there was a special statute, that proved direct
review by the court of appeals. But, as I say, Skelly Wright dissented. The court granted rehearing en
bane. I don’t think there was a petition for it. I think it was sua sponte. I don’t recall ever responding to
a petition for rehearing. In any event, the court sat en bane – they then had nine active judges – and
the court, by a five to four vote, reversed the district court. Judge Bazelon had the swing vote and he
didn’t bother to sit for the argument. I always felt there was a certain irony, miscarriage of justice. It
was a very important case for these people. It was a profitable business they were in and I guess I’ll
never forget that. Wright was hostile during the argument before the panel and in the en bane argument.
I’m sure he was a factor in Bazelon’s vote.
The other two matters were earlier and of much less importance to anybody but me. The
first time I appeared in the district court was on a very small matter, almost a technical matter. We had
represented the NASD, National Association of Securities Dealers, which was an infant organization at
that time. It was really just getting started. And Abe Fortas representing an Ohio securities firm, Otis &
Co., complained about our procedures for disciplining brokerage firms, and he prevailed upon the
district court to enjoin us from doing what we were supposed to be doing, that is the NASD.
Mr. Causey: Do you remember the name of that case?
Mr. Gribbon: I think it was Otis & Co. v. NASD. I can’t remember being at the trial.
Howard Westwood was the principal lawyer and I guess I helped him. But then after he won the case
Fortas presented an order and we looked at it here and somebody, I sure it wasn’t I, decided the order
was too broad. That it violated our constitutional rights. Howard Westwood went out of town and sent
me down to the court to tell the judge that this proposed order was too broad. When I got there, Fortas
wasn’t there but Thurman Arnold was. Thurman had just left the bench here. And we were before
Judge James Morris. I don’t know whether you remember him or not.
Mr. Causey: I do not.
Mr. Gribbon: I had forgotten that Morris had not only been on the District Court when
Thurman Arnold was on the Court of Appeals here, but he also had worked at the Department of Justice
in a subordinate capacity when Thurman Arnold was Assistant Attorney General. Well, we got to the
courtroom. Thurman was just as nice as could be, just very pleasant, etc. But we walked in there and
Judge Morris saw that Thurman Arnold was before him, I thought he was going to genuflect. And, he
gave me hell. He threw me out. Suggested that I had no business beirig there. Well, that was my
introduction to justice here in the District of Columbia. But, as I say, Thurman was awfully nice.
The next case I had that sticks in my memory is when I represented Gabe Murphy who
was a minority stockholder in the Washington Senators baseball team. A big minority stockholder. he
had about a 40% interest. Over his objection the team moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and became
the Twins. Shortly after the war, a statute had been passed by Congress authorizing incorporation in the
District of Columbia superseding the District’s old corporation statute, modernizing, etc. The senators
from Delaware were very exercised that everybody would flock to the District instead of Delaware to
incorporate and so they sponsored a provision in the Act that this new corporation statute would be
available only to corporations whose principal place of business was in the District of Columbia. It
seemed to me that the Senators, who had reincorporated under this new statute, and then a couple of
years after moved to Minnesota, no longer had a principal place of business here. I argued that to Judge
Pine. He wouldn’t buy a word of it. The Court of Appeals wouldn’t buy a word of it. They, in effect,
said if you say the District is your principal place of business you can use this statute, you don’t need to
be here. That’s one that I’ve never really satisfied myself that justice was done. But, there it was.
Mr. Causey: It would be hard to argue that a baseball team that didn’t play in
Washington had its principal place of business here. Although maybe they could argue that most of the
fans that were here would follow them to Minnesota and, therefore, the location of fans was truly the
place of business. But lawyers can make both ingenious and sometimes absurd arguments.
Mr. Gribbon: They did maintain a half-way office here and I think that was a factor.
But, clearly this wasn’t what the senators from Delaware had in mind and I suspected that the court
objected to this sly tactic by the Delaware senators and was going to show them what for. I guess it’s
interesting, you remember the ones you lose. I guess I failed at not having a baseball fan to keep the club
here. But there it was.
The other major litigations that I have been involved in almost always in the Federal
District and Court of Appeals that didn’t go up to the Supreme Court, I guess the main one was an
outgrowth of the DuPont-General Motors case which I worked on in the District Court in Chicago. That
was really a hignlight that I didn’t appreciate at the time because it was hard work and I was away from
home and my family but it was an interesting, high profile case. The DuPont Company, at that time, was
an excellent client. They said here’s the job, do what’s necessary to get it done. Didn’t second guess
you or anything like that the way these people do now. And I had the opportunity to work with Dean
Acheson in the grand jury phase of the case. At that time, the government, particularly the Antitrust
Division, went up and gathered up all the evidence through grand jury subpoenas because they didn’t
have any, what do they call it now, civil investigative demand power. They had no thought of a criminal
action. They would call the witnesses and ask for documents and prepare the whole case. In the early
part of that case I was working with Dean Acheson until he left to become the Secretary of State, which
was an interesting experience. And during the trial I worked very closely both with Hugh Cox, who was
the head man from our firm representing the DuPont Company. Hugh was a superb lawyer. Unsung,
but probably one of the very best lawyers of his generation and also with John Harlan was representing
two DuPont holding companies and the three DuPont brothers who were named as defendants. We were
all on the same side but that was sort of the division of labor. In retrospect it was a very interesting,
helpful, instructive experience to work with those people. Although the case had been tried as a
Sherman Act case, and the district judge had made numerous findings of fact that there had been no
actual restraint of trade during the 25 or 30 years that DuPont owned General Motors stock. That wasn’t
enough for the Supreme Court. They found that the acquisition of General Motors’ stock by DuPont
violated Section 7 of the Clayton Act because there was a probability that there could be a restraint of
trade in due course. The Court divided 4 to 2 in an opinion by Justice Brennan.
Mr. Causey: Probably written in my dining room, since I now live in the apartment
where Justice Brennan lived during many of his Supreme Court years.
Mr. Gribben: Might have been. I don’t know when he started using your dining room.
He misused it on that one. After that, a stockholder of General Motors, within two weeks after the
Supreme Court decision, filed a treble damage action under the Clayton Act claiming that DuPont had
used its stock interest to force General Motors to buy numerous products. And that went on for quite
awhile with depositions, etc., etc. Finally, we won in the District Court. Fortunately, these fellows had
not asked for a jury trial so it was a bench trial. I don’t know why they didn’t, but they didn’t. It was a
break. The District Court found for us. The Court of Appeals reversed the Second Circuit on the ground
that the judge hadn’t paid enough attention to the violation of the Clayton Act which made it prima facie
that there had been some kind of restraint. So we went back to the same district judge, he heard no more
evidence, rewrote his opinion, and decided again in our favor, that was that. They tried to get cert. and
didn’t get it. Interestingly, I had almost the same experience in a case out in Los Angeles against Proctor
and Gamble, where Proctor had been found, by the Supreme Court, to have violated Section 7 in its
acquisition of a company called Clorox, that made household bleach. Immediately after that decision
was filed, the main bleach company other than Clorox, called Purex, filed a treble damage action out on
the west coast claiming all kinds of money by virtue of getting injured during the period Proctor owned
the Clorox stock. Again, it was a bench trial. Proctor hounded the hell out of me to try to go before a
jury because they had the idea their products were so good the jury would agree with them. I held them
off and we won in the bench trial. Judge Gray. Again, the Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit
reversed it on the same ground that the court up in New York had reversed the General Motors case.
That not enough attention had been paid to the Section 7 violation which was prima facie evidence of
injury. So we went back to the judge and he didn’t take any more evidence. The plaintiffs, represented
by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, one of the big firms out there, tried to get a bench trial at that late date and
if they ever were going to win anything that did them in. He found for us. Again, they took cert., didn’t
Mr.’ Causey: Who did you work against at Gibson, Dunn on that case?
Mr. Gribben: Julian Von Kalinowski. He’d written a book on antitrust law. Also, John Endicott.
The other sort of major, long-term project I was involved in was out in the District Courts in Montana
and Utah. It involved the interpretation of reservations in deeds, deeds to real estate, that the Union
Pacific Railroad had put into the deeds under which they sold the land grant properties that they got
during the building of a transcontinental railroad. These deeds were written between about 1890 and
1910. Some of them had reserved the railroad all coal and other minerals, and some of them weren’t
even that precise. The question became, under the reservation after oil was discovered under these
lands, whether the oil belonged to the railroad or whether it belonged to the people to whom – surface
rights had been sold. A group of surface owners filed suit in the District Courts in Miami, Montana and
Utah. There was tremendous discovery. The railroad kept everything that was ever written and these
plaintiffs got everything that was ever written. I think more money was spent on discovery. There were
three different cases. All of them went off on summary judgment despite all of this discovery. We won
in the District Court. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. They tried to get cert. and failed to do so.
Mr. Causey: There seems to be a lot more discovery in litigation today than there was
20 or 30 years ago.
Mr. Gribbon: Well, this was in the 1980s. But I think you’re right. Much more.
Mr. Causey: I see that as an unfortunate trend. Do you as well?
Mr. Gribbon: Yes. I think maybe it was supposed to do away with surprise at the trial
close – but it’s gone way beyond that- it’s been greatly abused. I remember when I was in law school
the new federal rules had just been adopted in 1938 and the professors spoke admiringly, glowingly of
how the new federal rules were going to change the complexion of trials. This did, but not in the way
the drafters and professor expected.
Mr. Causey: Who do we blame for excessive discovery? The judges who let it go on,
or the lawyers who perpetrate it, or the clients that demand it? Or all of them?
Mr. Gribbon: I think there is blame all around. There are not many clients that I’ve had
who say chew them out with discovery, we don’t care how much you need. I guess that’s because I’m
financed by this man, Philip Anshutz, out in Denver, a very wealthy man. And, he thought it would be
worth the gamble.
Mr. Causey: Who has been the most worthy advocate you have faced?
Mr. Gribbon: Worthy?
Mr. Causey: Worthy.
Mr. Gribbon: Well, my partner Cox, I think. He was up in there. He was very good.
Archie Cox when he was Solicitor General was very able advocate and Erwin Griswold was too. I never
heard John Davis argue, but I’m told that he was superb.
Mr. Causey: How about of lawyers who have been on the other side of the case. Who
do you think have been the most worthy advocates you’ve been up against?
Mr. Gribbon: Floyd Abrams is a very able lawyer. Very able. Very articulate, good
manner and does his work. I can’t think of anybody else. Probably shortsightedness on my part but I
can’t think of anybody that fits your description. That New York case when the stockholder of General
Motors sued DuPont – it was syndicated down on Wall Street. Some lower echelon people in some of
the investment houses there were talked into setting up a syndicate where people put in money to finance
the litigation in return for the enormous proceeds. It’s the only one I ever heard of where that happened,
but it might not be so unusual.
Mr. Causey: It might also be unethical. I think it raises some ethical questions.
Well, we’ve hatl several hours of interesting discussion, and I certainly have enjoyed this and I know it
will be a valuable contribution to our Oral History Project and certainly appreciate the time you’ve given
to this. Thank you very much.
Mr. Gribbon: You’re welcome.
My name is BiU Causey. I am here with Dan Gribbon for the Oral History Project for the