John Sirica

John Sirica

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John Joseph Sirica was the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
The United States District Court for the District of Columbia is a federal district court. Appeals from the District are taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit The United States District Court for the District of Columbia (in case citations, D.D.C.) is a...

, where he became famous for his role in the Watergate scandal
Watergate scandal
The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970s in the United States resulting from the break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement...

. He rose to national prominence during the Watergate scandal when he ordered President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

 to turn over his recordings of White House
White House
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical...

 conversations.

Sirica's involvement in the case began when he presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars. He did not believe the claim that they had acted alone, and persuaded or coerced them to implicate the men who had arranged the break-in. For his role in Watergate the judge was named TIME
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine's Man of the Year in 1973.

Life


John Sirica was born in Waterbury
Waterbury, Connecticut
Waterbury is a city in New Haven County, Connecticut, on the Naugatuck River, 33 miles southwest of Hartford and 77 miles northeast of New York City...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 to Ferdinand and Rose Zinno Sirica, both of whom were Italian immigrants. He moved to D.C. in 1918, where he attended Emerson Preparatory School
Emerson Preparatory School
Emerson Preparatory School is a small private high school in Northwest Washington, D.C., founded in 1852 as the Emerson Institute. It is Washington's oldest co-ed college preparatory school...

 and eventually transferred to Columbia Preparatory School. Sirica received his J.D.
Juris Doctor
Juris Doctor is a professional doctorate and first professional graduate degree in law.The degree was first awarded by Harvard University in the United States in the late 19th century and was created as a modern version of the old European doctor of law degree Juris Doctor (see etymology and...

 from the Georgetown University Law Center
Georgetown University Law Center
Georgetown University Law Center is the law school of Georgetown University, located in Washington, D.C.. Established in 1870, the Law Center offers J.D., LL.M., and S.J.D. degrees in law...

 after doing undergraduate work at Duke University
Duke University
Duke University is a private research university located in Durham, North Carolina, United States. Founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present day town of Trinity in 1838, the school moved to Durham in 1892. In 1924, tobacco industrialist James B...

.

Sirica was in private practice of law in Washington, DC from 1926 to 1930. He was an Assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia from 1930 to 1934, and subsequently returned to private practice from 1934 to 1957. He also served as general counsel
General Counsel
A general counsel is the chief lawyer of a legal department, usually in a corporation or government department. The term is most used in the United States...

 to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commission
The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency of the United States government, created, Congressional statute , and with the majority of its commissioners appointed by the current President. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the...

 in 1944.

He was a Republican and was appointed to the Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 on February 25, 1957, to a seat vacated by Henry A. Schweinhaut. He was confirmed by the United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 on March 26 and received commission on March 28.

John Sirica had a largely undistinguished career before Watergate. Author Joseph Goulden wrote a book about federal judges called The Benchwarmers and mentioned that many lawyers appearing in Sirica's courtroom thought little of him or his abilities as a judge. Many complained about his short temper and careless legal errors. He was nicknamed "Maximum John" for giving defendants the maximum sentence guidelines allowed. Boxing champion Jack Dempsey
Jack Dempsey
William Harrison "Jack" Dempsey was an American boxer who held the world heavyweight title from 1919 to 1926. Dempsey's aggressive style and exceptional punching power made him one of the most popular boxers in history. Many of his fights set financial and attendance records, including the first...

 was a close friend of his and was Sirica's best man at his marriage in 1952.

Sirica served as chief judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 1971 to 1974, and assumed senior status
Senior status
Senior status is a form of semi-retirement for United States federal judges, and judges in some state court systems. After federal judges have reached a certain combination of age and years of service on the federal courts, they are allowed to assume senior status...

 on October 31, 1977. He died in 1992, aged 88.

Sirica, with the help of John Stacks, published his account of the Watergate affair in 1979 under the title To Set the Record Straight.

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