John Sirica

Last updated
John Sirica
John Sirica (Gerald Ford Library).png
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
October 31, 1977 August 14, 1992
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
Preceded by Edward Matthew Curran
Succeeded by George Luzerne Hart Jr.
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
In office
March 28, 1957 October 31, 1977
Appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded by Henry Albert Schweinhaut
Succeeded by Harold H. Greene
Personal details
John Joseph Sirica

(1904-03-19)March 19, 1904
Waterbury, Connecticut
DiedAugust 14, 1992(1992-08-14) (aged 88)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Gate of Heaven Cemetery
Silver Spring, Maryland
Political party Republican
Education Georgetown Law (LL.B.)

John Joseph Sirica (March 19, 1904 – August 14, 1992) was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where he became famous for his role in the trials stemming from the Watergate scandal. He rose to national prominence when he ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over his recordings of White House 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 through the use of provisional sentencing,[ clarify ] strongly encouraged them to give information about higher-ups before final sentencing. One defendant, James W. McCord Jr., wrote a letter describing a broader scheme of involvement by people in the Nixon administration. For his role in uncovering the truth about Watergate, Sirica was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in January 1974.


Early life and education

Sirica was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, to Ferdinando (Fred) Sirica, an immigrant from Italy, and Rose (Zinno) Sirica, whose parents were from Italy. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1918, where he attended Emerson Preparatory School and eventually transferred to Columbia Preparatory School. [1] He went directly from high school to law school, which was possible in the District of Columbia at the time, and, after two false starts, entered Georgetown Law and received a Bachelor of Laws in 1926. [2] Between 1910 and 1918, the Sirica family lived in various cities across the United States where Fred worked as a barber and made several unsuccessful attempts at running small businesses. In 1922, Fred was running a two-lane bowling alley and poolhall, which was raided by the police for violation of the Prohibition-era Volstead Act when liquor was found in the restroom. Fred was arrested, but the charges were dropped. He soon sold the business and moved away. [3]


Sirica fought as a boxer in Washington and Miami in the 1920s and 1930s. He was torn between a career as a fighter and the career in law that he followed after earning a law degree and passing the bar. Boxing champion Jack Dempsey became a close friend. [4] Sirica was in private practice of law in Washington, D.C. from 1926 to 1930. [5] He was an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1930 to 1934, and subsequently returned to private practice from 1934 to 1957. [5] He also served as general counsel to the House Select Committee to Investigate the Federal Communications Commission in 1944; his appointment was opposed by the two Republican members of the committee. [6] However, Sirica resigned in protest over the committee's handling of the WMCA scandal that year, and re-entered private practice. [5] In 1947, he joined the law firm of Hogan and Hartson in Washington, D.C. (now called Hogan Lovells). [7]

Federal judicial service

Sirica was nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on February 25, 1957, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated by Judge Henry Albert Schweinhaut. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 26, 1957, and received his commission on March 28, 1957. He served as Chief Judge and a member of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 1971 to 1974. He assumed senior status on October 31, 1977. His service terminated on August 14, 1992, due to his death. [5]

Judicial demeanor

Experienced as a trial lawyer, Sirica was known for his "no-nonsense" demeanor on the bench. Author Joseph Goulden, in The Benchwarmers, said that some lawyers thought Sirica made careless legal errors.[ citation needed ] He was nicknamed "Maximum John" for giving defendants the maximum sentence that guidelines allowed.[ citation needed ]


In 1979, Sirica published a book, co-authored with John Stacks, detailing his participation in the Watergate cases under the title To Set the Record Straight. [8] [9] [3]


Sirica suffered a severe heart attack while at a speaking engagement on February 5, 1976. [10] In the final years of his life, Sirica suffered from a wide range of ailments, both minor and severe.[ citation needed ] In the last few weeks of his life, he came down with pneumonia. He fell and broke his collarbone a few days before his death, and was hospitalized at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.. [4] He died in the hospital of cardiac arrest at 4:30 p.m. on August 14, 1992. [10] [11] He was interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland. [12] Sirica was survived by his wife, Lucile Camalier Sirica, and his three children, John Jr., Patricia, and Eileen. [11]


Related Research Articles

Watergate scandal Political scandal that occurred in the United States in the 1970s

The Watergate scandal was a political scandal in the United States involving the administration of U.S. President Richard Nixon from 1972 to 1974 that led to Nixon's resignation. The scandal stemmed from the Nixon administration's continuous attempts to cover up its involvement in the June 17, 1972 failed break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Washington, D.C. Watergate Office Building. After the five perpetrators were arrested, the press and the U.S. Justice Department connected the cash found on them at the time to the Nixon re-election campaign committee. Further investigations, along with revelations during subsequent trials of the burglars, led the U.S. House of Representatives to grant its judiciary committee additional investigation authority to probe into "certain matters within its jurisdiction," and the U.S. Senate to create a special investigative committee. The resultant Senate Watergate hearings commenced were broadcast "gavel-to-gavel" nationwide by PBS and aroused public interest. Witnesses testified that the president had approved plans to cover up administration involvement in the break-in, and that there was a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office. Throughout the investigation, the administration resisted its probes, which led to a constitutional crisis.

James W. McCord Jr. Member of Watergate scandal: break-in team member

James Walter McCord Jr. was an American CIA officer, later involved as an electronics expert in the burglaries which precipitated the Watergate scandal.

Jeb Stuart Magruder American author, businessman, civil servant

Jeb Stuart Magruder was an American businessman and high-level political operative in the Republican Party who served time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal.

<i>United States v. Nixon</i> United States Supreme Court case

United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), was a noted United States Supreme Court case that resulted in an unanimous decision against President Richard Nixon, ordering him to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. Issued on July 24, 1974, the decision was important to the late stages of the Watergate scandal, when there was an ongoing impeachment process against Richard Nixon. United States v. Nixon is considered a crucial precedent limiting the power of any U.S. president to claim executive privilege.

John Dean American author, Watergate figure

John Wesley Dean III is a former attorney who served as White House Counsel for United States President Richard Nixon from July 1970 until April 1973. Dean is known for his role in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal and his subsequent testimony to Congress as a witness. His guilty plea to a single felony in exchange for becoming a key witness for the prosecution ultimately resulted in a reduced sentence, which he served at Fort Holabird outside Baltimore, Maryland. After his plea, he was disbarred as an attorney. According to the FBI, Dean was the "master manipulator" of the Watergate affair.

Watergate Seven

The Watergate Seven has come to refer to two different groups of people, both of them in the context of the Watergate scandal. Firstly, it can refer to the five men caught on June 17, 1972, burglarizing the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate complex, along with their two handlers, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who were Nixon campaign aides. All seven were tried before Judge John Sirica in January 1973.

John Jacob Rhodes American politician

John Jacob Rhodes Jr. was an American lawyer and politician. A member of the Republican Party, Rhodes was elected as a U.S. Representative from the state of Arizona. He was the Minority Leader in the House 1973-81, where he pressed a conservative agenda.

Robert Mardian American Assistant Attorney General

Robert Charles Mardian was a United States Republican party official who served in the administration of Richard Nixon, and was embroiled in the Watergate scandal as one of the Watergate Seven who were indicted by a grand jury for campaign violations. His conviction for conspiracy was overturned because of procedural unfairness and he was not subsequently retried.

Timeline of the Watergate scandal chronology of the 1970s Watergate scandal

The Watergate Scandal refers to the burglary and illegal wiretapping of the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, in the Watergate complex, by members of President of the United States Richard Nixon's re-election committee and subsequent abuse of powers by the president and administration officials to halt or hinder the investigation into same.

White House horrors crimes and abuses of the Nixon administration

The revelation of the existence and scope of crimes and abuses committed by Nixon's staff during his presidency, known collectively as the "White House Horrors", was among the many events of the Watergate scandal. More than 70 people were convicted of crimes related to Watergate; some pleaded guilty before trial.

The Nixon White House tapes are audio recordings of conversations between U.S. President Richard Nixon and Nixon administration officials, Nixon family members, and White House staff, produced between 1971 and 1973.

James Draper St. Clair was an American lawyer, and practiced law for many years in Boston with the firm of Hale & Dorr. He was the chief legal counsel for President Richard Nixon during the Watergate Scandal.

Harold Herman Greene was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

D. Todd Christofferson Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

David Todd Christofferson is an American religious leader and former lawyer who serves as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has been a general authority of the church since 1993. Currently, he is the ninth most senior apostle in the church.

Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon was a prominent New York City law firm tracing its origin back to 1869. Earlier known as : Mudge, Stern, Baldwin & Todd; later : Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, & Alexander; later : Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander & Mitchell; then : Mudge, Rose, Guthrie & Alexander. The firm is known best as the legal launching pad of Richard Nixon.

Gerhard Alden Gesell was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Three Sisters Bridge

The Three Sisters Bridge was a planned bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., with piers on the Three Sisters islets. Envisioned in the 1950s and formally proposed in the 1960s, it was cancelled amid protests in the 1970s.

William G. Hundley Criminal defense attorney

William George Hundley was an American criminal defense attorney, who specialized in the representation of political figures accused of white-collar crimes. Earlier in the 1950s and 1960s, as a United States Department of Justice attorney, he became known for the prosecution of racketeering figures. He once encouraged narcotics dealer and loan shark Joseph Valachi to outline for public consumption the structure of the then secret Mafia or Cosa Nostra.

Impeachment process against Richard Nixon 1970s preliminary process to remove the President of the United States

The impeachment process against Richard Nixon began in the United States House of Representatives on October 30, 1973, following the "Saturday Night Massacre" episode of the Watergate scandal. The House Committee on the Judiciary set up an impeachment inquiry staff and began investigations into possible impeachable offenses by Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States. The process was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the House granted the Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach President Nixon of high crimes and misdemeanors under Article II, Section 4, of the United States Constitution. This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and the Republican Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement; during those hearings the scope of the scandal became apparent and the existence of the Nixon White House tapes was revealed.

Pardon of Richard Nixon 1974 invocation of the United States Presidential pardon

The pardon of Richard Nixon was a presidential proclamation issued by President of the United States Gerald Ford on September 8, 1974. By it, Ford granted to Richard Nixon, his predecessor, a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes that he might have committed against the United States as president. In particular, the pardon covered Nixon's actions during the Watergate scandal. In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford, who had succeeded to the presidency upon Nixon's resignation, explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country and that the Nixon family's situation was "a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."


  1. Barnes, Bart (August 15, 1992). "John Sirica Obituary". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
  2. Barnes, Bart (August 15, 1992). "John Sirica, Watergate Judge, Dies". The Washington Post . Retrieved October 3, 2017.
  3. 1 2 Sirica, John (April 1, 1979). To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon. New York: W W Norton & Co Inc. ISBN   0393012344.
  4. 1 2 "Sirica, 88, Dies; Persistent Judge In Fall of Nixon". The New York Times. August 15, 1992.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Sirica, John Joseph - Federal Judicial Center".
  6. "Sirica New House Probe Counsel". Broadcasting and Broadcast Advertising . Washington, D.C.: Broadcasting Publications, Inc. 26 (14): 14. April 3, 1944.
  7. Mason, Howard (November 4, 1973). "Sirica likes his country the way immigrants' sons do". The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  8. "Review: To Set the Record Straight". Kirkus. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  9. Muller, Henry. "John Stacks". Time. Time. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  10. 1 2 "Watergate Judge John Sirica Dies of Cardiac Arrest". Los Angeles Times. August 16, 1992.
  11. 1 2 Barnes, Bart (August 15, 1992). "John Sirica, Watergate Judge, Dies". The Washington Post.
  12. Franscell 2012, p. 92.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Henry Albert Schweinhaut
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
Harold H. Greene
Preceded by
Edward Matthew Curran
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
George Luzerne Hart Jr.