T. S. Ellis III
Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Assumed office
April 1, 2007
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
In office
August 6, 1987 – April 1, 2007
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byRobert R. Merhige Jr.
Succeeded byMark Steven Davis
Personal details
Thomas Selby Ellis III

1940 (age 81–82)
Bogotá, Colombia
EducationPrinceton University (BSE)
Harvard University (JD)
Magdalen College, Oxford (GDL)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1961–1967
US Navy O3 infobox.svg

Thomas Selby Ellis III (born 1940) is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, appointed by Ronald Reagan.[1]

Education and career

Born in 1940 in Bogotá, Colombia,[2] Ellis graduated from Princeton University where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1961. Ellis served in the United States Navy as a Naval aviator from 1961 to 1967.[3] Ellis earned a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1969.[4] Harvard awarded Ellis a Knox Fellowship for study in England. He then received a Diploma in Law in 1970 from Magdalen College, Oxford. Ellis then entered private practice with the law firm of Hunton & Williams (now Hunton Andrews Kurth), based in Virginia, where he remained until 1987. His practice included a wide range of commercial litigation matters. He often worked with fellow Hunton & Williams attorney John Charles Thomas, who became Virginia's first African-American Supreme Court Justice.[5] Ellis also was a lecturer at the College of William and Mary, from 1981 to 1983.[2]

Federal judicial service

Ellis was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on July 1, 1987, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia vacated by Judge Robert R. Merhige Jr. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on August 5, 1987, and received his commission on August 6, 1987. He took senior status on April 1, 2007.[2] He continues to hear cases in the Eastern District of Virginia, and also has been empowered to hear cases in the Western District of Virginia. Ellis has issued over 1,000 published decisions during his tenure. Ellis also occasionally sits by designation on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.[citation needed]

Notable cases

John Walker Lindh

Ellis presided over the plea bargain and sentencing of John Walker Lindh. He imposed a sentence of 20 years for two charges, aiding the Taliban and carrying weapons while committing a felony. He also imposed the Son of Sam law, banning him from profiting from books written about his case.[6]

Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman

See also: Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal and United States v. Franklin

On January 20, 2006, Ellis sentenced former Defense Department employee Lawrence Franklin to 12 years and 7 months in prison and a $10,000 fine for passing national defense information to an Israeli diplomat and AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobby group. In 2009, he altered the sentence to 10 months at a halfway house and community service, but chastised Franklin for not following "the rule of law".[citation needed]

On August 9, 2006, Ellis denied a motion to dismiss the case of two former AIPAC employees.[7] Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were charged under the Espionage Act with illegally receiving and transmitting national defense information. Ellis wrote:

…both common sense and the relevant precedent point persuasively to the conclusion that the government can punish those outside of the government for the unauthorized receipt and deliberate retransmission of information relating to the national defense." (p. 53)[8]

United States v. Rosen was also a pioneering use of the silent witness rule in a courtroom. The rule allows for sensitive (classified, or otherwise) evidence to be hidden from the public, but available to the jury & counsel, by the use of "substitution" of code-words using a "key card," to which witnesses and the jury would refer during the trial, but which the public would not have access to. Most previous attempts by the government to use the rule had been banned by various judges or the case had been settled before trial. Ellis was the first to allow it, although he limited it to 4 minutes of use at trial, and devised a "fairness test" as to whether the rule should be allowed, and to how much it would make the trial "closed." Critics worried about the Fifth Amendment due process and Sixth amendment Confrontation Clause implications of the use of this rule. In particular, Ellis describes it as a "partial closing" of the trial, while the Sixth Amendment guarantees a public trial.[9][10]

Khalid El-Masri

On Thursday, May 18, 2006, Ellis dismissed a lawsuit filed by Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, against the Central Intelligence Agency and three private companies allegedly involved with his kidnapping, transport, and torture in Kabul. Ellis explained his belief that a public trial would "present a grave risk of injury to national security",[11] though acknowledging that:

If El-Masri's allegations are true or essentially true, then all fair-minded people, including those who believe that state secrets must be protected, that this lawsuit cannot proceed, and that renditions are a necessary step to take in this war, must also agree that El-Masri has suffered injuries as a result of our country's mistake and deserves a remedy.[12]

Paul Manafort

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In March 2018, Ellis assumed control over a set of criminal charges against Paul Manafort, former chair of the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign. The 18 counts filed in Virginia federal court include tax evasion and bank fraud, and are in addition to earlier charges filed in a Washington, D.C. court.[13] The government alleges that Manafort, with assistance from his associate Rick Gates, laundered over $30 million through offshore bank accounts between approximately 2006 and 2015.[14] On March 13 Ellis ordered Manafort held on $10 million bond and home confinement with GPS monitoring.[15] He set a trial date of July 10, 2018.[16]

Manafort challenged Special Counsel Robert Mueller's authority to bring these charges. In a May 4 hearing on the challenge, Ellis repeatedly suggested that the prosecutors were not really interested in prosecuting the charges but had filed them to exert pressure on Manafort to cooperate with the special counsel's investigation into Trump. Ellis said he would rule on Manafort's challenge at a later date.[17] On June 26, 2018, Ellis issued an opinion stating that "upon further review" the Mueller investigation had acted within its authority, clearing the way for Manafort's trial to proceed.[18]

On July 31, 2018 a jury was seated, both sides made their opening statements, and the first prosecution witness was called.[19] In subsequent days prosecutors continued to present their case as Ellis repeatedly urged them to proceed expeditiously.[20] Nancy Gertner, a former federal judge, described Ellis's behavior - repeatedly interrupting and arguing with prosecutors in the presence of the jury - as "decidedly unusual" and appearing to show bias against the prosecution.[21] On the other hand, a legal analyst and former prosecutor remarked that Ellis's conduct was typical of a "move along" judge—jurists who tightly enforce courtroom rules and thereby insulate a case from appeal in the event of a conviction.[22] On the eighth day of the trial Ellis apologized for one of his comments, saying “It appears I may well have been wrong. But like any human, and this robe doesn’t make me anything other than human, I sometimes make mistakes."[23]

While the jury was deliberating, the judge revealed that he had been threatened and was being guarded by deputy U.S. marshals.[24]

On August 21, the jury found Manafort guilty on eight of the eighteen charges, while the judge declared a mistrial on the other ten. He was convicted on five counts of tax fraud, one of the four counts of failing to disclose his foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. The jury was hung on three of the four counts of failing to disclose, as well as five counts of bank fraud, four of them related to the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, whose CEO had been seeking a position in the administration.[25]

On March 7, 2019, Ellis sentenced Manafort to 47 months in federal prison, citing "excessive" sentencing guidelines that called for up to 25 years in prison and stating that Manafort had "lived an otherwise blameless life."[26] In Manafort's related criminal proceedings in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Manafort received an additional 43-month sentence. [27][28][29]


See also


  1. ^ Lynch, Sarah N. (May 4, 2018). "U.S. judge says Mueller should not have 'unfettered power' in Russia probe". Reuters. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "Ellis, Thomas Selby III". Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ "U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III". Program in Law and Public Affairs | Princeton University. February 19, 2014. Archived from the original on July 11, 2018. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
  4. ^ "T.S. Ellis, III" (PDF). Duke University School of Law. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  5. ^ Thomas, John Charles. "One Journey in a Century" (PDF). Hunton & Williams Centennial Directory. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
  6. ^ Candiotti, Susan (October 4, 2002). "Walker Lindh sentenced to 20 years". CNN. Retrieved March 9, 2018.
  7. ^ "Recent Case: District Court Holds That Recipients of Government Leaks Who Disclose Information "Related to the National Defense" May Be Prosecuted Under the Espionage Act" (PDF). Harvard Law Review. 120: 821. 2007. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  8. ^ "United States v Steven J Rosen, Keith Weissman : Memorandum Opinion" (PDF). Fas.org. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  9. ^ "Reporter's Transcript of Motions Hearing, USA v. Rosen". April 16, 2007. Archived from the original on May 13, 2007. Retrieved August 1, 2018.
  10. ^ Johnathan M. Lamb, Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 36, p. 213 (2008), The Muted Rise of the Silent Witness Rule in National Security Litigation, ssrn.com, SSRN 1125459((citation)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Americas | CIA 'torture' lawsuit thrown out". BBC News. May 18, 2006. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  12. ^ Day in Court Denied for Victim of CIA Kidnapping and Rendition, Khaled El-Masri Archived May 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Barrett, Devlin; Hsu, Spencer S. (February 22, 2018). "Special counsel Mueller files new charges in Manafort, Gates case". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 22, 2018.
  14. ^ Apuzzo, Matt; Schmidt, Michael S. (February 22, 2018). "Mueller Files New Fraud Charges Against Paul Manafort". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 23, 2018.
  15. ^ Singman, Brooke; Gibson, Jake (March 13, 2018). "Manafort 'faces very real possibility' of life in prison, court order says". Fox News. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Caroline Kelly; Katelyn Polantz (March 8, 2018). "Manafort trial set to begin July 10". CNN. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  17. ^ Polantz, Katelyn (May 5, 2018). "Judge in Manafort case says Mueller's aim is to hurt Trump". CNN. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  18. ^ Lafraniere, Sharon (June 26, 2018). "Manafort Trial Is to Go Forward, but Judge Warns Mueller to Stay Within Authority". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
  19. ^ Johnson, Carrie (August 1, 2018). "With Jury Picked, Manafort Trial Enters Its 2nd Day : NPR". NPR. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  20. ^ Breuninger, Kevin (August 3, 2018). "Accountants set to testify in trial of Trump ex-campaign boss Manafort". CNBC. Retrieved August 3, 2018.
  21. ^ Nancy Gertner, "The extraordinary bias of the judge in the Manafort trial," Washington Post, August 16, 2018.
  22. ^ Renato Mariotti, "What did we learn from Day Seven of the Manafort trial?"
  23. ^ Freifeld, Karen. "U.S. judge apologizes to prosecutors in former Trump aide..." U.S. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  24. ^ Weiner, Rachel; Zapotosky, Matt; Bui, Lynh; Barrett, Devlin (August 17, 2018). "Trump defends Manafort as jury continues second day of deliberations". Washington Post. Retrieved August 17, 2018.
  25. ^ Katelyn Polantz; Dan Berman; Marshall Cohen; Liz Stark. "Paul Manafort found guilty on eight counts". CNN. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  26. ^ LaFraniere, Sharon (March 7, 2019). "Paul Manafort Is Sentenced to Less Than 4 Years in 1 of 2 Cases Against Him". New York Times. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  27. ^ Hymes, Clare; Portnoy, Steven. "Paul Manafort to serve over 7 years in prison". CBS News. Jackson sentenced Manafort to 73 months ... Jackson imposed a 30-month overlap with the Virginia sentence
  28. ^ Breuninger, Kevin (March 13, 2019). "Paul Manafort gets additional 43 months in second Mueller sentence after ex-Trump campaign boss says he's 'sorry'". CNBC. Paul Manafort, to 43 months of additional prison time
  29. ^ Pecorin, Allison. "Paul Manafort's sentence in DC case means he faces 81 months total behind bars". ABC News. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  30. ^ Goldman, Adam (May 17, 2019). "Former C.I.A. Officer Sentenced to 20 Years After Spying for China". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2019.