William M. Byrne Jr., 75, Judge in the Ellsberg Leak Case, Dies





William Matthew Byrne Jr., the federal judge who presided over the trial of Daniel Ellsberg for leaking the Pentagon Papers in the 1970's, died in LA Thursday night. He was 75.


Although he worked as a federal prosecutor and was named by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970 to head the Commission on Campus Unrest, Judge Byrne is best remembered as the Pentagon Papers judge. He got the case the same year he arrived on the bench.

Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, and a co-defendant, Anthony J. Russo Jr., were charged with espionage, theft and conspiracy for leaking to The New York Times a secret study of American involvement in the Vietnam War that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

Judge Byrne dismissed the case in 1973, ruling that the government was guilty of misconduct, including a break-in at the office of Mr. Ellsberg's psychiatrist that was orchestrated by White House officials seeking to discredit him.

Mr. Ellsberg learned of Judge Byrne's death as he was attending a conference of First Amendment lawyers in Palm Desert, Calif. where he took part in a panel discussion of the Pentagon Papers.

"His dismissal of all charges against Tony Russo and myself with the eloquent denunciation of government misconduct, in which he said it offends a sense of justice, gave my wife and me one of the best days of our lives," Mr. Ellsberg said.



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