Early life and education
He was a Trial Attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission from 1935 to 1940, and then a Technical Advisor to the SEC chairman from until 1941. He was in private practice in Washington, D.C. from 1941 to 1967. In 1945 and 1946, he served as chief Assistant Counsel for the Democrats' side during the Pearl Harbor hearings. He chaired the President's Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Armed Forces from 1962 to 1964.
Federal judicial service
On November 29, 1967, Gesell was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated by Spottswood W. Robinson, III. Gesell was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 7, 1967, and received his commission on December 12, 1967.
In 1974, Gesell presided over trials of the so-called Watergate Seven, arising from dozens of felony charges in the Watergate scandal. All the defendants had held cabinet rank or senior staff positions in the White House of President Richard Nixon. Those convicted or pleading guilty in these trials were: John N. Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Robert Mardian. Kenneth W. Parkinson was acquitted.
In 1989, Gesell was the presiding judge in the government's case against National Security Adviser Oliver North, who was convicted of aiding and abetting obstruction of a congressional inquiry into the Iran-Contra arms sale. North also was convicted of ordering the destruction of documents and accepting an illegal gratuity. On July 5, 1989, Gesell probated North's three-year prison sentence, but fined him $150,000, sentenced him to 1,200 hours community service and placed him on two years' probation.
Gesell assumed senior status on January 22, 1993 and served in this status until his death four weeks later, in Washington, D.C.
- Gerhard Gesell at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.