John Joseph Sirica (March 19, 1904 – August 14, 1992) was the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, where he became famous for his role in the Watergate scandal. He rose to national prominence during the Watergate scandal 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 persuaded or coerced most of them to implicate the men who had arranged the break-in (G. Gordon Liddy remained silent). For his role in Watergate the judge was named TIME magazine's Man of the Year in 1973.
John Sirica was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, to Ferdinand and Rose (Zinno) Sirica, both of whom were Italian immigrants. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1918, where he attended Emerson Preparatory School and eventually transferred to Columbia Preparatory School. Sirica received his J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center after doing undergraduate work at Duke University.
Sirica was in private practice of law in Washington, D.C. from 1926 to 1930. 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. 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. However, Sirica resigned in protest over the committees's handling of the WMCA scandal that year.
He was a Republican and was appointed to the Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on February 25, 1957, to a seat vacated by Henry A. Schweinhaut. He was confirmed by the United States Senate 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 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 on October 31, 1977. He died in 1992, aged 88. His widow died in 1998.
Sirica, with the help of John Stacks, published his account of the Watergate affair in 1979 under the title To Set the Record Straight.
- Barnes, Bart (August 15, 1992). "John Sirica Obituary". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 1, 2007.
- "Sirica and Nixon: A High Stakes Contest Over Executive Privilege". Duke University School of Law. Retrieved March 12, 2014.
- "Sirica New House Probe Counsel". Broadcasting and Broadcast Advertising (Washington, D.C.: Broadcasting Publications, Inc.) 26 (14): 14. April 3, 1944.
- Washington Post biography
- Time Magazine 1973 Man of the Year Biography
- Watergate trial sketches, with Judge Sirica