T. S. Ellis III

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Thomas Selby (Tim) Ellis III (born May 15, 1940, Bogotá, Colombia), an American jurist. Ellis is currently serving as judge on the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Ellis was educated at Princeton University where he earned a B.S.E. in 1961.

Career as a Naval aviator[edit]

Ellis served in the United States Navy as a Naval aviator from 1961 to 1966. He flew a wide range of historically significant aircraft during this time, including:

Currently, Ellis (who intends to obtain his private pilot's certificate) occasionally flies a 1979 Piper Cherokee Warrior II civilian aircraft, accompanied by that aircraft's owner. He is also particularly fond of the Beechcraft Bonanza single-engine aircraft, which he pronounces "Bo-NAHN-za," after the Panamanian fashion.

Private practice of law[edit]

Ellis earned a J.D. from Harvard University in 1969, where he served as a member of the Board of Student Advisers. He also received a Diploma in Law in 1970 from Oxford University. Ellis then entered private practice with the law firm of Hunton & Williams (now Hunton & Williams LLP) 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. Ellis also was a lecturer at the College of William and Mary, from 1981 to 1983.

Judicial appointment[edit]

Ellis was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on July 1, 1987, to a seat vacated by Robert R. Merhige. He was confirmed by the Senate on August 5, 1987.

After two decades of work as a full-time federal district judge, Judge Ellis took Senior Status in April 2007. 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. Judge Ellis also occasionally sits by designation on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. He once famously dissented from a ruling of that Court by citing one of his own district court decisions.[citation needed]

Record and rulings[edit]

John Walker Lindh[edit]

Ellis presided over the plea bargain and sentencing of "American Taliban" 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.

Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman[edit]

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" 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".

On August 9, 2006, Ellis denied a motion to dismiss the case of two former AIPAC employees. 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)[1].

This ruling was expected to have significant implications for freedom of the press and the First Amendment.[citation needed] Charges against Rosen and Weissman were dropped in 2009 by the government, which claimed in part that Ellis had placed too many barriers on its ability to prosecute the case successfully.

United States v. Rosen was also a pioneering use of the silent witness rule in a courtoom. 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' such as 'key cards'. Most previous attempts by the government to use the rule had been banned by various judges or the case had been settled before trial. Judge 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.[1]

For more detail, please see the articles on Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal and United States v. Franklin.

Khalid El-Masri[edit]

On Thursday, May 18, 2006, Ellis dismissed a lawsuit filed by Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen, against the CIA 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",[2] 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.[3]


As of 2009 he was the judge in the case of former United States Representative William J. Jefferson.

Ellis is fond of reminding criminal defendants that "life is about making choices and living with the consequences."

Notable decisions[edit]

this section needs to be expanded

See also[edit]