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Judge Oliver Gasch Papers

Identifier: MSS-008


Papers from the chambers of Judge Oliver Gasch, United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The collection includes case files, correspondence, diaries, speeches and writings, and miscellany. Case files include twelve cases identified as among the most memorable of Judge Gasch's career: Al-Fulaij, et ano v. Middendorf, et al. and Financial General Bankshares v. Lance, et al. (Bank of Credit and Commerce International), In Re: Melvin Belli, Female Union Band Association, et al. v. Unknown Heirs, et al.; Goldwater, et al. v. Carter, et al.; Hoskin, et al. v. Resor; O'Hair, et al. v. Andrus, et al.; Steffan v. Cheney, et al.; Synar, et al. v. United States; Tavoulareas, et al. v. Washington Post, et al.; United States v. Baker and Baker v. Department of Justice. Some materials related to Judge Gasch's personal activities are included.

Some materials may be deemed sensitive or private and are therefore restricted. In some cases, restricted materials were removed from folders while keeping non-sensitive materials in the original folder. The titles of folders may not reflect all the materials available. Please see the individual file's processing information note to see if any materials were removed from an item.


  • 1953 - 2000
  • Majority of material found within 1963 - 1993



All rights reserved by Georgetown University Law Library unless otherwise noted.


Born in Washington, D.C. in 1906, the Honorable Oliver Gasch received his A.B. from Princeton University in 1928 before attending George Washington University Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1932. Gasch served as a Judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia from 1965 until his death in 1999. Prior to his appointment, Judge Gasch served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, first as Principal Assistant U.S. Attorney, then as U.S. Attorney from 1956-1961. Gasch was a partner at Craighill, Aiello, Gasch, and Craighill before President Lyndon Johnson nominated him for the bench. During his tenure on the bench, Gasch presided over the conviction of Robert Baker, a Democratic political aid, for tax evasion, conspiracy, and larceny. Gasch also presided over Mobil Executive William Tavoulareas’ landmark libel against the Washington Post and a challenge to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act, a case which ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

A distinguished alumnus of George Washington Law School, Oliver Gasch had contact with the Georgetown University Law Center throughout his career. As U.S. District Attorney for the District of Columbia, he suggested that the city's law schools get involved in legal aid efforts. Georgetown and Dean Paul Dean took him up on it and with an anonymous donation in the name of Judge E. Barrett Prettyman, the Prettyman Fellows program began in 1960. Gasch was honored by the Georgetown Law Center Legal Aid Society in 1961 for his contributions. And, while in private practice from 1961 - 1965, Gasch served on the Georgetown Law Center Dean's Council.

Judge Gasch grew up in Washington, D.C., where his father was in real estate and his mother wrote a newspaper column and worked as a correspondent in the Franklin Roosevelt administration. He married in 1942, and his wife, Sylvia, was principal harpist and soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra. Judge and Mrs. Gasch had one son, Michael Barrett (GULC '76). Judge Gasch was active in the Episcopalian church and led judicial prayer breakfast meetings for many years. As a distinguished alumnus, Judge Gasch led the successful fight to keep the George Washington Law School's night program open in the face of budget cuts in 1984. A Republican, Judge Gasch was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was known for using his judicial appointments to help build bridges between political parties. Judge Gasch relaxed as a fisherman, spending vacations on the water with various friends and family.

Affiliations included: fellow, American College of Trial Lawyers; fellow, American Bar Foundation; Bar Association of the District of Columbia, Federal Bar Association; Lawyers Club; National Lawyers Club; member, Phi Delta Phi Legal Fraternity.

Articles included: "Prosecution problems under the Durham rule." The Catholic Lawyer 5(1) Winter 1959, 5-34.; "Pre-trial tactics in criminal cases." Tennessee Law Review 26 Fall 1959, 154-184.; "Trial of a criminal case." Tennessee Law Review 26 Fall 1959, 185-246.


16.4 linear feet (41 archival boxes)

Language of Materials



The papers of Oliver Gasch span the years 1953 - 2000, with the bulk concentrated on his judicial career on the United States District Court for the District of Columbia from 1965 - 1999. The papers consist of five series: Case Files, Correspondence, Diaries, Speeches and Writings, and Miscellany.

Boxes OG-001 - OG-027, Case Files: Documentation of Oliver Gasch's judicial career. This series covers both civil and criminal cases, and while not a complete record, does provide a substantial overview of the types of cases heard by Gasch, and of the types of cases heard by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The Case Files are arranged alphabetically by case name, and then chronologically within each case to illustrate development over time. Case materials include court documents, official and public correspondence, and newspaper clippings. In some instances where the case went on to the U.S. Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, those documents are present. As a senior member of the court, Judge Gasch also heard cases at the U.S. Court of Appeals and these cases are interfiled alphabetically with the other case materials, as they were received from the Gasch family. The bulk of the Case Files are processed to the folder level, but important and memorable cases, identified by family and former clerks, are processed to the item-level.

Cases processed at the item level are:

Al-Fulaij, et ano [sic] v. Middendorf, et al and Financial General Bankshares v. Lance, et al were the cases heard in Judge Gasch's courtroom that involved players who would eventually figure in the large and complicated Bank of Credit and Commerce International Ltd. (BCCI) scandal. The BCCI, with assets and branches across the United States, was shut down after allegations of massive international fraud. Consolidated and reported as Financial General Bankshares, Inc v. Metzger, 523 F. Supp. 744 (D. D.C. 1981).

In Re: Melvin Belli regarded an action by the USDCDC and California attorney Melvin Belli. Mr. Belli, a well-known trial attorney, sought admittance to the D.C. bar to try a medical malpractice suit. His admission was called into question by comments he made on a national television show about the District Judge assigned to the original case. 371 F. Supp. 111 (D. D.C. 1974)

Female Union Band Association, et al v. Unknown Heirs, et al concerned the Mount Zion and Female Union Band cemeteries in Georgetown, where the graves of African Americans buried there from 1809 to 1953 were allowed to remain undisturbed and the land undeveloped. Judge Gasch's opinion also made provisions for trustees to oversee the cemetery's maintenance. Although the case was appealed, and the site's long-term future remains undetermined, the cemetery - and nearby Mount Zion Methodist Church - are a stop for those interested in Georgetown's African American history and the Underground Railroad. 403 F. Supp. 540 (D. D.C. 1975)

Goldwater, et al v. Carter, et al contains case materials regarding Senator Goldwater's suit to stop President Carter from terminating the mutual defense treaty with Taiwan without seeking Congressional approval first. The D.C. Circuit reversed Judge Gasch's ruling in favor of Senator Goldwater, but the appeals court judgement was subsequently vacated by the Supreme Court and the case remanded to Judge Gasch for dismissal. Goldwater has since been cited 400 times for guidance in applying the political question doctrine to a separation of powers dispute. 481 F. Supp. 949 (D. D.C. 1979), rev'd 617 F. 2d 697 (D.C. Cir: 1979), vacated and remanded for dismissal, 444 U.S. 996 (1979) (per curiam).

Hoskin, et al v. Resor tells the story of the American servicemen who served with the Russian Railway Service Corps during WWI. In his oral history transcripts, Judge Gasch fondly remembers the amount of research he and his clerks did at the National Archives. These research photocopies are present and provided the background for the memorandum opinion that granted veterans benefits to these servicemen. 324 F. Supp. 271 (D. D.C. 1971)

O'Hair, et al v. Andrus, et al was the case that sought to prevent Pope John Paul II from holding mass on the National Mall during his visit to the United States in 1979. Judge Gasch's opinion held that the Catholic Church had the same right as anyone else to hold a demonstration on public land. This case generated a substantial amount of public correspondence, which is included in the case file.

Steffan v. Cheney, et al concerned Steffan's dismissal from the Navy, after he admitted he was gay. Judge Gasch's opinion, and the reasoning it contained, sparked controversy that the case materials reflect through the newspaper clippings and public correspondence. This case is widely cited in law reviews throughout the 1990s and went on to be heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals, although Steffan decided not to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Law Center Library also has a book on the case edited by Marc Wolinsky and Kenneth Sherrill, Gays and the Military: Joseph Steffan versus the United States. 780 F. Supp. 1 (D. D.C. 1991); 733 F. Supp. 121 (D. D.C. 1989); 733 F. Supp. 115 (D. D.C. 1989)

Synar, et al v. United States concerned H.J. Res 372, the so-called Gramm-Rudmann-Hollings Emergency Budget Deficit Reduction Act. Judge Gasch sat on a three-judge panel hearing testimony on this legislation and considered it one of the most important cases he heard, in terms of the nation's welfare. The case went immediately to the Supreme Court for hearings on constitutionality before the first fiscal year under Gramm-Rudman finished. 670 F. Supp. 410 (D. D.C. 1987); 626 F. Supp. 1374 (D.D.C. 1986)

Tavoulareas, et al v. Washington Post, et al was a libel case in which Judge Gasch overturned the jury's decision and damage award originally granted to the plaintiff. The U.S. Court of Appeals then overturned Judge Gasch's decision and awarded Tavoulareas damages. Finally, an en banc session affirmed Judge Gasch, and the Washington Post was ultimately found not liable in the matter. The trial received press coverage because Irving Younger, well-known defense lawyer, presented the case for the Washington Post. Tavoulareas went on to advocate for libel plaintiffs and published a book about the case, Fighting Back, in 1986. 111 F.R.D. 653 (D. D.C. 1986); 567 F. Supp. 651 (D. D.C. 1983)

United States v. Baker and Baker v. Department of Justice, were long running cases regarding Bobby Baker, former congressional aide to President Johnson, who was indicted for fraud and income tax evasion. The criminal case was Judge Gasch's first nationally publicized case. In Baker's original trial, Judge Gasch decided to sequester the jury after much deliberation. This case file contains materials from the initial case, the appeals, and the remand. 301 F. Supp. 973 (D. D.C. 1969); 266 F. Supp. 456 (D. D.C. 1967); 262 F. Supp. 657 (D. D.C. 1966)

Box OG-027, Correspondence series: Both incoming and outgoing correspondence are included and primarily concern the professional activities of Judge Gasch outside of case-related matters. Letters to and from prisoners comprise the bulk of this correspondence. Documents in the series are arranged chronologically in order to complement the arrangement of the case files and the calendar diaries.

Boxes OG-028 - OG-036, Diaries series: Case calendars and diaries of daily activities maintained by office staff. The diaries are arranged chronologically. Additionally, a sub-series of Judge Gasch's daily notes from the bench are arranged in a separate chronological run.

Box OG-037, Speeches and Writings series: The series, arranged chronologically, contains speeches and writings by Judge Gasch and provides a glimpse of his professional and personal activities. Many of the speeches are talks given at the prayer breakfasts Judge Gasch attended and led for many years.

Boxes OG-037 - OG-041, Miscellany series: Includes sub-series on indexes of cases, news clippings regarding Gasch's career as an attorney and of personal interest, sample documents and research, and speeches and writings except for those by Judge Gasch. Subject files on ceremonies, prayer breakfasts and a 1985 American Bar Association meeting are also present. In an attempt to reflect the arrangement of the remainder of the collection, these materials are filed chronologically where applicable.

Related Collections

The National Archives and Records Administration ( maintains the official papers of the District Courts of the United States in its record group 21.

The District Court for the District of Columbia records begin with 1801 and include term minutes and case files. Individual judge's chambers papers, such as the Oliver Gasch Papers, are considered the personal property of the individual judge and, as such, can be accepted by a variety of repositories. For example, the Library of Congress ( houses collections of prominent federal judiciary figures and lawyers, including Chief Judge of the USDCDC, Judge John J. Sirica, and District of Columbia lawyer Edward Bennett Williams.

The Federal Judicial Center in Washington DC ( maintains a listing of judicial manuscript collections, and has participated in compiling oral histories of District Court judges, including Judge Gasch. The Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit coordinates the oral history project. A copy of the transcript of Judge Gasch's oral history is available in the Special Collections Reading Room at KF8775.G373 1996.

Processing Note

The papers have been re-foldered in acid-free legal size folders, with all staples and paper clips removed. Newspaper clippings have been treated with deacidification spray and are housed in mylar sleeves, while photocopies on acid-free paper have been made for handling by researchers. In cases where only a carbon copy exists, the carbon was retained and also photocopied onto acid-free paper. Oversize materials have been unfolded and are stored separately. The bulk of the collection consists of originals, photocopies and carbons. This inventory and container list serves as the finding aid to the collection. A keyword searchable database of this information is also available in the Special Collections Reading Room. Background research was done on the life of Judge Gasch, and on the most important cases heard in his courtroom, and some of this material is available in the office of the Special Collections Librarian.

Some materials that could be considered sensitive are retricted. Folders with restricted material either had the restricted materials removed from the folder or were made restricted all together.

This collection inventory is currently very basic. We are working to further process this collection and update the finding aid. Please contact Special Collections with any questions.

Finding Aid for the Judge Oliver Gasch Papers (Coll. 8)
Hannah T. Miller
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts Repository

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