T. S. Ellis III

Thomas Selby (Tim) Ellis III (born May 15, 1940, Bogotá, Colombia), is 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

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:

Private practice of law

Ellis earned a J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard University in 1969. Harvard awarded Ellis a Knox Fellowship for study in England. He then received a Diploma in Law in 1970 from Magdalen College, 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

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. Ellis' published decisions are approaching 1,000 in number. Judge Ellis also occasionally sits by designation on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Record and rulings

John Walker Lindh

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

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]

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.

Khalid El-Masri

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]

Wikimedia Foundation v. NSA

On October 23, 2015, Ellis dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Wikimedia Foundation against the National Security Agency, finding that the plaintiffs had reverse engineered their assumptions of evidence.[4][5]


Notable decisions

See also


Legal offices
Preceded by
Robert R. Merhige, Jr.
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
Succeeded by
Mark Steven Davis
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