I chose Thomas Selby Ellis III as my VIP for this week because he sounds like an interesting man. He is a senior U.S. judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Ellis was born in Bogota, Colombia, on May 15, 1940, but he received his higher education in the United States. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Princeton University in 1961 and then served as a U.S. Naval aviator for four years (1961-1966). He returned to school and earned a Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, in 1969 from Harvard Law School. Harvard then awarded him a Knox Fellowship to study in England where he received a Diploma in Law in 1970 from Magdalen College, Oxford University.
After completing his education Ellis returned to the United States and entered private law practice in Richmond, Virginia, until 1987. He also taught at the College of William and Mary (1981-1983).
On July 1, 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Ellis to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Ellis was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 5, 1987, and received his commission the next day. He took senior status on April 1, 2007, but he occasionally sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit when designated. “He has issued over 1,000 published decisions during his tenure.”
Ellis is in the news now because he is hearing the case of investigation in the bank fraud case brought against Paul Manafort by Robert Mueller. The federal judge expressed his belief that Mueller is using Manafort in an effort to bring down President Donald Trump. Apparently, it is a new experience to see this judge question the politics of this investigation.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment.”
Ellis repeated his suspicion that Mueller’s office was after Trump several times in the hour long court hearing. He said he’ll make a decision at a later date about whether Manafort’s case can go forward.
Manafort apparently has several criminal cases going at the same time, one in a Virginia court and one in a Washington DC court. Mueller tried to get Manafort to combine the two cases, but Manafort refused – apparently hoping for a more sympathetic judge or jury in Virginia.
Whether or not Manafort is guilty of fraud or anything else that took place before he worked on the Trump campaign, this writer is happy to see a judge stand up to Mueller. The judge is demanding to see the complete memo authorizing the special counsel to investigate Russian influence on the 2016 presidential campaign.
“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis told Dreeben [the lawyer presenting the case]. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”
When Dreeben answered Ellis’ question about how the investigation and its charges date back to before the Trump campaign formed, the judge shot back, “None of that information has to do with information related to Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump.”
It is difficult to know how the case will eventually be decided, but it is a relief to know that this judge is not going to simply give Mueller a pass and allow him to continue with “unfettered power.”