Matthew Byrne (September 3, 1930 – January 14, 2006[1]) was a federal judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. He was best known for presiding over the trial of Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Byrne received a B.S. from University of Southern California in 1953 and an LL.B. from University of Southern California Law School in 1956. He clerked for Judge Peirson Hall of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1956 where he spent two years in the JAG Corps. He then went to work as an assistant U.S. attorney for the central district from 1958 to 1960, and was in private practice in Los Angeles for the next seven years. President Lyndon B. Johnson named him United States Attorney for the Central District of California in 1967, and in 1970, was chosen by Richard Nixon as executive director of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest. He was also an adjunct professor at Loyola Law School.

On April 21, 1971, President Richard Nixon nominated Byrne to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Central District of California created by statute. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 20, and received his commission the same day. Later, Byrne served as Chief Judge of the district from 1994 to 1998. He assumed senior status on February 28, 1998, and died in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California in 2006.

Pentagon Papers trial[edit | edit source]

Byrne was assigned the Pentagon Papers case the same year he arrived on the bench.

In the midst of the trial, several twists served to destroy the government's case. The first revelation came on April 26, 1973, when the government prosecutor disclosed that White House operatives had burgled the Beverly Hills office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist. The burglars, led by G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, were not apprehended until after they burgled the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington nine months later.

Days after the disclosure, Richard Nixon's two top lieutenants, John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman, resigned, and White House counsel John Dean was fired. A few days later, the judge disclosed in court that Ehrlichman had offered him the position of FBI director. On May 9, Judge Byrne learned of yet another illegality: the FBI had secretly taped phone conversations between Ellsberg and Morton Halperin, who had supervised the Pentagon Papers study. Finally, when the government claimed it had lost all records of the wiretapping, Byrne declared a mistrial on May 11, 1973.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. William Matthew Byrne Jr., 75; U.S. Judge Presided Over Trial of Pentagon Papers' Daniel Ellsberg, Los Angeles Times, by Elaine Woo, Times Staff Writer, Retrieved 13 June 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jan/14/local/me-byrne14

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