The Flannery Lecture Series was created by a group of men and women who had served as Assistant United States Attorneys during Judge Flannery’s tenure as United States Attorney (1969-1971) or as Law Clerks during his long tenure as a United States District Judge (1971- 2007). Denominated the Thomas A. Flannery Lecture on the Administration of Justice in the District of Columbia, the Lecture Series commemorates the judge’s many contributions to the administration of justice in the District of Columbia.
Judge Flannery was, in many respects, a unique figure in the life of this city. He was born on May 10, 1918, just a few blocks from the United States Courthouse where he would spend so much of his life, in an area called “Swampoodle.” His father was a carpenter from Delaware. His grandfather had emigrated from Ireland. The judge graduated from Gonzaga College High School and, without going to college, studied law at night. He graduated from Columbus University Law School (now part of Catholic University) in 1940. He then went off to war, serving as a combat intelligence officer in the Army Air Forces in Europe during World War II.
After the war, he entered private practice and then went to work for the Department of Justice. He tried more than 300 cases before juries as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Columbia between 1950 and 1962. He became United States Attorney in 1969 and was appointed a United States District Judge in 1971. In 1970, he personally tried and convicted multiple defendants in the first major drug prosecution in D.C. involving the use of Title III wiretaps under the newly-enacted Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968. United States v. James, 494 F.2d 1007 (D.C. Cir. 1974).
In manner he was tall, soft spoken, and fair minded. To those who are movie buffs, he evoked Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Will Kane, the sheriff in High Noon.
His tenure on the bench was marked by a number of significant cases. He served on special assignment in 1983 and 1984 as a judge in the trial of nine Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members charged with civil rights violations after a 1979 anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, N.C., had turned violent. He adjudicated the Exxon oil overcharge case in the 1980s, in which the government prevailed, and ordered that Exxon repay $1.5 billion in overcharges. He oversaw many significant criminal cases.
He and his wife, Rita, had two children, Thomas Jr. and Irene, both of whom are active in the Flannery Lecture Series program. Judge Flannery died on September 20, 2007.