Hugh Kline, 77; Court Clerk Assisted With Watergate Cases

By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Hugh Edward Kline, 77, who was top appeals court administrator during the Watergate era, died July 30 at his home in Gainesville, Fla. He had Parkinson's disease and pulmonary fibrosis.

As clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Mr. Kline assisted U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica numerous times during the appeals process after the Watergate trials. Sirica presided over the Watergate cases that led to President Richard M. Nixon's resignation in 1974.

For one or two nights during the trial, the tape recordings of White House conversations about the Watergate break-in were locked in Mr. Kline's office. He took seriously his responsibility to safeguard the tapes, recalled his daughter.

"He started worrying," said Mary Anzelmo of Silver Spring. "He didn't know who had keys [to his office] and had the locks changed. Then, he said, he was the only one [with keys], save the locksmith. So he slept with the tapes."

As clerk, one of his responsibilities was to file correspondence received by the court. Many of the letters filed in the Watergate cases contain Mr. Kline's name or initials certifying their authenticity.

When Mr. Kline moved from the U.S. Court of Appeals, which handles federal cases, to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which handles local cases, Sirica wrote a letter commending him for his performance first in the clerk's office of the District Court and later as clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"On several occasions you served as my courtroom clerk and it was always a pleasure to have you with me as I felt that all matters would be handled calmly and efficiently," Sirica wrote in the Dec. 12, 1975, letter.

Mr. Kline was born in Everett, Mass., and moved to Silver Spring as young boy and to the District as a teenager. He graduated from St. Anthony's Catholic School and served in the Navy from 1946 to 1948.

After the Navy, he worked as a television repairman at a shop in Riverdale and other places until a friend told him about a job at a court in the District. He worked in D.C. Court of General Sessions from 1956 to 1957 and later served as a bailiff on both the civil and criminal side for several years while attending college. He graduated from Benjamin Franklin University in Washington in 1960.

From 1967 to 1975, he was first deputy clerk and clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He then became chief deputy clerk of the D.C. Court of Appeals, as well as acting clerk, before retiring in 1980.

He consulted for that court until 1982 and retired to Gainesville. He was a former resident of Washington.

Mr. Kline enjoyed reading, golfing and traveling during his retirement.

Besides his daughter, survivors include his wife of nearly 60 years, Joanne K. Kline of Gainesville; a son, John R. Kline of Conway, Ark.; and two grandsons.

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