The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stephen Sachs, Maryland prosecutor of anti-Vietnam War Catonsville Nine protesters, dies at 87

Stephen Sachs in 2008. (Brian Witte/AP)

Stephen H. Sachs, who prosecuted the Catonsville Nine in the late 1960s as U.S. attorney for Maryland and later served two terms as Maryland’s attorney general, died Jan. 12 at his home in Baltimore. He was 87.

His daughter, Elisabeth A. Sachs, announced the death but did not provide a cause.

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said in a statement: “I consider him one of the greatest attorneys general of Maryland. ... Among his many groundbreaking accomplishments, he refused early in his first term to defend the state practice of warehousing developmentally-challenged and mentally ill individuals, leading to their release from state custody. He was a champion of civil rights and a leader of election reform.”

Mr. Sachs was a Baltimore law firm partner before President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him U.S. attorney for Maryland in 1967. He specialized in the prosecution of cases involving white-collar crime and public corruption but gained national attention in 1968 when he prosecuted the Catonsville Nine, Vietnam War protesters who had stormed the Selective Service office in Catonsville, Md., in an attempt to destroy draft records.

On May 17, 1968, two Roman Catholic priests, the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, and his brother, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, led Catholic activists on a raid at Draft Board 33 in Catonsville, and six months later, a jury in federal court found them guilty of destroying government property.

“I believed then, and believe now, that the nine were brave men and women who acted out of a conviction that the war in Vietnam was profoundly evil,” Mr. Sachs wrote in a 50th-anniversary article in the Baltimore Sun. “But I believed then, and I believe now, that the conduct of the nine — particularly their insistence that their action at Catonsville should have been condoned because they were ‘right’ — offends both the rule of law and a fundamental tenet of the American democracy.”

Mr. Sachs was in private practice for eight years and then served as Maryland attorney general from 1979 to 1987, when he joined the Washington law firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, from which he retired in 2000.

In 1986, he was an unsuccessful candidate in the state gubernatorial primary when he lost to the hugely popular Baltimore mayor, William Donald Schaefer.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) appointed Mr. Sachs in 2008 to head an independent review of the Maryland State Police, which had infiltrated activist groups that were acting lawfully but were opposed to the death penalty and the Iraq War.

“I believe that the surveillance undertaken here is inconsistent with an overarching value in our democratic society — the free and unfettered debate of important public questions,” Mr. Sachs stated in his 2008 report. “Such police conduct ought to be prohibited as a matter of public policy.”

A staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, David Rocah, told the Baltimore Sun that the Sachs report was “explosive” and depicted “a police force that completely lost its moorings.”

Stephen Howard Sachs was born in Baltimore on Jan. 31, 1934. His father was director of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a labor arbitrator, and his mother was a homemaker.

He received a bachelor’s degree in 1954 from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and served in the Army from 1955 to 1957. He won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Oxford in England and was a 1960 graduate of Yale Law School.

His wife of 58 years, the former Sheila Kleinman, a divorce lawyer and former Baltimore City school board member, died in 2019. In addition to his daughter, of Baltimore, survivors include a son, Leon Sachs of Lexington, Ky., and three grandchildren.

— Baltimore Sun