U.S. District Judge John P. Vukasin Jr., a controversial conservative who presided over one of the nation’s biggest spy trials, has died of cancer. He was 65.
He died Monday at his home, a representative for his office said.
Vukasin was appointed to the federal bench in San Francisco by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
His most prominent case was the 1986 trial of Jerry Whitworth, a Navy radioman convicted of selling sensitive decoding information to a Soviet-controlled spy ring.
Calling Whitworth “one of the most spectacular spies of this century” and a man who “believes in nothing,” Vukasin sentenced him to 365 years in prison, with no parole for 60 years, a longer sentence than the term another judge gave the ringleader, John Walker.
Despite his reputation as a pro-prosecution judge, however, Vukasin ruled for the defense on an important issue during the trial, requiring proof that Whitworth knew he was spying for the Soviet Union. The prosecution provided that proof, and the conviction was upheld on appeal.
In another prominent case, Vukasin ruled last year that a 103-foot mountaintop cross owned and maintained by the city of San Francisco was not a government endorsement of religion. The ruling has been appealed.
He also ruled in favor of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1984 in its suit against a homosexual group that wanted to call its athletic competition the Gay Olympics.
Vukasin graduated from UC Berkeley Law School in 1956.
He was appointed to the Public Utilities Commission by Reagan in 1969 and spent two years as president of the regulatory commission. Reagan named him in 1974 to the Alameda County Superior Court, where he served until his federal appointment.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Carol, and five children.