- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Washington lawyer Charles F.C. Ruff, who both defended and prosecuted presidents during a public and private legal career that spanned nearly four decades, died Sunday night. He was 61.

Mr. Ruff, who defended President Clinton during the Senate impeachment trial and served as a prosecutor in the Watergate investigation of President Nixon, was found unconscious by his wife, Sue, in the bedroom of their Cleveland Park home.

Paramedics, called by Mrs. Ruff shortly after 8 p.m., were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at D.C. General Hospital. The cause of death was not released, pending an autopsy. Mrs. Ruff said it appeared her husband suffered a heart attack while taking a shower.

Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., one of Mr. Ruff's closest friends, described the Washington lawyer as "a person who was never too busy or too big to advise you."

"Our city has really lost a quality individual, a true public servant," Mr. Holder said. "A lot of people got to know him during the impeachment process, but they only learned what we in Washington have known for a great deal of time: He was a lawyer's lawyer."

Mr. Holder, former federal judge and U.S. attorney in the District, said Mr. Ruff had "a real commitment to the citizens of this city," adding that he went to work as the District's chief lawyer in 1995 "because the city needed him."

"The way this city has bounced back in no small measure is a result of the examples he set," he said.

In a statement from Air Force One during his return flight to Washington from Vietnam, Mr. Clinton cited Mr. Ruff's "extraordinary and distinguished career" in both private practice and public service.

"All of us at the White House admired Chuck for the power of his advocacy, the wisdom of his judgment and the strength of his leadership," Mr. Clinton said. "Chuck had an extraordinary and distinguished career in private practice … and in public service… . We will miss his counsel and friendship deeply."

Mr. Clinton later visited Mrs. Ruff at her home following his return to Washington, accompanied by White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, White House Counsel Beth Nolan and Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey.

Vice President Al Gore, in a statement, described Mr. Ruff as a "gifted attorney, a devoted public servant and a man of uncommon honor, integrity and decency."

Patrick Marshall, watch commander at the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's 2nd District headquarters, said the death "appears to be from natural causes; there is no indication of foul play."

Mr. Ruff, who recently assisted Mr. Gore's legal team in the vote-recount proceedings in Florida, has been a partner in the Washington law firm of Covington and Burling since he left the post of U.S. attorney for the District in 1982.

In 1995, he temporarily left the firm to serve as chief lawyer for the District of Columbia in what was described at the time as a coup for Mayor Marion Barry. As D.C. corporation counsel, Mr. Ruff was paid $81,885 a huge pay cut to head a staff of about 350 that handled all the city's legal affairs.

"I've been a resident of this city for 28-some-odd years now, and I can think of no greater honor than when Mayor Barry asked me to help him and help the District try to address some of the problems that it faces," Mr. Ruff said at the time.

In 1997, Mr. Clinton asked him to be White House counsel. Two years later he successfully defended the president during the Senate impeachment trial in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Mr. Ruff was at one time a top candidate to become U.S. attorney general, a post later given by Mr. Clinton to Janet Reno. In 1993, the White House sought to name Mr. Ruff as deputy attorney general, but the appointment stalled after Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said Mr. Ruff had failed to pay Social Security taxes for an elderly woman he hired to clean his house.

While still in his 20s, Mr. Ruff was a law instructor at the University of Liberia while doing research on a Ford Foundation grant in African law at Columbia University. He had been confined to a wheelchair since contracting a rare tropical virus during his teaching days in Africa.

Mr. Ruff's client list, in addition to Mr. Clinton, was a who's who of American history, including Anita Hill, whose sexual harassment accusations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas mushroomed into a national debate; Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat, in a grand jury wiretapping probe; Sen. John Glenn, Ohio Democrat, in the "Keating Five" investigation; and Exxon in the government's probe of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

He also represented former White House aide Ira Magaziner on charges he lied in a lawsuit seeking to open secret meetings of Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care task force, and the Teamsters Union, which hired him to investigate union boss Ron Carey's suspected ties to organized crime.

It was during Mr. Clinton's impeachment trial that Mr. Ruff received nationwide attention. His powerful defense of the president, during which he called for a decision "sensitive to the needs of our democracy," drew praise from both critics and colleagues.

As a prosecutor, he oversaw an investigation into charges that President Ford improperly used campaign funds, finding no wrongdoing. He also prosecuted two members of Congress in the Abscam bribery case.

Born Aug. 1, 1939, in Cleveland, Mr. Ruff received his bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College in 1960 and his law degree at Columbia University in 1963. He also is survived by his daughters, Carin and Christy, and his mother, Margaret.

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