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Obituaries

Warren Magee; Lawyer for Nazi, Joseph McCarthy

March 24, 2000

Warren E. Magee, 91, a lawyer whose penchant for defending the rights of pariahs brought him his best-known clients: a Nazi war criminal and Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.). Magee had practiced for 18 years in Washington, and was known for his defense work for at least one disgraced congressman, when he was asked in 1948 to take part in the Nuremberg war crimes trials. His client was Baron Ernst von Weizsaecker, the former German secretary of state and wartime ambassador to the Vatican. The German diplomat had a mixed reputation. Some said he helped shelter Jews, but other evidence indicated that he signed documents sending thousands to death camps. His Western supporters hired Magee, whose defense resulted in a five-year prison term for the diplomat. That sentence was commuted shortly before Von Weizsaecker died in 1951. For his work, Magee received a Papal Gold Medal from Pope Pius XII. Washington lawyer Jacob A. Stein, who first met Magee in 1950, called him a gifted, self-effacing lawyer who "took pleasure in not being in the club, so he made his friendships among people who didn't fit in." Such a temperament made Magee a natural to represent McCarthy in his $2-million libel-slander-conspiracy suit against Sen. William Benton, (D-Conn.). Benton had called the Wisconsin senator a corrupt liar deserving of expulsion from the Senate. McCarthy later dropped the suit. Magee, a Washington, D.C., native, graduated in 1929 from what is now American University's law school. After five years in private practice, he joined the Justice Department as special attorney and became principal trial attorney for the Lands Division. In 1938, he formed what became Magee & Bulow; he retired in the late 1980s. On Feb. 25 in Tampa, Fla. of complications from bladder and prostate cancer.

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