Whitney North Seymour Jr., Former U.S. Prosecutor Who Fought Corruption, Dies at 95

Whitney North Seymour Jr., a patrician Republican who battled graft as President Richard M. Nixon’s United States attorney in Manhattan in the 1970s, and as a special prosecutor later won a perjury case against a former senior aide to President Ronald Reagan, died on Saturday in Torrington, Conn. He was 95.

Mr. Seymour died at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital, his brother, Thaddeus, said.

Prominent in New York civic, social and legal circles, the scion of a lawyer who championed unpopular causes and served in the Hoover administration, Mr. Seymour was elected to two terms in the New York State Senate in the 1960s, although his political career fizzled with losses in a race for Congress in 1968 and a run for the United States Senate in 1982.

But he made his name as a prosecutor. From 1970 to 1973, he was the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department’s most prestigious outpost, which at that time included Manhattan, the Bronx and nine upstate counties. He replaced Robert M. Morgenthau, a Democrat who was forced out after nine years and became a popular Manhattan district attorney.

Mr. Seymour won convictions of Wall Street felons, organized crime leaders and narcotics traffickers, as well as high-profile corruption cases against former State Senator Seymour R. Thaler; Martin Sweig, an aide to Speaker John W. McCormack; and Robert T. Carson, a senior assistant to Senator Hiram L. Fong of Hawaii.

He also argued the Nixon administration’s initial case to suppress publication of the Pentagon Papers by The New York Times in 1971. Seeking an injunction, he argued that publication of the secret Defense Department study of the Vietnam War would compromise national security. The Times later won a landmark Supreme Court ruling against censorship in the case, and published the papers.

In a Washington trial that captivated the nation for months in 1987, Mr. Seymour prosecuted Michael K. Deaver, the former deputy chief of staff in the Reagan White House and a close friend of the president and his wife, Nancy Reagan, on charges of lying under oath to hide lucrative influence-peddling. Mr. Deaver had left the White House in 1985 and formed a hugely successful lobbying firm.

He was not accused of directly violating ethics laws that limited his use of White House connections in lobbying. Mr. Seymour said the laws were so ambiguous that they were virtually unenforceable. Rather, Mr. Deaver was charged with lying to a House subcommittee and a federal grand jury to conceal his White House contacts in aiding South Korea, Puerto Rico and other clients.

Convicted on three perjury counts, he was fined $100,000, given a suspended three-year prison term and barred from lobbying for three years. He blamed alcoholism for a faulty memory of events and bad judgment. President Reagan considered a pardon, but Mr. Deaver declined to accept one.

Mr. Seymour soon called for a major overhaul of the nation’s laws on conflicts of interest and ethics in government. He proposed removing legislative ambiguities and creating clear standards of conduct for all former senior officials of government.

In a profile of Mr. Seymour during the Deaver case, The Times noted that for years he had gathered his extended family on Cape Cod every Independence Day to take turns reading passages of the Declaration of Independence aloud and discussing the document’s meaning and significance.

“If this seems an unusual and poignant way for an American family to mark July 4, it is nonetheless thoroughly in keeping with the character of Whitney North Seymour Jr.,” The Times said. It added, “If Mr. Seymour — Mike to his friends — comes across as pious and stuffy to some, he strikes many others as a man rightly living life, utterly honest, committed to the public good, interested, engaged.”

Whitney North Seymour Jr. was born in Huntington, W.Va., on July 7, 1923, to Whitney Sr. and Lola Vickers Seymour. He and his brother grew up in Manhattan. Their father was President Herbert Hoover’s assistant solicitor general. As a private lawyer, he also successfully appealed the conviction of Angelo Herndon, a black Communist, under a Georgia anti-insurrection law for keeping radical literature in his room.

Whitney Jr. graduated from the Kent School in Connecticut in 1941. After studies at Princeton, he joined the wartime Army in 1943, became an artillery officer in the Pacific and was discharged as a captain in 1945. He graduated from Princeton in 1947 and earned a law degree from Yale in 1950.

In 1951, he married Catryna Ten Eyck, a descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Mrs. Seymour died in 2017. Besides his brother, Mr. Seymour is survived by his two daughters, Tryntje and Gabriel Seymour.

He joined his father’s law firm, Simpson Thacher and Bartlett, in 1950. From 1953 to 1956, he was an assistant federal prosecutor in Manhattan, pursuing rackets, police corruption and narcotics cases.

In 1965, he won the first of two State Senate terms, but he lost his 1968 congressional race to Edward I. Koch, and a three-way 1982 Republican primary contest for the United States Senate seat retained in the general election by the Democratic incumbent, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Mr. Seymour, who had homes in Greenwich Village and Salisbury, Conn., wrote “Why Justice Fails” (1973), “United States Attorney: An Inside View of ‘Justice’ in America Under the Nixon Administration” (1975) and “Making a Difference” (1984), a call for decency in public life. He also contributed articles to The Times and many periodicals.

He was a former president of the New York State Bar Association, a trustee of the New York Public Library and a director of the Municipal Art Society of New York. He also was an accomplished amateur artist, who painted watercolors and many oils of 19th-century upstate courthouses.

Mr. Seymour and his wife and daughters co-wrote and produced a one-act stage play, “Stars in the Dark,” about a small nonviolent student resistance movement against Hitler in World War II. It was inspired by the White Rose resistance group led by the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl, whose Munich graffiti-and-leaflet campaign ended with their capture and executions in 1943.

The four-character play, credited to R. E. Vickers, Mr. Seymour’s maternal grandfather, was performed five times in 2008 at an Off Broadway theater on St. Marks Place in the East Village. “We owed a lot to the people who gave their lives to fight this bad system,” Mr. Seymour told The Times on opening night.

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