Thursday, December 25, 2008

This Is Your Life. Quest For Justice.

A Virginia federal judge pens his autobiography.

When judges write their autobiographies, it is normally long after they have left the bench, when the hot cases of their careers have cooled and the audience is confined mainly to legal scholars.

But Henry E. Hudson is no normal judge.

Hudson, an Arlington County native and former Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, now a federal judge in Richmond, has published his autobiography, "Quest for Justice," while his judicial career probably has many miles to go. He wrote it shortly before he was assigned to the dogfighting case of National Football League quarterback Michael Vick, which brought him a new round in the media spotlight. So that will be a chapter in his next book.

"Quest for Justice" is a candid, frequently witty and self-deprecating look at a career that has stopped at virtually every rung on the justice ladder, including stints as a barely trained jail guard in Arlington, U.S. attorney in Alexandria and head of the U.S. Marshals Service.

He had roles in such high-profile cases as the deadly 1992 siege by federal marshals and the FBI at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the 1980s drug investigation of then-Sen. Charles S. Robb and pornography investigation by the Meese Commission.

He admits to missteps - "During my early years as a prosecutor I was narrow-minded and at times offensively self-righteous," he writes - and misdeeds - "I lied to the General Assembly and the Fairfax County Bar Association when I told them unequivocally that I had no intention of seeking a federal judgeship," the former Fairfax judge writes. "Perhaps lied is too strong a term."

But he stands by some of his most controversial decisions, including the prosecution of a mentally retarded man in Arlington for the rape and murder of a woman in 1984. The man, David Vasquez, served five years in prison before DNA and circumstantial evidence exonerated him.

"I certainly wish him the best, and regret what happened," Hudson writes. "However I offer no apologies." Hudson says that eyewitnesses placed Vasquez near the victim's home and that Vasquez made incriminating statements. "My duty at that point was to present the case to twelve jurors," Hudson writes. Vasquez agreed to an Alford plea, which allows defendants to maintain their innocence while recognizing that evidence would probably result in a guilty verdict.

But the book has far more ups than downs and shows how hard work and hard-earned political connections - he downplays his charm, gregariousness and made-for-TV speaking voice - helped him rise to the top of federal law enforcement.

"I have been blessed with so many exciting experiences," Hudson said in a recent interview. "I not only wanted to share those, but I wanted to inspire other young lawyers to a path of public service."

William B. Cummings, who preceded Hudson as U.S. attorney in Alexandria, said: "It's just a remarkable story. It's kind of folksy at times. But it's something the average person could read and understand how he made it to where he is today, a well-respected judge, first in Fairfax and now on the federal bench."

Hudson said he first tried writing a novel but couldn't get it published. Then he spent about a year "hacking away on a word processor," reviewing his career, he said, with the help of boxes of newspaper clippings he'd kept since his days as an assistant prosecutor in Arlington.

But when he showed his first draft to his wife and friends, starting with his days as a volunteer firefighter, they hated it, Hudson said. So the book now opens with the Vasquez case and his tour of the grisly murder scene of Carolyn Jean Hamm. Then he jumps back to his early days as a jail guard in Arlington and proceeds through his career.

"Folksy" is a good way to describe the judge's writing style, which combines earthy humor with a top-to-bottom grasp of the legal system.

Hudson got a job as a clerk in the Arlington courthouse and began attending night law school. Upon passing the bar, he became an assistant commonwealth's attorney, working his way up from traffic court to gradually handling larger cases, including drug conspiracies and murders.

Hudson's boss was William S. Burroughs, the colorful and controversial Arlington commonwealth's attorney. Police began to mistrust Burroughs and contact his young assistant. Burroughs "repeatedly warned me to tell the police to contact him," Hudson writes. "I disregarded his directions and occasionally stoked the discontent. Call me disloyal if you must, but I enjoyed calling the shots."

He moved over to the U.S. attorney's office as an assistant prosecutor, then decided to run against Burroughs for commonwealth's attorney. Hudson writes that he possibly violated federal law by campaigning on the job.

Hudson won big, and as one of the few successful Republicans in heavily Democratic Arlington, he began making friends in the Republican Party, such as Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), whose early campaigns Hudson worked for.

Friends helped him land appointments, including to the Meese Commission on pornography, which he headed, attracting national attention as the commission held hearings and published a controversial report.

"The jobs I've had have been with a little help from my friends," Hudson said. "And that's the way it is in politics. I went out of my way to go over to Capitol Hill, meet with Congress. It really paid dividends. They treated me extremely well."

He landed the U.S. attorney job in Alexandria, overseeing such high-profile cases as the John Anthony Walker Jr. spy ring trials and the fraud prosecution of Lyndon LaRouche, and becoming involved in the debate over the heavy penalties imposed on crack cocaine dealers in the war on drugs.

Hudson supports the tough sentencing, even as critics note that crack cocaine crimes are penalized 10 times more harshly than those involving powder cocaine and that crack cases are more prevalent among African American defendants.

"The drugs are not the same," Hudson writes. "One is highly addictive and the other is not. It gives me pain that many of my distinguished judicial colleagues and other purported legal scholars don't grasp the devastation caused by crack cocaine."

But when federal authorities began investigating Robb for possible cocaine use, it turned into a "political powder keg" that ended Hudson's term as U.S. attorney, he writes. Hudson says that Robb thought leaks to the press were coming from Hudson or his people, and the senator blocked his reappointment in 1991.

And when Hudson sought the job as U.S. marshal, "Robb's appetite for revenge was not satisfied." Hudson writes that Robb blocked Hudson's confirmation hearing, but didn't do so publicly to avoid "the embarrassment of exposing his petty and boorish vindictiveness to his dwindling constituency."

Hudson eventually got the hearing, and the job. He became involved with TV shows such as "America's Most Wanted" and the drama "The Marshal."

More big cases, such as the shootout at Ruby Ridge, occupied his time. But when a Democrat took over the White House in 1993, he was out of a job again.

Hudson parlayed his contacts in the media into regular talk show appearances as a legal expert on the Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, CBS and Court TV. He returned to private practice for several years before landing a spot on the Fairfax bench in 1998.

Hudson said his line in the book about lying about his intentions to the Fairfax bar was a joke, and he knew that as long as Robb was in the Senate, he had no chance of a federal judgeship. But Robb was defeated in 2000, and a new spot on the Virginia federal bench was created in 2001. Hudson was nominated and confirmed in 2002.

Hudson does not discuss any cases he handled during his four years in Fairfax, although he does pass along the advice that then-Circuit Court Chief Judge F. Bruce Bach gave him his first day on the job. "Success on the bench requires only two things," Bach told the rookie judge. "Gray hair to make you look distinguished, and hemorrhoids to make you look serious."
"Quest for Justice" was published by Loft Press of Fort Valley, Va., and is available at .

© 2008 The Associated Press.

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