Review of Quest for Justice, by Henry E. Hudson
Wyatt B. Durrette, Jr.
This is a helluva book. The rubber hits the road on page after page. You gain insights from the candor and detail offered by the author, as he chronicles, but does not sermonize, on his life and the “Lessons Learned Along the Way”, also part of the book’s subtitle.
Many of the people portrayed by Judge Hudson are Virginians some of us knew or know. When Judge Hudson crossed my awareness as a young prosecutor in Arlington, I was a member of the House of Delegates contemplating my first statewide run. During those years and through my campaign for Governor in 1985 Judge Hudson was one of my closest advisors and friends. I cannot represent that this long-standing relationship has left me without bias in reviewing this book. That said, again, this is a helluva book.
Judge Hudson pulls no punches on these pages, whether the blow hits him or another. Very early he tells us of his days as a deputy sheriff racing around the interstates at 80 mph ferrying prisoners to various state correctional facilities, receiving a lecture from a prison guard in the language of a drill instructor and following a female correctional officer clearing his path through inmates with her “take-no-shit personality.”
True crime stories permeate his reporting on his tenure as an Assistant Commonwealth Attorney and then Commonwealth Attorney for Arlington County. In that election he broke the Democratic strangle-hold on Arlington politics with a shoe-leather victory none expected. He does not spare himself: “During my early years as a prosecutor I was narrow minded and at times offensively self-righteous. It may have been ambition, or immaturity, but I had not yet learned that there are usually two sides to every story.” His criticism of others thus rings with the virtue of integrity. For example, speaking of a federal judge known to anyone practicing law in Northern Virginia, and often beyond, Judge Hudson noted that this judge “had minimal regard for legal niceties and his decisions were frequently reversed by the court of appeals.”
Many have wondered for years about the details of the battle between Bill Burroughs and Judge Hudson. The book does not disappoint, beginning with Judge Hudson’s “outrage” at a particular point and going through the notorious clash between Burroughs and Attorney General Marshall Coleman. Judge Hudson admits being at his “wit’s end”, when Burrough’s “self-destruction” changed the election landscape. Often it is not what the winner of a political contest does or does not do, but rather the choices of his or her opponent that determines the outcome.
Nevertheless, this win launched a fascinating career beginning with serving as a United States Attorney, Chair of Attorney General Meese’s famous (infamous?) Pornography Commission, Chief of the U. S. Marshall’s Service, then on to a Circuit Judge in Fairfax County, and now a United States District Judge.
The insight into the internal debates of the Pornography Commission members is fascinating, and the media is not spared for its serious mischaracterization of its work: “The frenzy of hysteria sells far more newspapers than reasoned analysis.” And this was pre-cable news’ nonstop verbal battering of the airwaves with minstrel-show choreography necessary to hold the attention of a limited audience with limited time.
Judge Hudson details numerous specific cases in which he enjoyed mostly victories but some defeats. Of his maiden courtroom voyage as a United States Attorney he reports, “my opening statement went well, but it was down hill from there”-- an experience that jogs the memory of any veteran trial lawyer and dislodges a case or two he or she would rather forget! He imparts lessons as well: “A good trial lawyer’s ability to settle contentious cases is directly dependant on the adversaries’ perception of the threat of having to duke it out in the courtroom.”
Government bureaucracy is not spared either. Redirecting the common perception of the “war on crime”, Judge Hudson describes a DOJ in disarray and torn asunder by turf battles, culminating in “… cleverly crafted solutions relentlessly in search of a problem.”
Ever wonder what really happened at Ruby Ridge? Judge Hudson tells us in enlightening detail with no punches pulled. The reader thinks he finally knows what there is to know, though the result of that knowledge does not bring the comfort of certitude. Some aspects of those critical hours remain shrouded in mystery and bear out Judge Hudson’s observation that the trial of Harris and Weaver “exceeded our worst expectations.” And there is more. Much more. But space dictates closure soon.
Time after time Judge Hudson does not disappoint with his instinct to call the shots with refreshing candor, from labeling a couple of members of the Marshall’s Service “total jackasses”, to chronicling the “total screwing” the federal government received from time to time financially.
Only by actually reading the book can you appreciate how he could be moved to his opinion regarding former Senator Charles Robb’s conduct in his confirmation battle to head the Marshall’s Service. Judge Hudson’s involvement with Chuck Robb goes back to the time when Robb was Governor and the allegations surfaced about his conduct at Virginia Beach. Judge Hudson sets this out in detail as he does with everything in this book. When Senator Robb failed to return the “blue slip” thus imperiling his confirmation, Judge Hudson notes that by doing so Robb avoided “another media frenzy rehashing the accounts of his Virginia Beach frolics. He also dodged the embarrassment of exposing his petty and boorish vindictiveness to his dwindling constituency.” No softballs here.
If the book has a fault, it is the level of detail that sometimes causes the eyes to glaze over, especially when the events being described have minimal importance for the book. Ruby Ridge is one thing, but a crime thirty years ago, with no more than local interest, is another. Yet, the detail often fascinates, so in the end it is a minor distraction.
Not too many books deserve the “must read” description, but this is one, especially if you have been active in the Virginia political or legal scene for the last 30 or so years. You will find yourself uttering, maybe silently, numerous “wows”, “I didn’t know that’s”, “damns”, “I can’t believe that’s”, “oh s____” and much more. For those who seek the truth in the writings of notable people, this book shines brightly as an example of what a chronicle like this should be. This is a helluva of book.
Quest for Justice by Henry E. Hudson is available from Loft Press, http://loftpress.com/bookmain/qfjmain.htm