Journey Up the Rungs of Justice

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 11, 2008

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 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.

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