As the Supreme Court considered far-reaching legal questions about police powers on Wednesday, the justices returned time and again to one name: Peaches, the nickname of the D.C. hostess whose house party nearly a decade ago was at the center of the case before the high court.
"Peaches" was never unmasked in court documents. She was referred to only by her nickname, which the justices repeatedly used in court as they grilled lawyers for the city and the partygoers about whether police had acted lawfully when they arrested 21 people for trespassing in 2008.
Just the mention at oral argument of "Peaches," first by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, and more than a dozen other times by various justices and lawyers, seemed to lighten the tone of the typically staid proceedings.
At issue for the Supreme Court is whether the D.C. government and the police officers should have to pay upward of $1 million in damages a jury awarded most of the guests after the trespassing charges eventually were dropped.
After publicity about the case this week, acquaintances recognized the nickname and friends agreed to talk about the real Peaches — Veronica Little, a bartender and entrepreneur who died a year ago in September.
Little was for years a popular presence at the Skylark Lounge, serving strong drinks at the now-shuttered gentleman's club in Northeast Washington.
Little had a rapport with the male clients and the dancers, whom she recruited to perform at bachelor parties and birthday parties Little organized.
"She had the bubbliest spirit. Everybody loved Peaches," said her friend Susan White, who danced at dozens of parties Little booked as "Suzy Q."
"She would say, 'Hey, a couple guys need some girls for a party," recalled White, now a substance abuse counselor in Maryland. "We didn't have 'dot com' back then, so it was all word of mouth. We trusted her judgment."
In the case before the Supreme Court, the partygoers told police they'd been invited to the house on Anacostia Avenue by Peaches. By the time police arrived, Peaches was not there.
The homeowner told police by phone he hadn't given anyone permission to have a party.
Sometimes Little stayed at the parties she booked, White said. Other times she made sure her dancers were taken care of and paid before heading out.
Gregory Lattimer, the attorney for the partygoers, initially tried to get Little's help in the case. She didn't want to be involved, he said Wednesday after the Supreme Court arguments, and was never deposed as part of his client's case against the city.
Lattimer said Wednesday he understands why.
The attention to the case at the time was uncomfortable for the partygoers.
"It was scandalous, notorious and funny," he said. "You could proclaim your innocence, but you still got laughed at. It was an embarrassing situation."
Little had just turned 50 before her death last fall.
She'd had asthma and was having trouble breathing, White said, before she died of respiratory problems. She is survived by her husband and a son, White said.
Why the nickname Peaches? Because, her friend said, she was from Georgia.