Left to right: Judge Henry Hudson, From Marshall to Moussaoui author John Peters and Judge Douglas Tice Jr. Photo by Jay Paul
Known as the Rocket Docket for its speed in resolving legal disputes, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has heard some of the nation's most headline-grabbing cases, everything from the 1807 treason trial of Aaron Burr to the 2006 trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, charged with six conspiracy counts in connection with the 9/11 attacks.
That more than 200 years of history gets summed up neatly in John Peters' new book From Marshall to Moussaoui: Federal Justice in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Peters views the court — it heard its first case on May 22, 1790 — as "one of the most interesting and important of any trial jurisdictions in America, state or federal." This isn't the first time he has written about the court system. He and his wife, Margaret, authored the award-winning Virginia's Historic Courthouses and Courts of the Richmond Area — A Primer.
The idea to write a book about the Eastern District was sparked by a conversation between then Chief Judge Claude Hilton and Judge Henry Hudson, as they reminisced about the famous trials held in its courthouses in Alexandria, Richmond, Norfolk and Newport News. "This book is designed to familiarize more people with the history of this court and the valuable contribution it has made to the laws of the United States," Hudson says.
Both Peters and Hudson see the trial of Aaron Burr as one of the court's most famous undertakings. "It was an epic confrontation between John Marshall [a trial judge in the court at the same time he was chief justice] and his distant cousin Thomas Jefferson," says Peters. "It had probably the greatest array of legal talent for any one trial. It dominated the national headlines for months."
The court also has heard numerous high-profile cases on civil rights, espionage and high-seas piracy. "Piracy cases started in the 1790s, and they are still being heard today," Peters says. It also made judges like Robert Merhige Jr. a household name, thanks to cases dealing with Kepone in the James River and A.H. Robins Co.'s intra-uterine birth control device, the Dalkon Shield. "The Dalkon Shield gave rise to the largest number of product liability medical malpractice cases in the 20th century," Peters says.
From Marshall to Moussaoui is now available for purchase through The Dietz Press (dietzpress.com), and it should be on bookstore shelves in the coming months. "The book exceeds our expectations," Hudson says.