U. S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson was driving to his vacation home in South Carolina in 2007 when his sister-in-law called to say she heard he would be the judge presiding over the Michael Vick case.
It was a given that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback's federal dog-fighting conspiracy case would draw a lot of attention — and Hudson was the "lucky" judge chosen by the court's computerized case-assignment system.
True to his prediction that the case would cause a frenzy, Hudson noted in his Dec. 10, 2007, sentencing of Vick that his office was inundated with thousands of letters and hundreds of phone calls about the case, which also drew a mix of dog owners, PETA protesters and downtown office workers onto the sidewalks in front of the court. But to Hudson, the case was not as challenging as some he's presided over.
"Vick had a superb group of lawyers, and the prosecutor's office did a wonderful job," Hudson explains. "Everything was agreed upon and done on time. There were few decisions to make in the case. It made my job a lot less difficult than it could have been."
Far more complicated and "not pleasant," the 61-year-old judge says, was chairing the Meese Commission, a comprehensive investigation of pornography launched in 1985 by then-U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese. Hudson's colleagues had urged him not to accept the position. But when the president calls, Hudson says, "you say, ‘Yes sir'. I did my civic duty."
The commission was portrayed in the media, according to Hudson's 2007 autobiography Quest for Justice, as "a government censorship board, poised to ban fine literature from local libraries." In reality, he says, it focused on visual imagery or photographs that depicted the abuse or sexual exploitation of women and child pornography, although the commission was criticized for improper statistical comparisons.
Hudson, who speaks softly but with authority, now looks back on that study as a test of his leadership abilities. His traditionally styled office on the sixth floor of Richmond's new federal courthouse on East Broad Street holds a selection of photos that chronicle some of the important memories of his life — a picture of Hudson with President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, another of his swearing-in as head of the U.S. Marshals.
Call of Duty
Hudson was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Arlington County. His mother and father were government employees who believed in hard work and strong moral values. At 18, he became a volunteer firefighter and EMT, and he later worked as an Arlington County deputy sheriff before starting a position as a deputy clerk of the court. He attended law school at night.
After graduating from American University's law school, Hudson served in a variety of prosecutorial roles, from assistant U.S. attorney in Alexandria to commonwealth's attorney for Arlington County. Liam O'Grady, now a U.S. district judge, remembers meeting Hudson in the commonwealth's attorney office in 1982. After working under Hudson there, O'Grady worked for him again at the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Hudson was meticulous in his work, O'Grady notes: "He was a hard charger in the 1980s as commonwealth's attorney. It wouldn't be a misnomer to say he was a little on the rigid side. Now he's very introspective, open-minded and considerate. He's one of the judges that the rest of us look up to for leadership."
O'Grady will never forget the day when Hudson, then a circuit-court judge in Fairfax County, was presiding over a hearing involving an elderly woman who was giving over her rights to a guardian. She was having difficulty understanding the proceedings, so Hudson stepped down from the bench and walked over to the counsel's table to talk with the woman. "I have never seen a judge come down from the bench, but it was the right thing to do in that case," he says. "It really relaxed her."
Before taking the bench, he served as director of the U.S. Marshal Service. Three months after taking office, he dealt with the 1992 Ruby Ridge siege involving white separatist Randy Weaver. Weaver, who lived in a remote area of Idaho, was wanted on a federal warrant, and a federal judge demanded he be taken into custody. A tactical team of marshals was sent out to conduct surveillance before the arrest.
But the investigation went awry, and Hudson — just as he and his wife were leaving for vacation — got a call that a deputy marshal had been killed. He made his way to FBI headquarters; within hours, a hostage-rescue team was activated. The ensuing standoff resulted in the death of Weaver's wife and son.
"That incident alone tells me everything I need to know about Henry Hudson," says retired U.S. Marshal Tony Perez. "He was a rock. He was able to deal with it all and not lose his head. He felt pressure from everywhere. He's analytical but at the same time he's humane. He was torn up inside for both sides [of the conflict]."
Friends and colleagues call Hudson a caring family man. He and his wife, Tara, a retired analyst for the Headquarters Marine Corps, have been married for 38 years and have lived in Chesterfield County since 2002. They met in high school, where Tara's brother was Hudson's closest friend. His proudest moment, Hudson will tell you, was the day his 24-year-old son, Kevin, decided to become a prosecutor — he's now in law school at the College of William & Mary.
Dr. Talal Munasifi, a prominent cosmetic/plastic surgeon in Arlington, has been a friend of Hudson's for 25 years. The two go bird hunting and fishing together several times each year, a lifelong hobby for Hudson. Munasifi knows that most people see Hudson as serious. But, he says, that's just one side of him. "People don't realize he's a warm person, also."
Even though he loves his work, Hudson admits he doesn't find the bench as exciting as heading up the U.S. Marshal Service. "I do have some frustration. Being solely reactive requires an adjusted mindset. I am someone that is action-oriented. The job is a bit sedentary, but when you get to my stage in life, it's a good place to be."
At the moment, Hudson is working on his second book, which will spotlight humorous stories from judges and court reporters. He hopes to work into his 70s. After that, who knows? "I'm leaving the door ajar to see what comes into my life."
In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed Hudson to the bench as a U.S. district judge in the Eastern District of Virginia, a court known for its "rocket docket." "We are either the fastest or the next-to-the-fastest district in the nation," Hudson says.
Since being appointed, he's had a tough but fair reputation. In the Vick case, Hudson sentenced the football star to 23 months in a federal prison and three years of supervised release after the end of confinement, more than the 18-month term that prosecutors had recommended.
"Judge Hudson is a very tough sentencing judge, but you know he's going to be fair and allow the lawyers to try the case," observes Rob Wagner, a public defender in the court's Richmond division. "When you take a case in his court and that case is going to a sentencing hearing, you know he will approach the hearing from a law-and-order perspective."
Defense attorneys, Walker admits, would prefer "not to be before that kind of judge — especially if their clients are facing punishment under advisory sentencing guidelines."
Hudson doesn't shy away from making a decision. After he gathers the information he needs, he decides and moves on. "Some judges are very intelligent, but they can't make a decision," he observes. "It's like being an umpire when someone slides in — you have to call it."
In the courtroom, Hudson smiles often, whether he's talking with attorneys, prosecutors or defendants, and his curiosity in the law shines through.
In a November sentencing, he was intrigued by an argument presented by a public defender regarding first impression — an issue never previously addressed in a ruling by any other judge — in an effort to reduce her drug-dealing client's sentence. Assistant federal public defender Valencia Roberts-Brower argued that the dollar amount of drugs recovered after a search couldn't be attributed solely to the sale of crack cocaine, because there was evidence of other drugs in the house, narcotics that carry lower sentencing requirements.
Hudson listened intently, but he didn't go easy on her client, who received a sentence of 100 months for the drugs and 60 months for firearms violations. "She did a wonderful job," he says, but adds, "I made my decision based on the facts in front of me."