Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

A Tribute to Walter E. Hoffman

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

A Tribute to Walter E. Hoffman

Article excerpt

These remarks dwell on the judicial career of my mentor and good friend, Walter E Hoffman. He was a superb human being and, in my judgment, the finest judge who ever graced the federal bench. He was known as "Beef Hoffman."

He made his mark on every side of community service - in the United Fund, as president of the YMCA, as a leader of the Salvation Army, as a trustee of Randolph-Macon College, as a lay leader of the United Methodist Church, as a director of the Virginia United Methodist Children's Home - but I leave his community medals to another day, another pen.

Upon his induction as a United States District Court Judge in September 1954, Walter Edward Hoffman left a prospering practice as a very successful trial attorney and began an illustrious 42-year career on the federal bench.

I sat on the same bench with him from 1967 forward - 29 years. I know of no district judge who can even approach his contributions to the federal judicial system. To be sure, even before his appointment as judge in 1954, he had experience with the intricacies of federal practice. He had served in a part-time capacity as referee in bankruptcy and still maintained an active trial practice in the district court. He had served part-time as an adjunct professor at the law school at the College of William and Mary for most of the 1930s, teaching courses in federal procedure and admiralty.

He was keenly aware, and so stated in his many written opinions, that the law as the legislative work of Congress and as interpreted by the superior federal courts was to be zealously followed. He believed that due process was to be the top demand on every individual judge. This was a charge he understood and preached with enthusiasm even when it required extra days and long hours. He frequently held court on Saturdays and did not rule out sessions on Sundays and holidays. Holding court until midnight to complete a complex trial was not uncommon. As a matter of fact, in his daily schedule he rarely left the courthouse before seven o'clock in the evening. He returned to his office on Saturday afternoons following his routine golf round which began with a 7:00 A.M. tee time, specifically designed to accommodate his office workload. In his exhaustive industriousness, he was held in awe by every attorney who came in contact with him.

He firmly believed that litigants filed civil suits because they thought they had an entitlement and that it was the duty of the court to sustain their claims if warranted. On the other hand, he recognized that a civil defendant was just as entitled to be absolved of the burden of the claim if he was not responsible for it. Out of this philosophy came Judge Hoffman's invention of the "rocket docket." He instituted a plan that kept his docket moving by getting cases settled or tried. The "rocket docket" follows a strict procedure. Suits filed are immediately reviewed by a judge, a discovery procedure is set up to be completed within 60 to 90 days, a final pretrial conference is scheduled and attended by the attorneys who will actually try the case, and a trial is commenced within six months. No continuances are to be considered except in very unusual cases. The Eastern District of Virginia has led the nation for many years in the important statistic of elapsed time between filing and trial. Judge Hoffman introduced the system 35 years ago, and the court rigidly adheres to it.

He planned and followed a strict work ethic which he adopted in the mid1920s while putting himself through college and law school as an assistant football coach at the College of William and Mary and at Washington and Lee University. To sustain himself and his family in his early law practice, he worked as a football referee and served as such all over the South. He officiated in more than 100 major college football games, including several bowl games such as the Sugar Bowl at New Orleans. It was a diversion he greatly enjoyed. …

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