- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

The inscription on the front of the Alexandria, Va. Courthouse, next to the depiction of the tortoise and the hare, reads simply: "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied."
That's the motto at the "rocket docket," the federal court known for speed, spies and a winning record for government prosecutors. It was the site Tuesday of the first indictment directly related to the September 11 suicide hijackings.
Like accused spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen before him, accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is now in the hands of prosecutors and judges unusually familiar with national security and government secrecy.
"The Eastern District of Virginia has had a disproportionate amount of business in this area," said Robert Turner, co-founder of Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia Law School. "It strikes me as a perfectly logical choice to take this where the people know how this game is played."
Even defense lawyers give the court high marks for professionalism and efficiency in handling the often complex requirements for classified material.
That knowledge is undoubtedly a big factor in the Justice Department's choice of a court, but a string of government successes in big cases didn't hurt, lawyers said.
"The court is notoriously, legendarily hospitable to the prosecution," said defense lawyer Reid Weingarten. "From the perspective of the defense attorney, it is an inhospitable place top to bottom."
"This is a court where O.J. [Simpson] would have been tried in 10 days," said former federal prosecutor Lawrence Barcella.
The government could have brought the indictment in several places, probably including Washington and New York City, where several recent terrorism trials have been held.
Choosing a courthouse near the CIA and the Pentagon has numerous advantages for the government, lawyers said.
The combination of a quick pace, a jury pool that is largely white, suburban and middle class, and intangibles such as the generally conservative culture of the place all weigh in favor of the government, lawyers said.
"It's a good district for prosecutors," said former federal prosecutor Mark Hulkower, who prosecuted the Ames spy case there.
"From the government's standpoint it makes perfect sense," he said. "You have a jury pool with large numbers of current or former government employees. You have prosecutors used to dealing with complex, high-profile cases, judges experienced in high-profile cases involving classified material."
Lawyers predict quick developments in the case of Mr. Moussaoui, a French Moroccan who sought flight training in Minnesota a month before the attacks and aroused suspicion by saying he wanted to learn to take off and land, but not fly.
"The first thing you notice about the Eastern District of Virginia is speed," said William Moffitt, a defense lawyer who practices there and in the very different federal courthouse across the Potomac River in Washington.
"It is well known as the rocket docket, and that is the culture. It's right there on the outside of the courthouse."
The Virginia court took an average 5.2 months to dispatch felony criminal cases last year, the 11th-fastest rate among the more than 90 federal courts in the country.
The average was 7.2 months in the District, making it No. 48 nationally. New York took 13.5 months, making it No. 94.
The Alexandria court, under the stewardship of Chief Judge Claude M. Hilton, sets and keeps tight deadlines for both sides in criminal cases. An old joke around the courthouse is that a lawyer has to collapse, bleeding before the bench, to win a delay in the schedule.
That means federal prosecutors can take their time preparing a detailed indictment, as they apparently did with Mr. Moussaoui, leaving defense lawyers scrambling to make up for lost time, lawyers said.
Whatever the particulars of the Virginia court, Mr. Moussaoui's defense lawyer will have a tough job, other lawyers said.
"There's no district in the country that would be a good one to defend a case like this one," Mr. Hulkower said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide