- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

The Rocket Docket picked up speed last year.
The courthouse that is scheduled to try suspected terrorists Zacarias Moussaoui and John Walker Lindh has improved on its reputation for rapidly dispatching cases, according to 2001 statistics.
The average federal felony case in the Eastern District of Virginia based in Alexandria with courts in Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk took 5.1 months from filing to disposition in fiscal 2001, which ended Sept. 30. That was a slight improvement from 2000, when cases averaged 5.2 months in length.
The district's ranking among the 94 federal judicial districts improved from 11th in 2000 to sixth in 2001.
The Southern District of California ranked first, with an average criminal felony case time of 4.0 months.
The drop in the Eastern District occurred as the national average increased slightly, from 6.5 months in 2000 to 6.6 months in 2001.
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, who took over as the district's chief prosecutor in September, credited the district's 11 judges with keeping a swift pace.
"We can move more cases through because of the hard work of our judges," Mr. McNulty said. "They really have a belief that justice should not be delayed."
Helen Fahey, Mr. McNulty's predecessor who is now on the Virginia Parole Board, said the district's judges "pride themselves in expediency and in not allowing unnecessary delays."
She said the Rocket Docket gives neither prosecutors nor defendants an advantage.
"I would say that efficiency in the court system benefits everyone," Mrs. Fahey said.
Defense attorneys disagree. Jeffrey Zimmerman, a lawyer in private practice who frequently is appointed to represent indigent clients, says prosecutors hold a distinct advantage when cases proceed quickly.
"In essence, the Rocket Docket is a shorthand way of noting that judges are reluctant to grant continuances," Mr. Zimmerman said. But prosecutors are less likely to need a continuance because they can investigate a case at their leisure before bringing an indictment or a criminal complaint.
In addition, the federal government has nearly unlimited resources to investigate a case, he said.
"The Department of Justice is the world's largest law firm," he said. "And they've got the entire FBI at their disposal."
Mr. McNulty countered that any such advantages are mitigated by the fact that prosecutors hold the burden of proof to find criminal defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and by the fact that prosecutors in the Eastern District often juggle a full plate of cases, many of which can be complicated.
The Western District of Virginia, based in Roanoke, averaged 8.8 months in fiscal 2001 for criminal felony cases, the same as in 2000. It ranked 69th out of the 94 districts.
Legal analysts agree that the Rocket Docket's reputation for no-nonsense judges who keep cases moving quickly, along with a reputation for a jury pool that is more friendly to prosecutors, has helped persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft to file charges against Moussaoui and Lindh in Virginia, rather than in New York.
The Southern District of New York is one of the slowest courts in the country, with an average criminal case length of 12.3 months, ranking it 89th.


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