- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

From combined dispatches

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Henry Woods, 83, a U.S. district judge who was a central figure in the Whitewater scandal, died Thursday at a Little Rock hospital of congestive heart disease.

Mr. Woods, a longtime friend of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton he once tried to persuade her to run for governor of Arkansas threw out a three-count indictment in 1996 that Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor, brought against Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and two others. Judge Woods said the indictment had "no relation whatsoever" to Mr. Starr's authority to investigate the Whitewater dealings of Mr. Clinton.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reinstated the indictments and, in a stunning rebuke, removed Judge Woods as the presiding judge. Mr. Tucker was later convicted and sentenced to a prison term, which, owing to health concerns, he was allowed to serve in home detention.

The appeals court said Judge Woods' ties to the president and Mrs. Clinton, as cited in newspaper accounts, created the appearance of a conflict of interest. Among the news accounts the appeals court considered was an op-ed essay, written by Jim Johnson, a retired justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and an old nemesis of Judge Woods, published in The Washington Times.

The op-ed essay recounted Judge Woods' colorful history in Arkansas politics. He was an aide to a midcentury governor and was the target of a legislative audit of a multimillion-dollar highway bond issue and a subsequent grand jury investigation. Mr. Johnson, then a state senator, was a sponsor of the legislative audit, which concluded that businessmen seeking state contracts were required to contribute to a slush fund supervised by Mr. Woods.

Both Mr. Woods and the governor, Sid McMath, a Democrat, denied the accusations. The grand jury concluded its investigation unexpectedly, declining to return indictments and the presiding judge retired with an enhanced state pension. The governor lost a bid for re-election and Mr. Woods retired to a private law practice. He became a mentor of the Clintons.

Judge Woods stoutly defended his decision to throw out the indictments in the Whitewater case, conceding that he had been close friends of the Clintons, but "it's never been apparent to me, and it's not apparent now, how the Clintons are connected in any way with this particular case."

He was appointed to the bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter over the objections of several Arkansans who argued that his record was tainted by the highway-audit scandal. He was remembered yesterday by lawyers who practiced before him as a man with a thundering voice, often quoting Shakespeare, and no patience for procrastination. He was fond of telling lawyers drawing out examinations of witnesses that "you've just about squeezed that lemon dry, so move on."

He presided over several other high-profile cases, including litigation in the wake of the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. In 1984, he ordered the Little Rock school district to be consolidated with several adjoining districts, where many white parents had settled to avoid the conflict in Little Rock schools, to promote further desegregation. That decision was also overturned by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and he finally quit the school case and turned it over to another judge.

Although his health began to fail two years ago, he remained active in the courts.

He was praised yesterday by both Mr. Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, who said in a joint statement that "as a judge he set high standards, as he dispensed both mercy and justice. As a teacher, he guided generations of law students through his classes and textbooks."

Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, praised him as an effective and long-serving judge. "Regardless of people's political ideology, you have great respect when they serve the public not only for a long time, but effectively."

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