Walter Edward Hoffman

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Walter Edward Hoffman (July 18, 1907 – November 21, 1996) (nicknamed "Beef") was a United States federal judge.

Early life[edit]

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Hoffman received a B.S. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1928, attended the College of William and Mary School of Law, and received an LL.B. from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 1931.

Career[edit]

Hoffman had a private legal practice in Norfolk, Virginia from 1931 to 1954. He taught at the College of William and Mary School of Law as an assistant professor from 1933 to 1942. From 1942 to 1944, in addition to his private practice as a trial lawyer, Hoffman served as a Referee in Bankruptcy for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Judicial Career[edit]

On June 29, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Hoffman to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia created by 68 Stat. 8. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 14, 1954, and received his commission the following day.

Hoffman was soon caught up in desegregation cases arising from Virginia's (or the Byrd Organization's) policy of Massive Resistance. Initially, he handled them on his docket, but soon a three judge panel was created: of Hoffman, Senior 4th Circuit Judge Morris Ames Soper and fellow district judge Charles Sterling Hutcheson (until his retirement). Many of those cases were appealed by the losing Virginia entities to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and United States Supreme Court. Those included the attempted closing of Seashore State Park to avoid integration, as well as attempts to keep Norfolk's schools segregated, and to harass the NAACP attorneys bringing desegregation cases (Harrison v. NAACP, NAACP v. Button, both of which were actually handled by David J. Mays and his associates as outside counsel).

Hoffman served as chief judge from 1961 to 1973, and assumed senior status on September 3, 1974. During his judicial career, Hoffman drew considerable praise as well as criticism (including a cross being burned on his lawn) for his handling of cases involving Massive resistance and desegregation of schools in Norfolk and Hampton Roads.[1] Judge Hoffman also directed the Federal Judicial Center from 1974 to 1977, handled several cases involving boundary disputes between states at the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court, and presided over the trial of fellow judge Harry E. Claiborne, as well as sentenced Vice-President Spiro Agnew after his plea of nolo contendere.[2] A firm believer in litigants' rights to a speedy trial, Hoffman introduced the "rocket docket" in his district, which continues today.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

A federal judge for 42 years, until his death in Norfolk, the Walter E. Hoffman United States Courthouse in Norfolk is named in his honor. His papers are held by the Washington & Lee University in the archives of its School of Law.[4]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
1954–1974
Succeeded by
Joseph Calvitt Clarke, Jr.