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The Founders of the I'Anson-Hoffman Inn of Court

     On September 29, 1986, Dean Sullivan hosted a dinner at the Harbor Club, in Norfolk, where a presentation was made by Sherman L. Cohn, President of the American Inns of Court, concerning the purpose, structure and program of the American Inns of Court. Present at the meeting were Chief Justice I'Anson, Judge Hoffman, Judge Smith, and Mr. Prince.

     Dean Sullivan committed the Marshall-Wythe School of Law to affiliation with an Inn of Court for the Peninsula and South Hampton Roads areas, and Chief Justice I'Anson l:\l1d Judge Hoffman accepted his request that they jointly assume leadership in the formation of an Inn for this area. Judge Smith and Mr. Prince collaborated with Chief Justice I'Anson and Judge Hoffman and formed the original steering committee, selected the charter membership, and met with national representatives of the Inns of Court movement for the organization and chartering of a local Inn.

    The initial meeting of the Inn was held on March 24, 1987, in the United States Courthouse, in Norfolk, where a program of introduction was presented, charter members were inducted, and officers were elected. Mr. Prince was elected as the charter President, and Judge Smith as Chancellor. The membership consisted of federal and state judges, lawyers from Gloucester and Williamsburg to Virginia Beach, and law professors and law students from the Marshall-Wythe "School of Law. Planning was commenced for the initial program of meetings to commence in the fall. Professor Felton was instrumental in the establishment and implementation of the educational programs of the Inn, as well as encouraging and securing the attendance of the law student members.


Chief Justice Lawrence W. I'Anson


     Lawrence W. I'Anson, a native of Portsmouth, Virginia, graduated from the College of William & Mary, and took his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1931. Mr. I'Anson practiced law in Portsmouth until 1938, when he was elected Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney. Before he completed his first term in office, he was appointed in 1941 as a Judge of the Portsmouth Hustings Court (now Circuit Court). At the age of 34, he was one of the youngest men ever appointed a trial judge in Virginia. Judge I'Anson remained on the Hustings Court bench until 1958, when he was appointed to the Virginia Supreme Court.

     During his service on the Supreme Court, Justice I'Anson distinguished himself as a leader in judicial reform. Serving on the Judicial Council of Virginia from 1948 to 1970, he was chairman of the committee which published the Virginia Handbook for Jurors. In 1968, he was named by Governor Mills E. Godwin as Chairman of the Virginia Court System Study Commission, whose recommendations in 1971 resulted in the complete reorganization of Virginia's courts into a unified state system, with full-time district court judges and uniform state-wide compensation for all judges. For his successful efforts in the reformation of the Virginia court system, Justice I'Anson was awarded the Lincoln Harley Award for judicial reform by the American Judicature Society in 1973.

     Justice I'Anson became the 22nd Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia on October 1, 1974. During his tenure, Chief Justice I'Anson served as President of the National Center for State Courts, and Vice-Chairman of the Conference of Chief Justices, hosting the first national meeting of the conference in Williamsburg in 1971.

    The Chief Justice endeared himself to all who worked with and for him, through his personal warmth and good cheer, as well as the good word he always seemed to have for every lawyer who appeared before him.

     Upon his retirement from the Supreme Court, Chief Justice I'Anson continued to serve as President of the Beazley Foundation, which he had led since 1948, serving his home community of Portsmouth. Chief Justice I'Anson died on December 17, 1990.


Judge Walter E. Hoffman


    Walter E. Hoffman, a native of Pennsylvania, graduated from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce of the University of Pennsylvania at age 19, attended the Marshall- Wythe School of Law, where he passed the Virginia bar examination after his first year. Mr. Hoffman subsequently graduated from the Washington & Lee University School of Law in 1931, a classmate of future Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Lewis F. Powell, and a contemporary of Chief Justice I'Anson.

    Mr. Hoffman practiced law in Norfolk until 1954, when he was appointed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, as the resident judge in the Norfolk Division. The Norfolk and Newport News Divisions of the Eastern District were notorious for their backlog of cases, and Judge Hoffman set out to clear the docket, holding court on evenings, weekends and holidays, as necessary. In 1962, with things more under control, he seized upon the solution for keeping the docket current in the future, and the famed "Rocket Docket" of the Norfolk Division of the Eastern District was begun. Almost forty years later, the docket control rules remain a model for not only the federal court system but also for state courts as well.  Judge Hoffman eventually took senior status and remained as such until his death on November 21, 1996.

     During his career on the federal bench, Judge Hoffman endeared himself to legions of attorneys and gained particular respect and national admiration for his expertise in admiralty law, to the extent that Norfolk became a preferred venue for difficult admiralty issues, as it remains today.
Among his most notable cases, Judge Hoffman presided over the Norfolk school desegregation case and the 1958 closing of the Norfolk public schools, as well as the criminal trials of Vice-President of the United States Spiro T. Agnew, United States District Judge Harry Claiborne of Nevada, and Governor Arch Moore of West Virginia.

    Of all of his accomplishments, Judge Hoffman was most proud of the "Rocket Docket," and his receipt of the Edward J. Devitt Award for Distinguished Service to Justice in 1984.  It is a fitting tribute to Judge Hoffman that the United States Courthouse in Norfolk bears his name.