Alexandria, Va. — Several years ago, Henry Hudson and a dozen of his policeman buddies went fishing for black drum, a large type of fish that only bites about an hour a day. ``The boats were bristling with rods,'' recalls Chuck Shelton, a homicide detective in Virginia who used to fish with Mr. Hudson. But, as in several other fishing trips the group took, ``Henry was the only one who caught the big fish,'' he says.
Today, as the US attorney coordinating the Pentagon investigation, Hudson has again caught the big fish.
Some question whether the probe is too massive to be handled out of his office here, and they suggest it should be transferred over to the main Justice Department. Others, including defense lawyers who have gone against him in court, say that Hudson's dogged but fair-minded prosecutorial approach makes him the man of the hour.
The probe, which is looking at possible collusion and ``inside trading'' of information about defense contracts by Pentagon employees and consultants, has already thrown a curve ball at Hudson's team.
Last week, a Dallas court released documents related to the search of a defense contractor's office. Hudson had been unaware that when the prosecutors filed the documents with the court, the judge had decided to keep the documents under seal, or secret, for only 14 days.
The affidavit gave an inside look at the prosecution's suspicions and strategy - something Hudson had wanted to keep under wraps. In an interview here last week, Hudson denied that the release of the Dallas documents was a setback.
``It hasn't done any damage to the continuing aspects of the investigation,'' he said. But he added that his office has launched ``a major survey'' to find out which of the other 14 courts have set time limits to keep the documents under seal.
Henry Hudson's prosecutorial style surfaced early on - before he became a lawyer, in fact. ``He was very stable, relatively quiet, but always prepared,'' recalls Tony Morella, who taught Hudson's constitutional law class at American University law school, which Hudson attended at night in the early 1970s.
``His very ordinariness was the reason he stood out,'' Mr. Morella adds, noting that the crew-cut Hudson was ``courtly'' at a time when ``there was a lot of turmoil on campus.''
From law school, Hudson made his way to the commonwealth attorney's office (the equivalent of a district attorney) in Arlington County, Va. Having already served as a deputy sheriff and a deputy clerk in the circuit court, his job as assistant commonwealth attorney was another step in his ground-floor-up-style training.
The daily contact with police, detectives, and lawyers gave him a ``practical perspective of the criminal justice system,'' says Robert Cynkar, a Justice Department attorney who has worked with Hudson in pornography litigation. ``He knows how to run a criminal investigation.''
That background will likely come in handy as the Pentagon investigation unfolds. Hudson has the patience and appetite for legal legwork that make for solid investigations, those who know him say.
``He only brings the cases where he thinks he will win because of an abundance of evidence,'' says defense attorney Plato Cacheris, who has squared off against Hudson repeatedly.
Sometimes, even an abundance of evidence is not enough to persuade Hudson to prosecute. Thomas Morris, a defense lawyer in Virginia, recalls a case several years ago in Arlington in which a man had been charged with three bank robberies. A teller was prepared to identify him in court. But just before the trial, a detective hired by Mr. Morris found evidence that the man who had committed the robberies was already in jail.
``He could have proceeded, and it would have been very close,'' given that the teller was prepared to testify that she recognized the defendant, Morris says. But on the day of the trial, Hudson moved to dismiss the case.
``I find Henry to be a fair prosecutor,'' Morris concludes. ``Most of the conflict with Henry is not with what he does, but what he thinks.''
Indeed, that sentiment is grumbled among many lawyers here, who see Hudson as promoting the administration's value system over issues like free speech. Hudson chaired the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography before becoming US attorney in Alexandria in 1986. The commission issued a controversial report that drew a link between pornography and violence, a link that some social scientists working with the commission disavowed.
Hudson's role on the pornography commission pegged him - erroneously, he says - as an anti-smut prosecutor. ``I've never tried a pornography case,'' he says. ``That's the great myth about my background.''
His office, however, was the first US attorney's office to prosecute a pornography case under the federal racketeering statute.
Now Hudson has an even larger cleanup job: the $150 billion a year defense contracting business. The Pentagon probe fell into his lap scarcely five months after he took up his present post. That raised some questions about whether he was seasoned enough to handle the investigation.
The genial Hudson, who sprinkles his answers with ``yes ma'ams'' and ``no ma'ams,'' refuses to be tricked into giving advance information or even confirming details that have already appeared in the news media. When asked whether the press is doing an accurate job of reporting the details of the investigation, he leans back in his chair and smiles a tad.
``I won't describe the accuracy of inaccuracy,'' he says. ``But you've certainly been industrious.''