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Four months after Justin Williams’ death, his office remains virtually untouched. Papers wait to be read. Family photos smile from his desk. His government-issue nameplate still greets visitors. Sometimes, former colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Va., where Williams was chief of the Criminal Section, will go into his office and look around, just to be there for a minute or two. In his 33-year tenure, Justin Williams played an active role in every major federal prosecution in the Eastern District of Virginia. Williams was guru, mentor, and walking law library to his colleagues. They say he embodied the heart and soul of the office and the best of what a prosecutor should be: courageous yet careful, brilliant yet hard-working, and, above all, fair. He was also a laid-back guy with a sometimes ribald sense of humor, a penchant for Volkswagen Beetles, a steel-trap memory for case law, and the patience to help anyone who needed him. And in his three decades of service, Williams shaped the way business is done in the Eastern District of Virginia. “There’s a camaraderie and a community that exists here not just among the prosecutors but among defense lawyers and judges as well,” says U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty. “It is an EDVA way of doing things, and a lot of people would say it’s because that’s the way Justin Williams does things. It was his model that everyone picked up on.” On Aug. 31, Williams died of an apparent heart attack while jogging in Alexandria. He is survived by his wife of 23 years, Suzanne; their children, Andrew and Caitlin; as well as his sister and mother. Williams graduated from Columbia University in 1963 and received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1967. He worked for a year in the Criminal Division at Main Justice before becoming an Arlington County assistant commonwealth’s attorney. He joined the Eastern District in 1970. “He had the job he always wanted,” says Charles Rosenberg, a former colleague. Suzanne Williams says her husband “loved the U.S. Attorney’s Office with all of his heart and soul.” His colleagues “were family” to him. “He was an extraordinary man,” Suzanne Williams says. By 1975, when William Cummings was sworn in as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, Williams had already “matured into a senior attorney in the office and an excellent trial lawyer,” Cummings says. “I always relied and depended on him.” Williams worked under seven U.S. attorneys and twice served as interim U.S. attorney, from 1979 to 1981, and again in 1986. He won scores of awards, including the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interest of the United States National Security in 2002. He also served as a major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. Among the benchmark cases Williams prosecuted was the espionage trial of Ronald Humphrey and Truong Hung, State Department officials who smuggled secret cables to Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Cummings was U.S. attorney at the time and recalls that the trial judge, Albert Bryan Jr., commended Williams at the end of the case. “He was very impressed at how Justin got Truong to admit on cross-examination that he was the alias for some of the communication,” Cummings says. “Justin took his work very seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He was the most self-effacing person I ever met,” says Cummings, now an Alexandria-based defense lawyer. Williams’ profound command of the law combined with his humility and trusted judgment, “allowed him to do things other prosecutors couldn’t do,” says Nash Schott, who met Williams in the JAG Corps and joined the Eastern District in 1978. “Some of the biggest contributions Justin made were when he said, ‘This is not a case we should pursue.’ But he always had a way to make sure that justice — as broad as that word is — was accomplished,” Schott says. Likewise, when negotiating with defense attorneys, Williams’ aim was for justice, not a notch on his belt, say lawyers who worked with him. “He would always hear you out,” says Plato Cacheris, a D.C. partner at Baker & McKenzie who has practiced in the Eastern District for 43 years. When negotiating with other prosecutors, “if you didn’t think you were making any headway, you would say, ‘Let me talk to Justin,’ ” Cacheris notes. “ That is not to say he would give you anything, but he was receptive.” And when it came to cases that warranted pursuit, Williams was tenacious. “He liked prosecuting bad people,” Cummings says. Around the courthouse, Williams was famous for maintaining a box full of useful case citations on index cards. “Whenever the government had a difficult legal issue, we would see Justin coming down the hall with the box, and the judges would know he was going to make some esoteric argument or another,” says Eastern District Judge Leonie Brinkema. The case wouldn’t necessarily be big or high-profile, however. “I’ve seen him do that even with smaller cases,” she says. “If you love the law, sometimes it is those small cases that present legal difficulties and strange nuance, and he could appreciate that.” Brinkema and Williams worked together as AUSAs from 1977 to 1983. “He was a wonderful mentor and one of the most knowledgeable persons in terms of understanding criminal law. And obviously, judges always had confidence in the legal arguments he made. He was always fair,” she adds. Often, Williams would also put his humor to good work at trial. Schott recalls a McLean, Va., bank robbery they tried together in April 1981. Among the evidence were some ski masks and clothing. Williams did the rebuttal during closing arguments. “He looked at the jury and he looked at the clothing and he took one of the ski masks and put it over his head. He looked back at the jury and said, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, anyone for skiing on the slopes of McLean in April?’ It made the case.” But Williams’ impact on the legal community is perhaps most deeply felt in the judgment and wisdom he shared with hundreds of colleagues throughout his career. As many as 800 mourners attended his funeral, many of them current and former AUSAs who learned at his side. When Charles Rosenberg, now counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, was an AUSA at the Eastern District, his office was down the hall from Williams’ office. “The library was to my right and Justin was to my left. And if I had a question about a case I went to my left,” Rosenberg says. “I’ve never done this before in my entire life, but I keep his picture under the glass top of my desk,” he says. And McNulty jokes that when faced with a tough call, he wishes he had “a WWJD bracelet to tell me ‘What Would Justin Do.’ “ During the week following Williams’ death, “we were considering ways to remember Justin that would encourage people professionally in the way that he had,” McNulty says. On Dec. 11, at a districtwide meeting in Williamsburg that Williams’ wife and children attended, McNulty presented the first Justin W. Williams Award for Excellence to Nash Schott. The award will be presented periodically to an AUSA who excels in the areas of professionalism, service, scholarship, and legal practice. “It was very humbling, to say the least,” Schott says of receiving the award named for his friend. A plaque stating the award hangs next to Williams’ picture in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alexandria. Says Schott: “I tell the younger AUSAs that when new people come in and see that picture of Justin and ask, ‘Who is that?’ tell them, ‘He was the best. Simply put, he was the best we ever had.’ “

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