Wood Inn April 16, 1982
Judge John Howland Wood, Jr., for whom our Inn is named, served as Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District from 1970 until his death in 1979.
Born in Rockport, Texas on March 31, 1916, Judge Wood attended high school and college in San Antonio. He earned his L.L.B. from the University of Texas in 1938 and, with the exception of naval duty during World War II, practiced law with one of San Antonio's prominent law firms, Beckmann, Stanard & Olson, until ascending to the bench. During his 30 plus years as an active trial lawyer, he was attorney of record in over 3,000 contested civil cases.
The first John Howland Wood, Judge Wood's great, great grandfather, settled his family in Texas in 1836, founding the towns of Rockport, Saint Mary's and Woodsboro. He first fought in the Texas War of Independence, later in the War of 1848, and then in the War Between the States. Colonel Wood imbued his family with the ethic of personal and civic responsibility, a family tradition embraced by Judge John Wood, Jr. a century later.
Active in civic and judicial affairs, Judge Wood was indisputably dedicated to his profession. He was cited by the State Bar of Texas for outstanding service in his work with the Institute of Continuing Legal Education. He wrote and lectured widely, and authored an educational tape of the Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for the State Bar.
Issues of constitutional rights were particularly important to Judge Wood. As a member of the Federal Judicial Center's Committee on Prisoner Civil Rights, he addressed not only the special problems of men and women in the prison system, but also the broader questions surrounding the 14th Amendment of the Constitution
Judge Wood was also known for his stringent adherence to courtroom procedures. In the course of one year, while a visiting Judge in the El Paso Division, Judge Wood disposed of over 700 cases, labeled a "superhuman performance" by one of his colleagues. His strong-willed courtroom presence and his willingness to give maximum sentences to drug traffickers earned him the sobriquet of "Maximum John".
May 29, 1979, Judge Wood was murdered by a lone bullet to his back as he was leaving his home to go to his chambers. His murder launched the most extensive FBI investigation to date, proving more costly than the assassination of President Kennedy investigation. Judge Wood was the first of a sitting Federal Judge murdered in this century and the first contract murder of a Federal Judge in U.S. history.
Implicated in the murder was an El Paso drug lord who the government said ordered the killing because he was facing a lifetime sentence in Wood's courtroom. Charles Harrelson, father of movie star/ comedian Woody Harrelson, was convicted of having actually pulled the trigger for which he was reportedly paid $250,000. He is currently serving two life sentences in a Colorado maximum security prison.
It is a sad commentary that Judge Wood is remembered by the public more for the fame of his murderer than for the principles he espoused and the contributions he made. However, sensationalism will fade. What endures is his dedication to a better world through truth and justice. During the memorial ceremony naming the San Antonio United States Courthouse after Judge Wood, the following resolution was read:
Be It Resolved Before the Judges Assembled: In law, the truth is your only commandment. It is the sword against your foe, the shield against your enemy. It is the mistress demanding absolute loyalty and fidelity. In law, the truth is everything; beyond it, there is nothing. This concept, more than any other, profoundly influenced the every thought of Judge Wood. It permeated his pen in every written opinion and pervaded his words in every oral ruling. . . . He is a symbol of what we all strive for: truth, integrity, and devotion to duty and country. Most assuredly, he has left his mark on mankind, and his memory will only serve to give us strength.