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From D.C. Homicide Beat to Charles Bench

Hennessy Brings Range Of Legal Experiences To New Job as Judge

By Arthur Santana
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page SM03

He has seen the gritty inner workings of Washington and Maryland politics. He commanded the D.C. police homicide branch at a time when killings in the city were at a record high. He has worked as a criminal defense and personal injury lawyer and served as a delegate in the General Assembly.

Now, W. Louis Hennessy -- a man with many friends and, yes, he acknowledges, a few enemies -- has begun a new chapter of his career: He is the newest judge on the District Court for Charles County, appointed to replace Gary S. Gasparovic, who retired in September.

W. Louis Hennessy is the newest judge on the District Court for Charles County. He has led the D.C. police homicide squad, been a criminal defense lawyer and served in the House of Delegates. (Rafael Crisostomo For The Washington Post)

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"I never thought I'd end up here," Hennessy said during a recent interview as he sat at his desk in his judicial chambers at the courthouse in La Plata. "Way back when I joined the police department when I was 18, I didn't even know how someone became a lawyer."

But Hennessy, 50, who is known as "Lou" to friends and acquaintances, is the first to say that he has always been able to recognize a good opportunity. He said that after he retired from the D.C. police department after nearly 25 years, a whole world of possibilities opened for him.

"Every time I've turned around since I've left the police department, there's been an opportunity just glaring at me," Hennessy said.

Now, Hennessy said, he is ready to put his varied experiences to work as he handles a docket of criminal, civil and motor vehicle cases in his $112,252-a-year position.

Hennessy was sworn in on Feb. 1 and began hearing cases Feb. 17. "It's different than being a police captain," he said. "It's different than being an attorney, but all that helped . . . what I'm doing now."

Though he's been out of the limelight for years, Hennessy is never far from his history. A thick manila envelope in his office contains stacks of newspaper clippings on events in which he was involved. His mother cut them out over the years, he said.

Some clips go back 35 years, to when he played basketball at High Point High School in Prince George's County. Others are accounts from when Hennessy commanded the D.C. police homicide branch during the height of the crack cocaine wars of the mid-1980s and early 1990s -- a period he recalls as a defining time in his life.

Hennessy joined the police department at 18 with only a high school degree. He was a close observer of others he worked with, especially the lawyers.

"There's nothing they're doing that I'm not capable of," Hennessy recalled thinking. As his experience and confidence grew, he also told himself, "These guys have nothing on me except an education."

In 1980, Hennessy joined the homicide squad. By the mid-1980s a series of promotions began -- from private to captain in less than four years. In 1988, when he was 33, Hennessy began attending Prince George's Community College; he later transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park -- all while still working at the police department.

"There were a lot of nights where I got only two hours of sleep," Hennessy said.

By September 1993, Hennessy was commanding the homicide squad, overseeing more than 100 detectives who had to deal with a high homicide rate. From 1989 through 1993, there were more than 400 homicides each year in the District. The all-time high was 482 in 1991, according to D.C. police statistics.

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