Fairfax's Longtime Prosecutor To Depart

Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. answers reporters' questions after one of his controversial decisions: not to prosecute a Prince George's officer in a Fairfax killing.
Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. answers reporters' questions after one of his controversial decisions: not to prosecute a Prince George's officer in a Fairfax killing. (By Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In an increasingly complex legal world, Robert F. Horan Jr. keeps it old school. He typically shows up for hearings, and trials, by himself -- no legal assistants, no junior prosecutors. A legal pad. A case file. Maybe a law book.

Fairfax County's chief prosecutor for 40 years sits with the other lawyers on Friday motions days, waiting for his case to be called like everyone else. The judges tend to call his first, though. His office doesn't have a Web page. Or a spokesman. He doesn't have voice mail.

But the old school is closing. Horan announced yesterday that he will not run for an 11th term. His hearing is failing, he said, though it has been for years, and he wasn't sure he could serve four more years, though his health is good.

When other prosecutors have long since staked out a daily tee time or abandoned the courtroom for administrative tasks, Horan, 74, continues to try cases. Next month, he and his chief deputy will tackle a double-murder death penalty trial with no witnesses and no statement from the defendant, in what probably will be Horan's swan song.

His departure as the longest-serving prosecutor in Virginia -- "the bull prosecutor," he has often called himself -- opens the door for a mad scramble to succeed him, because the filing deadline for the Democratic and Republican primaries is Friday.

Even as Horan has resisted change, the county has exploded around him, growing from a sleepy community of about 261,000 to a diverse, sprawling suburb with more than a million people. Alumni of his office have gone on to become judges at the state Supreme Court, appeals court, circuit and district courts, as well as commonwealth's attorneys, federal prosecutors and state legislators.

"I think it's time to go," Horan said he concluded after a "most miserable 30 days" of agonizing over his decision. "One day I was up, one day I was no. I've changed my mind three times in the past weeks."

And so he will go. His longtime chief deputy, Raymond F. Morrogh, said he plans to seek the Democratic nomination. Mike Thompson Jr., the acting chair of the Fairfax Republican Committee, said he fielded numerous calls yesterday, and it appeared that at least one candidate would submit petitions and a filing fee by Friday for the Republican ticket.

Lawyers, both locally and nationally, reflected yesterday on the end of an era. The man who was personally selected by the U.S. attorney general to try one of the first sniper cases, and who prosecuted the shooter of five people outside CIA headquarters in 1993 from incident to execution, was stepping down.

"Bob is really a legend in the prosecution community," said Joshua Marquis, a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association and a county prosecutor in northwestern Oregon. "One reason is, he has consistently continued to try large numbers of cases while running a large office, which is virtually unheard of in the U.S. Very few people do it."

In 2003, when the district attorneys association issued its first lifetime achievement award, they gave it to Horan. And that was before he and Morrogh tried the capital case against Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the two sniper suspects arrested in the killings of 10 people in the Washington area a year earlier.

The trial, which was moved to Chesapeake, Va., was exhausting for Horan and Morrogh, who both battled respiratory infections. But for his closing argument, Horan stood sturdily three feet from the jury, without notes or a podium to lean on.

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