After 40 Years Prosecuting Crimes, Retirement Is Scary Prospect

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2007

It's hard to picture Robert F. Horan Jr. as a defense attorney. But there was a time, in the mid-1960s, when the man who would become Fairfax County's chief prosecutor for 40 years worked on the other side of the courtroom.

Then, in 1966, while he was representing a man charged with sexual assault, the Supreme Court ruled that suspects must be advised of their rights, a precursor to the Miranda case. Horan argued that his client's confession was illegal, a judge threw it out and the man ultimately was acquitted.

"Which kind of soured me on the system," Horan said. "For the police to have taken an honest statement from the guy, and it gets thrown out, that didn't sit well."

A year later, the chief judge of Fairfax asked him to be the commonwealth's attorney. And he has been ever since.

Last week, Horan (D) announced that he will not seek an 11th term. Horan said he will resign in late summer or early fall rather than serve out his term, clearing the way for his chief deputy, Raymond F. Morrogh (D), to run as the acting commonwealth's attorney in the November general election.

Horan agonized over his decision to step down when he would have been unopposed. He said his declining hearing has troubled him, particularly in whispered bench conferences, and he noted that he would be 75 at election time.

But still, even after he decided to retire, he was ambivalent about leaving a job he clearly loves. "I'm not totally happy with it, I concede that," he said. "My wife is happy with it."

His wife, Monica, also played a role in keeping the New Jersey native in Northern Virginia in the early 1960s, paving the way for him to become the longest-serving prosecutor in the state and an institution among prosecutors nationwide.

After Horan graduated from Georgetown's law school in 1961, he was faced with the decision of staying in the area or returning to New Jersey. But to obtain a law license in New Jersey, a six-month clerkship was required.

Horan and his wife had one child and a second on the way. "I couldn't afford to be a clerk for six months," he said. "So we stayed in Virginia and never regretted it."

Horan spent two years as a Fairfax assistant prosecutor and two years in private practice. He was appointed the county's top prosecutor in March 1967, when Ralph G. Louk stepped down. He faced opposition in 1967, 1971 and 1975 but not again until 1995. And not since.

In 1967, the county was still partly rural, with vast undeveloped stretches and some large cattle farms. "There were no stoplights in Seven Corners," he recalled of the now complicated intersection near Falls Church. Horan had five assistant prosecutors that year. Today, he has 22, still a low number compared with surrounding counties.

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