It's Innovation vs. Experience in Prosecutor's Race
Sunday, November 4, 2007
In the 40 years that Robert F. Horan Jr. was Fairfax County's top prosecutor, not much changed in the way his office went after criminals, even as the county's population doubled to more than 1 million people.
Horan kept the number of assistant prosecutors to a minimum, gave them large caseloads and trained them well before they left for higher-paying jobs. He won the big cases, and the crime rate steadily declined.
On Tuesday, Horan's chief deputy for 19 years, Raymond F. Morrogh, is asking voters for his turn. Horan stepped down in September instead of seeking an 11th term, and Morrogh, 50, is the Democratic nominee against Republican Patrick A. McDade, 35. Their race has touched off a rare, lively debate in Fairfax over the future of the commonwealth's attorney's office in a county that has changed dramatically since Horan (D) was first elected.
Morrogh is depicting himself as Horan's logical heir. He expresses admiration for his longtime boss at every opportunity, pointing to his and Horan's repeated successes in such cases as the CIA shootings in 1993 and the sniper killings in 2002 and a 92 percent conviction rate.
McDade has no such long r¿sum¿ or tie to Horan. He has been an assistant prosecutor in Arlington County for two years. But he's done his homework, studying what he considers to be the flaws in an office run by the same man for 40 years. McDade drops the word "modern" into every sentence he can when discussing his approach to the job.
"When Horan came in, you wanted a top trial attorney as commonwealth's attorney," McDade said. "But in a jurisdiction like Fairfax, what you need is an effective administrator and manager who's going to set policies and procedures that will allow for successful prosecution of modern crimes in a modern jurisdiction."
Before law school, McDade spent eight years as an Internet technology manager who advised businesses on how to better use their resources and technology. Taking a similar analytical approach to the Fairfax prosecutor's office, McDade determined that the office was vastly understaffed, with 21 assistant prosecutors to handle thousands of felonies each year. This came in part, McDade believes, because statistics show that Fairfax plea-bargains so many felony cases -- more than 70 percent, by his count -- that the state doesn't provide more funding for more prosecutors when it looks at Fairfax's caseload.
Morrogh questions McDade's statistics, which he says are inaccurate. And he particularly loathes the possibility that a neophyte could take over the office he joined as a young assistant in 1983.
"The office of the chief law enforcement officer of Fairfax County is no place for on-the-job training," Morrogh said at a recent debate. "My opponent really has no idea what he's getting into. You cannot delegate responsibility for the life-and-death decisions a prosecutor makes. You need to have experience with cases to know what to do."
Morrogh acknowledges that the prosecutor's office is understaffed, a point on which he differed with Horan. As soon as Horan retired, Morrogh added five assistant prosecutors, and he said he would like to hire five more. He also said he was going to try to raise the salaries of his assistants.
"But I won't manipulate the statistics to make it look like we're in dire straits when we're not. That's the bureaucrat's approach," Morrogh said.
Statistics are at the center of McDade's campaign. "Seventy-two percent of felony charges in Fairfax County are dismissed or reduced" is often the first line of his speech or opening statement in debates as Morrogh grits his teeth. McDade says a combination of multiple charges and overworked prosecutors leads to the largest number of plea bargains in the state.