When looking over the list of Times-Mirror Citizens of the Year since 1963, there is one man whose name could have been listed for the honor any one of the last 25 to 30 years.
Not only is Leesburg resident Thomas D. Horne regarded as one of the most respected circuit court judges in the commonwealth of Virginia, but he has also dedicated countless hours to volunteering in Loudoun.
From youth sports leagues to civic organizations to special committees – you name it, and Horne has probably had something to do with it or in many cases, even founded it.
But the way he’s gone about all these accomplishments with a quiet humbleness often can make Horne go unnoticed to Loudoun residents, and that’s the way he would have it.
He once told the Times-Mirror that he likes to start projects, see them through until they become successful, then hand them off to other capable hands so that they continue.
That way, “it doesn’t become your thing, but everybody’s thing,” Horne said.
His sense of community coupled with his stellar career in Virginia’s judicial system makes Thomas D. Horne the perfect choice for the Loudoun Times-Mirror’s Citizen of the Year for 2010.
A respected judge
After growing up in Baltimore, Horne decided during his senior year at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania to pursue a career in the law. He graduated from the College of William & Mary’s Marshall-Wythe School of Law in 1969.
From there, he served as a captain in the United States Marine Corps, where he worked as a criminal defense lawyer and a judge.
Horne has been a presence in the Loudoun legal community since 1972, practicing law as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney and in private practice for eight years before becoming the county’s first full-time elected commonwealth’s attorney.
In 1982, Horne was appointed as a circuit court judge, where he has served ever since, building a reputation as one of Virginia’s finest. In 2009, he received the Harry L. Carrico Outstanding Career Service Award, a statewide honor.
“Judge Horne is one of the most respected circuit judges in the commonwealth of Virginia,” said Justice Bill Mims, who represented Loudoun in Virginia’s General Assembly before serving in the state attorney general’s office and now sits on Virginia’s Supreme Court.
Mims said one of Horne’s biggest accomplishments statewide is preparing what’s known as the bench book, a guide that judges around the state use.
“In that regard, he is a mentor for all new and continuing circuit judges,” he said.
Before serving as a state delegate and senator, Mims practiced law before Horne in Loudoun. He said that if things he has learned from Horne are reflected in his Supreme Court service, then that service is definitely better than it would have been without Horne’s influence.
“I never told him at the time that he was a mentor, but in many ways he was, by demonstrating to me the highest standards of judicial temperament and fairness,” Mims said.
Judge Burke McCahill, Horne’s colleague on the bench, who was once a defense attorney when Horne was a prosecutor, agreed with Mims’ assessment.
“Judge Horne has always been known as courteous and respectful of all litigants, patient and dignified.,” McCahill said. “Most of all, I think he shows a tremendous work ethic here and throughout his career.”
Alice Alkire, who is the office manager for the judges, said that Horne’s work ethic and caring attitude toward everyone show in “the respect that he commands from everyone in the community.”
Loudoun County Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary Clemens also noted Horne’s work ethic, saying that often when he leaves the courthouse at 7:30 p.m. or later, Horne is still in his office working on opinions or reading court files.
Clemens said Horne is always willing to help him with historical-records projects and new technology measures. For example, Horne was the first judge to try out the digital docket, a system Clemens initiated in which all the cases for the day are posted on video monitors throughout the courthouse.
“I’ve been the clerk here for 11 years, and it’s been a privilege to work with him,” Clemens said, noting that that isn’t always the case between circuit court clerks and judges in other jurisdictions. “He’s certainly made my job easier.”
Horne also makes time for the attorneys throughout Loudoun, said Jon Huddleston, a local lawyer who is past president of the Virginia State Bar.
“He must be the single most accommodating jurist in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Huddleston said. “He works very hard to ensure that litigants get time before the court to have their matters heard, and this is often a very difficult thing to accomplish.”
A pillar of the community
While Horne’s service to Loudoun’s court system would be enough to make him a standout citizen, his service to the community goes much deeper.
In the early 1980s, Horne was instrumental in helping youth soccer form and prosper in the county, and in 1989, he brought lacrosse to the county, forming the Loudoun County Youth Lacrosse League.
“Both those organizations owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to my father,” said Rob Horne, Judge Horne’s son, who is a teacher and the boys’ lacrosse coach at Middleburg Academy.
“It is amazing to see in 20 years what something he started has become,” Rob Horne added, saying that the youth lacrosse program served as a platform for all the high school level teams now in Loudoun, including the team he coaches in Middleburg.
“Without him inspiring me to learn this sport, I may still be searching for a passion,” Rob Horne said.
In addition to his work with youth sports, Horne is a charter member of the Loudoun County YMCA, a former cub master for the Boy Scouts of America, a former Loudoun County High School PTA president, and the first chairman of Loudoun County High School’s all-night, drug-free graduation.
Other organizations include the Rotary Club of Leesburg, the Marine Corps League and legal organizations throughout the county, state and country.
One of the things he’s most known for among area attorneys is founding the Loudoun Bar Association’s Leadership in the Law Camp 11 years ago.
The week-long summer camp helps rising high school seniors in Loudoun and Fauquier counties looking at careers in law get acquainted with Virginia’s legal system.
Leesburg town attorney Jeanette Irby was in charge of the 2010 camp and said that having Horne involved is instrumental.
“Without Judge Horne sponsoring the program and lending his support, the program would not happen,” she said, adding that Horne utilizes his many connections throughout Virginia to give the campers a full experience, including high-profile guest speakers and a trip to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
It takes about 300 volunteers to pull the camp off, Irby said. Her son was a participant last year and called it “one of the best experiences he’s ever had,” she said.
“It helps [the campers] make the decision whether or not they want to pursue a legal career,” Irby said.
At the end of law camp, the students participate as attorneys in mock trials. McCahill has served as a judge for some of those trials and said the campers are so poised in the courtroom that “you have to pinch yourself a couple of times” to realize that they are only high schoolers.
“It’s really inspiring,” McCahill said.
A family man
With all of his service to Loudoun’s courts and the community, you would think Horne wouldn’t have much time left for his family or personal activities, but according to his son , that’s not the case.
“He is and remains my greatest role model,” Rob Horne said, calling his dad a “tremendous family man.”
The judge has been and continues to always be there for his wife, Patricia, their son, Rob, their daughter, Jennifer and their four grandchildren.
Horne also takes time to keep himself in good physical shape, running several times a week and training for a climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in March, according to his son.
“He’s a special person,” Rob Horne said. “He has a gift of communicating and associating with people, and I think that’s a mark, maybe the foundation of his legacy.”
In recognizing Judge Horne for his many years of service to the county, it should be noted that the Loudoun County courthouse is staffed with numerous individuals who should also be recognized for their service – both in and out of the courtroom. Behind every extraordinary judge is an extraordinary staff. In that context, the Times-Mirror would like to extend our thanks to the contributions of all our past and present judges, clerks, stenographers, security personnel and other staff members who have strived to make the Loudoun court system as efficient, responsive and fair as possible.
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