At Judge Thomas D. Horne's retirement party on Nov. 26, courtroom 2A was opened and loaded with food, with members of the legal community invited to celebrate.
But walking into the lofty room, one didn't see people ravaging the spread, or even really chatting amongst themselves. Rather, a dozen people surrounded the man of honor, who, with a booming voice familiar to Loudoun's legal community, entertained the crowd with stories from his career.
“He's an icon,” said Stephanie Strosnider, who has worked with Horne for 13 years. “We all look up to him.”
This December has been the first month in four decades that Judge Horne hasn't been a part of Loudoun's legal community. Consistent with a Virginia requirement that forces judges to retire at age 70, Horne stepped down Dec. 1 from the bench.
“It's something you look forward to for a long time, but then you get there and there are mixed emotions,” Horne said somewhat wistfully during a Nov. 27 interview. “There was always something challenging, something new.”
A Baltimore native, Horne grew up playing football and lacrosse and, along with his mental acumen, it was his aptitude for sports that helped him attend college.
At Muhlenberg college, in Allentown, Pa., Horne played football and studied history, graduating with a bachelor's in history in 1965.
“I originally wanted to be an architect, like [Horne's son] Rob was,” Horne said. “Then I went to college, got more and more interested in the law.”
After a brief stint with the Census Bureau, Horne headed to the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary, earning his law degree and passing the bar in 1969. From there, he jointed the United States Marine Corps as a JAG officer, serving overseas in Vietnam.
Upon returning stateside, Horne and his wife, Patricia, moved to Reston, near her family, and Horne commuted to his duty station position in Quantico. Were it not for an unfortunate snowy evening, Horne recalled, he may not have ever ended up Loudoun.
“I ended up getting stuck in the snow one drive home for five hours,” Horne said. “I found a new opportunity that was closer.”
That opportunity was working as an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Loudoun County part time, while running a private practice on the side, something possible, Horne said, because Loudoun was “quite different then.”
But as much of an icon as Horne is to Loudoun now, he admits that it wasn't always the case. At one point, Horne felt that he and his family didn't fit in at all.
“When I first moved here in 1972, it was a bit of a closed society,” he confessed. “Sometimes people didn't talk to you, sometimes they were cold. It was a struggle at first.”
But Horne saw not only tremendous opportunities professionally, but also a good place to raise a family, which then consisted of a daughter, Jennifer, but would later grow to include his son.
Horne said he eventually fell in love with Leesburg. As professional opportunities grew, including a stint as town attorney for Middleburg, and personal opportunities expanded, he and his family started to cement themselves in Loudoun.
“We felt more and more a part of this community,” Horne said.
In 1979, Horne became Loudoun's first full-time, elected Commonwealth's Attorney.
“I would have loved being a Commonwealth's Attorney for my entire life, except for the lack of diversity of cases,” Horne said.
Horne would stay Loudoun's Commonwealth's Attorney for just three years, because in 1982 he appointed to the Loudoun County Circuit Court as a judge.
It wasn't Horne's first time as a judge; during his years of military service, he served as a judge.
But Horne “grew up” with major changes in the appellate system, noting that in 1995, Virginia became a no-parole state. Horne himself is very versed in the changes of the circuit court. For 27years, beginning in 1984, he helped write the “bench books,” used as a reference by judges and attorneys across the state.
As a judge, Horne has heard a cornucopia of cases, including land disputes, murders and the first SPAM case heard in the country. His work ethic is evident, as colleagues report that they have on many occasions found him working in his office at 8 p.m.
Watching him practice, bailiff Brandon Leigh said, really demonstrates what a patient and fair man he is.
“I've been humbled by the patience he exhibits for all people,” Leigh said. “He's dedicated to justice, to making sure everyone has a say.”
Judge Pamela Brooks, who is a juvenile judge, clerked for Horne as law student.
“From the 15 or 16 months I clerked for you, I learned what public service really is,” Brooks told Horne at his retirement party.
But Horne didn't lock himself in the courtroom over the course of the year; on the contrary, he's spent the last decades active in the community, in everything from youth sports to the Rotary Club.
In the 1980s, Horne was instrumental in bringing lacrosse to Loudoun, starting the Loudoun Lacrosse League in 1989.
“We started with 20 kids and cardboard box goals,” Horne laughed.
While the vocational school eventually built goals for the kids, who would play other area teams, Horne remembered that he used to carry around chalk to line the fields because no one else could. He also coached youth soccer.
In 1999, he helped start Law Camp, which still exists and helps showcase the legal profession to high schoolers in the area.
In whatever remaining free time he has, Horne also runs, having raced in several marathons, which he finds “really rewarding.”
“My first summer in the Marine Corps was hellacious,” Horne said. “I decided I was never going to get that out of a shape again.”
When asked how he is able to do all that he does in a 24-hour-day, Horne confessed he didn't know.
Though Horne is retiring, he won't be gone for long. In January, he'll return to Loudoun as a part-time judge, filling in as a substitute until his replacement is appointed. Later, he intends to work as a mediator.
Additionally, this retiring judge was appointed to a special committee that is looking at revising criminal discovery rules.
For his part, Horne attributes much of his success to all of those around him.
“I'm an ordinary person who has been around extraordinary people of all different backgrounds,” Horne said.
“If I could give any advice to young people, it's to be a sponge,” he continued. “Soak everything up. We're not here very long.”