Chester County Leadership: District Attorney Tom Hogan
Editor’s Note: This profile of District Attorney Tom Hogan was originally published in June 2015. VISTA Today is re-running it from its archives, in light of the recent tragedy in West Goshen that has made national headlines, and Hogan’s vow to bring justice to the family of Bianca Roberson.
Chester County has 39 percent fewer property crimes, and personal crimes are 49 percent lower in the county than the rest of Pennsylvania. Both stats are 57 percent and 55 percent, respectively, below the nation’s average.
Those low crime statistics are not accidental. Thanks to men like Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, his team of prosecutors, and the countless cops, detectives, and sheriff deputies on the beat across the county, Chester County enjoys the lowest crime statistics of any county in southeastern Pennsylvania.
VISTA Today recently asked Mr. Hogan about growing up in Green Bay, his personal journey to Chester County through a couple of the top universities in the country, meeting his wife at his first job out of law school, how 9/11 changed his life, and his motivation for administering justice to those who put themselves on the wrong side of the law.
VISTA Today: Mr. District Attorney, where did you grow up?
Tom Hogan: I grew up in Green Bay, Wisc. Dad, who grew up in Cleveland, was a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. Mom, who is originally from Northeast Philly and played basketball for Immaculata during that program’s glory days, was a philosophy professor. Dad’s main focus was on educational psychology and statistics. My five siblings and I grew up taking all his multiple choice tests to see if they worked.
VT: What other memories do you have of growing up in Green Bay?
TH: One, it was cold; two, it was snowy; and three, nobody was bothered by the snow and cold. To people in Green Bay, winter is a big playground. They skied, ice-fished, and snowmobiled. They had fun.
VT: Did you do any of that?
TH: Heck no, too cold! However, I do own my one share in the Green Bay Packers. The Packer share is a family thing that passes down from father to son. Growing up in Green Bay was like growing up in the 1950s.
VT: Were you the oldest?
TH: No, I was the second oldest. I have an older sister who also became a lawyer and worked for the FBI. My next brother down has a Ph.D. in theology and serves as the theologian for the Archbishop of Saint Louis. My next brother flies Super Hornets for the Navy. My youngest brother followed in my footsteps, attending the University of Virginia Law School, working at Morgan Lewis after graduating, and then serving in the United States Attorney’s Office just like I did. My baby sister, who is 17 years younger than me, is a Montessori school teacher. All my siblings are married and have kids. My parents have 18 grandkids.
VT: Did you play sports in high school and grade school?
TH: I was an honorable mention All-American in basketball. I was all-state in basketball, tennis, and swimming.
VT: What positions did you play in basketball?
TH: I was a point guard.
VT: Did you work in high school?
TH: In 1969, my parents and grandparents bought a big old rambling house and the neighboring lot on 35th Street in Avalon for about what it costs to rent a house in Avalon for a week these days. There was nobody in Avalon at the time. They couldn’t afford to buy anywhere else on the Jersey shore. Every summer, Dad would drive us all to Avalon, a 22-hour trip from Wisconsin.
I started working full time as a lifeguard at the shore when I was 15. I started my first year in Wildwood, and then moved back over to Avalon the following year.
Once I got to college I had many jobs. I taught tennis and swimming to kids, was a bouncer at the Princeton in Avalon, did the play-by-play announcing for Dartmouth hockey games, heaved kegs and cases in a liquor warehouse, and had a work-study job at the Dartmouth bursar’s office. You name it, I did it.
VT: What lessons did you take from your experience as a lifeguard that stay with you today?
TH: The best lesson I learned came from a more-experienced guard my first year of lifeguarding. He told me the beach was not “my beach,” but rather, I was the beach’s lifeguard. He explained that, just when you think you know everything about this beach, it will rear up and do something unpredictable and potentially dangerous.
I remember his insight to this day. The District Attorney’s office is not “my office.” This is the office of the District Attorney. While I am in office, I am its caretaker. This office is bigger than me, and this county is bigger than me. I am here simply to keep people safe and serve honorably.
VT: You had your pick of schools after high school. Why did you go to Dartmouth?
TH: I was a 6’ 1” point guard and realized I was never going to make it to the NBA. I thought getting a good education was probably going to be important.
VT: Did Dartmouth turn out to be a good choice for you?
TH: Definitely. I majored in government at Dartmouth. I played basketball for my first two years before an injury and academic interests ended my basketball career. Dartmouth turned me into a serious student.
VT: You graduated with honors from Dartmouth. You could have done anything with your Ivy League degree. Why did you choose to become a lawyer?
TH: I was different than most people in high school and college. Most of the people who go on to law school do so because they don’t know what they want to do. I always wanted to be a lawyer and always wanted to be a prosecutor.
VT: What fueled your desire to be a prosecutor?
TH: (after a long pause) What it comes down to at the end of the day is, I despise bullies. To me, criminals are just bullies. While I was never bullied as a kid, bullies always seemed to be one of the great injustices of the world.
VT: That’s very idealistic.
TH: Fighting bullies is a recurring theme that runs throughout my life, and I’m pretty comfortable with it.
VT: Why did you choose to attend the University of Virginia’s law school?
TH: Coming out of Dartmouth, I was looking at law schools mostly around the Ivies. When I visited the University of Virginia, I fell in love with the campus. It’s such a historic place, plus it was a whole heck of a lot warmer than Green Bay! I grew up in the Midwest and went to school in the Northeast. Going to school in the South gave me a chance to experience another part of the country.
VT: Was UVA a good fit?
TH: Absolutely. One of the things I liked about UVA was its Honor Code. The Code was incredibly simple. Lying, cheating, or stealing were prohibited, and the only sanction, at that time, was expulsion. So every case before the Counsel was, in effect, a death penalty case. To those kids being judged by the Honor Counsel, expulsion from UVA meant an end of their dream and an uncertain future.
The honor system at UVA was administered completely by the students. I became the Chief Honor Counsel for the entire university during my third year of law school. I was in charge of supervising both the prosecution and defense teams. I assigned prosecutors and defense team on each case, and even prosecuted and defended cases myself. While still in law school, I tried quite a few jury trials with a lot on the line. The experience reinforced for me how much I enjoyed being a prosecutor.
VT: What did you do after you graduated from law school?
TH: Coming out of law school in 1992, I had a huge student debt burden. Dartmouth and UVA were expensive, and my family didn’t have the money to pay my way. Knowing I would make more money practicing law at a private firm than I would make being a prosecutor, I took a job with Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia, one of the 10 largest law firms in the world. Morgan treated me wonderfully and paid me well, allowing me to pay down my student loans. Plus, I met my wife Victoria at Morgan. Victoria is now the General Counsel for Sungard, an international tech company headquartered in Wayne.
VT: Did you stay with Morgan a long time?
I had a great time as an Assistant District Attorney and fell in love with the job. I got to know all the police across the entire county and worked with them on absolutely everything. The police took me out on search warrants, ride-alongs, and SWAT exercises. We would go out and shoot at the range together. When I wasn’t on the road, I was in court constantly.
VT: What was the courtroom experience like?
TH: In court, I was assigned to Judge Cody, who is excellent on the law and very fair and consistent with sentencing. Judge Cody had a heavy caseload, and because the Deputy DA assigned to me had gone out sick, I was on my own trying case after case in front of Judge Cody. It was a lot of responsibility, but still fun. The assignment let me do a million things right off the bat. The police came to trust me and realized that when I asked for something in an investigation, it was so we could have the best trial possible.
VT: Sounds like you were in your element.
TH: I was! I was perfectly happy as an Assistant DA in Chester County. Then 9/11 happened. The Department of Justice called and asked me to join their team prosecuting high-level national cases.
VT: Did you take the job?
TH: District Attorney Sarcione encouraged me to take the job, telling me I would see things working for the United States Attorney’s Office I would never see in Chester County.
I took his advice and prosecuted not only terrorist cases but international drug and political corruption cases as well. It seemed like every day I would leave the house at 6 AM, and the FBI would drop me back off at my house at the end of the day around midnight, only to repeat the routine the next day. I was gone all the time.
VT: Sounds like an exciting life.
TH: It was. But by this time, my wife and I had two little kids. One day, my wife reminded me that I had agreed to be a father first! Of course, she was right. I came back to Chester County taking a job with Lamb McErlane, a West Chester law firm.
The new job was both a good pause in my career and a strong networking opportunity. I got to take my kids to school in the morning, get home at a reasonable time, and spend time with my family.
The job with Lamb also took me all around Chester County and into the county’s political circles. Chester County is so vast and diverse. You go from big corporations and finance in the East to small towns and agriculture in the South and rural country out West.
VT: As you look into the future, what challenges and opportunities do you see on the horizon?
TH: It is a difficult environment for the police in the United States right now. In many communities across the country, the police are not respected. In some of the highest reaches of the government, the cop on the beat is not given credit for what he or she does.
Luckily, here in Chester County, that is not a problem. Residents of Chester County respect the police and appreciate what they do.
Our challenge is maintaining that respect and appreciation by keeping policing standards high countywide. We have the lowest crime rate in Southeastern Pennsylvania. But with 50 different entities providing policing and law enforcement services across the county, maintaining those high standards will always be challenging.
VT: What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
TH: Take the blame, share the credit.
VT: Relate that advice to what you tell young prosecutors?
TH: I always tell young prosecutors that we grant them awesome power, including the ability to deprive a defendant of his liberty, and I expect our prosecutors to exercise that power with great responsibility and respect. No showboating or grandstanding. I tell them that if I ever catch them doing anything that undermines the integrity of the office, they will be out on the street quicker than they can say “Boo.”
Our prosecutors and detectives are tremendous. The police respect the DA’s office and know when they bring a case to the courts, the prosecutors arguing the case are not only good at their job, but good people as well.
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