The Pittsburgh Foundation

Firm legal footingJames Fulton Congressional Internship

Judge Mark Hornak stands ready to serve in Courtroom 6A of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

By Tony Norman Tony is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, living and working in Pittsburgh

IN 2016, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County awarded 885 scholarship grants totaling $2.5 million, transforming lives for western Pennsylvania students and their families. One such scholarship is the James Fulton Congressional Internship. Designed for highly qualified students with an interest in government, this scholarship was established at the Foundation in 1972 by Congressman Fulton, who spent his career, in part, training students to be equipped for work in government. That fund was later combined with the J. Steele Gow Political Internship Fund established by J. Steele Gow, a Falk Foundation executive who had a passion for economic and political science research. Combined, these two funds provide scholarships for up to two students a year to intern with Pennsylvania congressional representatives. In 1977, Judge Mark Hornak received the scholarship, which set him on a career path toward law and community service.

When the Honorable Mark, R. Hornak , a self-proclaimed “Pittsburgh guy,” was appointed a U.S. district judge by President Barack Obama in 2011, it was the kind of recognition that could reasonably be taken for granted given his career trajectory over the last four decades if he were inclined to do so. But that wouldn’t be Judge Hornak’s style.

Born in Homestead and raised in Munhall, Hornak looks as if he could’ve emerged from central casting as the judge in any television movie. Conscientious to a fault when narrating his journey to the bench, Hornak has a quick smile and an even quicker inclination to share the credit for his accomplishments with those who helped him along the way.

For someone who has accomplished as much as he has, Hornak exudes pride in his roots in working-class western Pennsylvania that will never be eclipsed by his prowess on the bench.

He immediately strikes one as the kind of person who would be as comfortable eating pierogis at a bar with old friends from the neighborhood as he would be discussing the intricacies of intellectual property law, an area in which he hears many cases.

He has an eye for detail that is evident in every sentence. If anyone is going to notice the little things that slip by others, it will be Hornak.

As a National Merit Scholar, Hornak graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude in 1978. In 1981, he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law where he also served as editor-in-chief of the law review.

For all his academic achievements, a significant part of Hornak’s success can be traced to the summer of 1977, when he was awarded the James G. Fulton Congressional Internship from The Pittsburgh Foundation and served in the Washington, D.C., office of the Honorable William S. Moorhead (PA-14), dean of the congressional delegation from western Pennsylvania.

Before receiving the Fulton, Hornak had begun thinking of government service, but not necessarily the law, as early as high school. In 1975, a year after he graduated from Steel Valley High School, he ran for a seat on the school board and lost.

Alberta Culbertson, the winner of that race, graciously wrote one of the two letters of recommendation he needed during the application process for the internship. Pitt professor Bill Keefe, a political science teacher whose class on the legislative process deepened Hornak’s
interest in public service, wrote the other. A college transcript and a 300-word essay stating why the applicant wants to participate in the program is the only other requirement.

When he got the internship, and learned he was assigned to work for Rep. Moorhead who represented the 14th District, he was surprised, but pleased. “I was not from the 14th District,” he said. “I was from the 20th — Congressman [Joseph] Gaydos’ district.”

Because Gaydos had half Moorhead’s seniority, the opportunity for seeing how things got done at a congressional whip’s level was a perk he hadn’t counted on. When he moved to Washington, Hornak would find himself in the center of the action. Three years after Nixon’s resignation, when talk of government reform was still thick in the air, that was an exciting proposition.

-Mark R. Hornak

Besides legislative research in the pre-internet era and pulling together material for white papers on any given subject, one of his first big duties was to do the first draft of the speech that Rep. Moorhead delivered every Fourth of July on the radio.

Hornak was especially proud that a speech he wrote for the congressman honoring K. Leroy Irvis, the first (and last) African American speaker of the house in Pennsylvania, sailed through with no major adjustments or alterations. It was a heady time for the young intern.
But it was the case work from constituents that the future judge enjoyed working on the most. “I got to see [the letters] from people who weren’t getting their veterans benefits or weren’t getting an answer back [from some bureaucracy] or wanted to purchase a flag flown over the Capitol or wanted to bring their Brownie troop to D.C.

“I got to see how important it was to the congressional staff and how integral it was to them. It was not some theoretical thing. It really mattered.”

The intervening 30 years, some spent in the private sector working for a big, local law firm, haven’t changed Hornak’s orientation as he made his way up the judicial ranks. “We work on behalf of the people of the United States,” he said. “We try not to forget who works for whom.”

Original story appeared in Report to the Community 2016-17