Manhattan's District Attorney from 1975 to 2009, Morgenthau retired at the end of 2009. The longest-serving D.A. in the city's history, he was replaced by Cy Vance Jr.
The scion of a political family—his father was former Secretary of State Henry Morgenthau, Jr.—Robert (or "Bob" as he's known to friends and colleagues) grew up near Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Springwood Estate in Hyde Park and raced sailboats with JFK on Cape Cod. Morgenthau attended Amherst, served in WWII, and graduated from Yale Law before heading into private practice, spending 13 years in private practice at Patterson, Belknap & Webb. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed him U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in 1961. When Richard Nixon was elected, he pressured Morgenthau to step down; after initially resisting, Morgenthau relented and returned to private practice. Itching to go back to the public sector—and after briefly considering a run for governor—he decided to run for Manhattan District Attorney in 1974. He won. He held the gig up until 2009, when he decided against seeking re-election.
Until his retirement at the age of 90, Morgenthau worked a full schedule, overseeing Manhattan's army of 500 assistant district attorneys. It's an enormous job, of course, and it was hardly a surprise when Morgenthau revealed that he planned to retire at the end of 2009 rather than seek reelection. In fact, pressure to step aside had been mounting for years. (In 2005, the New York Times somewhat surprisingly endorsed Morgenthau's opponent, Leslie Snyder, in an editorial titled "When to End an Era.") But while plenty of criticism has been leveled against him over the years—some argued that Morgenthau was too focused on white-collar crime and soft on street crime—he walks away with plenty of career victories to keep him warm. In addition to training a generation of defense lawyers, judges, and prosecutors, Morgenthau helped bring down the corrupt bank BCCI, convict Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz, and has presided over some of the most famous criminal prosecutions of the past half-century, including those of Mark David Chapman (who shot John Lennon), child-abuser Joel Steinberg, and subway vigilante Bernie Goetz.
Morgenthau has been deaf in his right ear since undergoing a childhood operation. The hearing in his left ear was damaged by gunfire when he served in the Navy during World War II.
Widely believed to be the inspiration for crotchety but loveable Law & Order D.A. Adam Schiff (played by Steven Hill), Morgenthau has said in the past that he's a fan of the show. He's visited the set and met the cast, although he also took the show to task for featuring a D.A. with a Southern accent, actor/politician Fred Thompson.
Morgenthau has been chairman of the board of Battery Park City's Museum of Jewish Heritage since it was founded in 1997. The Robert M. Morgenthau Wing of the museum opened in 2003.
A widower, Morgenthau has been married to his second wife, writer Lucinda Franks, since 1977. He is the father of seven, including Jenny Morgenthau, who is executive director of the Fresh Air Fund. He lives on East 86th Street.