The life of a defense lawyer

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 4, 2007



CHARLESTON -- Most people don't know Tom Smith.

But, if you are at the Capitol or if you are need of a good defense lawyer, you know his name.

The first time I ever heard about Tom Smith was before I was even in the Legislature.

Tom was defending Truman Chafin in a federal wiretapping trial.

I didn't know either from Adam.

But, during the case that was unfolding in the paper and on the TV, I found myself pulling for Truman to beat the feds.

Truman was accused of wiretapping his ex-wife's phone conversation which is a federal crime, of course. If anyone remembers it, there were bizarre twists and turns, trips to Germany (the dude Truman hired as a private investigator fled the country or something like that), so the feds went go Germany to bring the guy back to testify against Truman.

Of course, Truman's lawyers' skewered the guy and a jury acquits him.

Of course, anytime the feds get their claws into you, you normally go down. The last thing you want to hear on the other line is this is FBI agent so and so, and we're doing an investigation ...

Normally, that's bad news.

Of course, the reason I found myself pulling for Truman (before I ever knew him) was it seemed to me that if Truman was some Joe-shmoe down the street, and not the Senate Majority Leader, the feds could have cared less if he listened in on his ex's phone conversation. That didn't make it right, just telling you my feelings as an interested observer.

So, anyway, Truman's lawyer was Tom Smith. And, in what is a RARE case, Truman and Tom beat the feds.

Since I've been in the Senate, Tom has been a major (or the major) lawyer for the Judiciary Committee. (Of course, every defendant wants the lawyer who is actually writing the laws to represent him.)

And, let me say this, if I was ever in trouble criminally (which would never happen of course, unless the Gazette and my-ex get their wish and divorces -- well, for the Gazette, let me rephrase that, Republican divorces -- become criminal matters), then Tom is the guy I would call.

OK, that being said ...

Did anyone read Tom's comments about the guy who drove his car through the Capitol and caused $200,000 damage to the Veterans' Memorial?

Tom's comment?

"There appears to be medical implications to this."

M-E-D-I-C-A-L ... I-M-P-L-I-C-A-T-I-O-N-S?

Say what?

What a riot!

I guess you have to think of something to say when a reporter asks you a question. I guess as a defense lawyer you can't really say, "the crazy S.O.B. lost his mind." (Although knowing Tom, I wouldn't doubt if he didn't say just that privately.)

But, medical implications?

I can't wait to hear the defense of this one.

Yeah, right. I mean, I see it all the time when I'm walking into the Capitol. People with a certain medical condition are always tooling around the middle of the Capitol in their compact cars. Everyone always just shakes their head and nods, "yep, another case of drive-your-car-around-the-Capitol-like-a-lunatic-itis."

I mean, couldn't you say something better?

But, a medical condition caused the guy to try to drive his car up the steps of the Cultural Center? Thank goodness he didn't have an SUV!

Ah, such is the life of the defense lawyer.

Sprouse has served in the Legislature since 1995 and resides in Charleston. He graduated from Penn State University with a Chemical Engineering degree and currently owns and operates several fitness centers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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