Remembering Tom Sneddon

TWS, as Tom Sneddon, Jr., was known in the DA’s Office, was a remarkable man and a District Attorney par excellence. How and why do I say this? I am the only lawyer who tried six felonies to a jury verdict against him, and then I worked for him for 24 years after I quit defense work. And I say this even though TWS was against the office hiring me (he thought I had been a defense attorney too long and would not be able to transition to being a prosecutor), but he lost out to his supervisor, Nancy Sieh (NES). A few years after I joined the DA’s Office, TWS ate a bit of humble pie when he honored me in front of the entire office as the top lawyer of the year. It was, to be sure, a Kodak moment, and one I shall never forget. TWS and I were not only opponents in court; he went to Notre Dame, and I went to USC. We got after each other every year when the “big” game week was over. It was all good natured, but we were deadly serious about it, too.

Thomas Sneddon
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman (file)

Thomas Sneddon

I first became acquainted with TWS in Santa Maria, where he was trying the Quaglino murder case for the third time (the first two resulted in hung juries), and I was defending a three-time loser in the courtroom across the hall. TWS convicted Jack Quaglino the third time around, because he finally was able to link the murder weapon (a car) to the defendant. It was sheer doggedness on TWS’s part, and, as a defense lawyer, I took special notice. He would be a force to contend with should we ever meet in a trial. And meet we did; six times in about four years. I was “O” for six against TWS, with one case reversed on appeal (sorry PJM [Patrick J. McKinley], you were wrong on TWS never losing an appeal), and published by the appeal court, meaning it became the law of California. (People v. Carl Chapman).

Then, I went to work for TWS for the next 24 years; the most memorable and the most gratifying years of my career. Why? Because of TWS. In the 24 years he was DA, the office ran smoothly: no scandal, no politics, and typified by the high moral and ethical standards he set for himself and everyone who worked for him.

It was no accident that TWS ran unopposed for his last five terms, an achievement of monumental proportions. He was simply too good at what he did, and all the other lawyers in town knew it. Many are of the opinion TWS was born to be a prosecutor. I would like to go a bit further and state that they broke the mold when he was created. Unlike PJM’s beautiful obit piece on TWS, I was not TWS’s friend. We didn’t socialize much, and politically we were worlds apart. But I loved the man, nonetheless. He was simply the best.

Farewell, TWS. God speed you on your new journey. You will be sorely missed, and never forgotten.

The real Mad Dog (Bob G).

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