<I>Vox populi</I>: Lloyd Snook pleads his case

Two years ago, when Republican Rob Schilling was elected to City Council, Democratic Party chair Lloyd Snook took the heat for being at the helm when the Dems lost their first seat in 16 years.

"There was a lot of criticism," says Snook, "towards the party, the campaign, and me personally. One of the reasons I had to run again for party chair was to redeem myself."

With the recent election– in which three Democratic candidates trounced the Republicans– Snook can in good conscience turn over party leadership.

That may mean more time to devote to his criminal defense law practice. Snook's socially liberal background makes it no surprise that he would become one of the state's leading death penalty lawyers. But back in law school at the University of Michigan, he actually wanted to be an environmental lawyer– until he discovered that most environmental law is administrative law. "I found it kind of boring," he says. Nor did a summer spent working at the large law firm strike a chord with him.

It was in a summer job with Lowe and Gordon in Charlottesville that he discovered he liked representing people. That firm pulled him back to his home town in 1979– and into death penalty cases.

At the time, UVA law professor Richard Bonnie was studying mental health issues in death penalty appeals, and Snook was assigned to help. "I ended up working on five death penalty cases before I'd been practicing law six months," he says.

And when he left to open his own firm with wife Sheila Haughey, his old boss John Lowe "graciously" allowed me to take the death penalty cases which "don't pay anyway," he says.

As a kid, Snook says, he rode his bike all over Charlottesville and to places in the county that no longer exist. He recalls playing "Rotunda," an only-in-Charlottesville version of hide and seek in which one counts to 533 on the south face of the Rotunda– "I learned all sorts of neat hiding places at UVA." Now that's a townie.

What's with the unusual name? Snook? "It's a contraction of Sennock, which is a contraction of Seven Oaks," he says. South of London at Tunbridge Wells, Snook saw something he'd never seen before: more than two Snooks in the phone book. In fact, a whole slew of Snooks.

And no, he's no relation to Snooky's Pawn Shop. "Although we do get phone calls for them sometimes," he laughs.

Age: 51

What brought you here? My family moved here when I was eight, and my wife and I decided to move back here after law school because it seemed to be a good place to be both lawyers and parents.

What's worst about living here? Too many other lawyers had the same idea.

Favorite hangout? Any place that has a baseball game going on

Most overrated virtue? Neatness

What would people be surprised to know about you? I supported Barry Goldwater in 1964 (too young to vote for him, though).

If you could change one thing about yourself? I would find a way to work less, sleep more, and make more money in the process.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Of the 24 capital murder defendants that I have represented starting at trial, 23 are alive today.

What do people find most annoying about you? Sometimes I am more determined to win an argument than to listen to the other person.

Whom do you admire? Stephen Bright, head of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. He's a brilliant, passionate, humble advocate for his clients.

Favorite book? The Lord of the Rings– I have read the whole trilogy more times than it would be politic to admit.

What subject causes you to rant? People who are convinced that those who disagree with them are not just wrong, but willfully wrongheaded, to use [Civil War historian] Bruce Catton's phrase.

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Everything. Just being here. I love doing what I'm doing, where I'm doing it, and with whom I'm doing it.

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? How tenuous our privacy rights are, and how little many people seem to care

What do you drive? A 2001 Nissan Sentra

What's in your car CD/tape player right now? Jimmy Buffett and the Bach B-Minor Mass

What's your next journey? Physically, to the beach in July. Metaphysically, to figure out how to deal with the fact that I am not as young as I still think I am.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? At the risk of sounding like George W. Bush, I can't think of anything. (Although if I were George W. Bush, I'd have no trouble thinking of an answer to that question.)

What do you regret? In my first year in college at Stanford, my father came out to Monterey for a conference, and he invited me to come to Pebble Beach to play a round of golf. It was almost exam time, and I did the responsible thing– I said, "Gee Dad, I need to study." I have still never played Pebble Beach.

Favorite comfort food? Homemade tollhouse cookies

What's always in your refrigerator? Leftover pasta

Must-see TV? Orioles baseball games

Favorite cartoon? My favorite comics (I don't see cartoons) would have to be Zits and Boondocks.

Describe a perfect day. Sleep in. Go to a baseball game. Hike up Humpback Rocks with my wife, and eat a picnic dinner as the sun sets over the Allegheny Mountains. Then hike back down to the car in the moonlight.

Walter Mitty fantasy? That I had been the shortstop for the Orioles.

Who'd play you in the movie? Robert Redford, though he is short. And left-handed.

Most embarrassing moment? Life is full of little embarrassments, but I can't think of any that deserve mention.

Best advice you ever got? "Marry her." (From my father.)

Favorite bumper sticker? For the Rich– Tax Cuts. For You and Me– Duct Tape (I have about 700 left, if anyone wants them.)

Lloyd Snook