Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Smith youngest in state


31-year-old attorney sees gender, youth as assets

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — Linda Tally Smith, Boone County's first female commonwealth attorney, cherishes the characteristics that some might deem as strikes against her.

        At 31, she is the youngest prosecutor in Kentucky and one of only four female commonwealth attorneys in the state.

        Her gender and relative youth are assets, she said, because many male lawyers enter Boone County courtrooms for the first time thinking they can smooth-talk her. Instead, they often learn that they're the ones who have been blindsided — by Mrs. Smith's skills.

[photo] Linda Tally Smith, Boone County commonwealth attorney, talks with attorney J. Stephen Smith in Boone Circuit Court in Burlington.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        She is known for her fairness, sensitivity, organizational skills, knowledge of the law and ability to convince juries that conviction is the right thing to do.

        She never lets her age or gender get in the way.

        “People underestimate me,” she said. “It's not a deterrent, but a hurdle to overcome. The only way you can overcome that hurdle is by establishing your credibility.

        “I want every juror to know that I've got a better command of this case than anybody else in this courtroom.”

        Her colleagues say she is the best person to serve as Boone County's top prosecutor. It is the only job she has wanted since attending Northern Kentucky University as an undergraduate.

        “She has the attitude to be an excellent prosecutor, the integrity to be an excellent prosecutor and also the talent to be an excellent prosecutor. Those three things, I don't think you could find in too many people,” said Willie Mathis, who retired as Boone County commonwealth attorney in August.

        He hired Mrs. Smith in 1997 after she prosecuted cases in Grant, Owen and Carroll counties for three years. He was pleased to see her replace him.

        “I couldn't be more thrilled to see her in that position than if she were my own daughter,” he said. “I just think great things are going to happen in her life. She's a credit to the county.”

        He's confident Mrs. Smith will remain Boone County's top prosecutor as long as voters continue supporting her. She has no desire to become a judge or enter private practice.

        “I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't just stay right there,” Mr. Mathis said. “She always liked to play rather than referee. She likes the game. She's got a lot of good years ahead of her.”

        Mrs. Smith said he's right. Her attraction to prosecution began when she took an NKU class that featured a film about sexual assault victims.

        “From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be a prosecutor,” she said. “I was a one-track mind person. I wanted to be a prosecutor and that's all there was to it. From every moment I did it, I loved it.”

        Mrs. Smith, who graduated from St. Henry High School in Erlanger, majored in philosophy and political science at NKU. She enrolled in the University of Kentucky's College of Law, where she took every class associated with criminal law.

        Upon graduation, she sought only prosecution work.

        Her desire to return to Northern Kentucky made her keen on working with Mr. Mathis, she said.

        Since she returned, she has handled many high-profile cases:

        • Former Boone County Property Valuation Administrator David Turner was sentenced in October 1999 to five years' probation, a year in jail and restitution for theft. He admitted taking $45,000 in office funds to feed a gambling habit.

        • Larry Ray Freeman was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year, after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the death of Diane Washer. He was charged with her murder in December 1998 — four years after her death and a year after 17 of her bones were found near Gunpowder Creek in Boone County.

        • Nicholas Roeper was sentenced in October 1999 to 20 years imprisonment on charges of second-degree manslaughter and assault, because of his role in the death of John Lampke II. Mr. Lampke was driving his 2-year-old son to a baby sitter's residence one morning when Mr. Roeper's vehicle broadsided Mr. Lampke's. Mr. Lampke died. His son suffered a broken leg.

        • Franklin “Buddy” Roark, after a trial that lasted nearly two weeks, was found guilty by a jury of first-degree rape, burglary and robbery and of being a persistent felony offender. He received two life sentences. “I knew I was the best-suited for this job because I have a profound respect and love for the criminal law,” Mrs. Smith said.

        Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger has faith in her abilities.

        He noted that the county is growing at one of the fastest rates in the state. A weightier caseload is the result, he said.

        Last year, about 325 people were indicted on approximately 500 charges. The 2000 pace is similar.

        “I find her to be extremely intelligent and well-prepared in every case,” Judge Bamberger said. “She is a strong advocate for the community and individual victims.

        “(But) the volume of criminal business in Boone County is surprisingly large. This is an atrocious dilemma for everybody involved.”

        The larger caseload means Mrs. Smith sometimes accepts a plea for a charge less serious than the one originally pursued. For example, Mr. Freeman originally was charged with murder, but later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

        Mrs. Smith knows that people abhor the prospect of plea deals. But she said that she never forgets her main purpose — punishing people for what they've done wrong.

        Mrs. Smith is married to Jeff Smith, a Covington lawyer. They have an 11-month-old son, Jake.

       



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