Attorney of the Month
Howard Snader – Pushing the Boundaries
By Caitlin Demo
According to criminal defense attorney, Howard Snader, every case a private attorney works is personal. “We have a choice to accept clients or their cases. I don’t want my clients feeling like they are being forced into a resolution. I have been retained to take a personal interest in both them and their case,” he said. “I do whatever I can; I push the boundaries as far as I can to protect my clients from an unjust result. I have always said there is a fence between what you can and can’t do. I believe a good defense attorney will stand on that fence without falling over. I’ll climb the fence. I’ll stand on it. I’ll see what I can do ethically and legally. I will push the boundaries, but not exceed them. Many attorneys won’t climb the fence or push the boundaries. They either avoid the extra work or don’t know what can be done. I am willing to try new arguments and find new ways to accomplish my goals.”
Snader was raised in a family in which education was paramount.
After earning his undergraduate degree in psychology, Snader immediately entered law school. Where the average age of incoming students was 29, Snader found himself to be the third youngest in his class at age 22. Snader was forced to work a little harder.
Following law school, Snader worked as a bailiff and law clerk for the Maricopa County Superior Court while he studied for and passed the bar exam. “As a member of the court staff, I got a behind the scenes view of the court that was invaluable. I learned what was expected of the attorneys, and I learned numerous things not to do in court.”
Newly licensed, Snader entered private practice doing insurance defense. But, he learned that research and writing was not how he wanted to practice law. He knew he was a litigator. After a little more than a year doing civil work, Snader transitioned to criminal law.
LIFE AS A PROSECUTOR
Working as a deputy county attorney for Maricopa County, Snader began his longtime goal of representing the state and seeking justice.
“I always believed the prosecutor’s office was an agency for justice,” he said. “However, I learned that justice often took a backseat to politics and policies.” To illustrate his point he recounted a particular case he prosecuted. It involved three kids who caused some serious criminal damage. On a day Snader was handling court coverage, the assigned attorney had left specific instructions on the plea offer to be tendered.
“Two of the kids came in and accepted the plea offer tendered by the original attorney,” he said. “The third kid came in with a private attorney – it’s not that private attorneys can get a better deal – but this attorney had done his homework. He gave me information the other kids hadn’t, so I made the decision to change the plea offer. So, one kid received a slightly better deal than the others.”
Upon returning to the office, Snader encountered the original, assigned attorney. “He chewed me out in public for changing his policy-based offer,” Snader said. “He never asked why; he only expressed his extreme discontent in front of everyone. I ended up leaving a couple of months later, not because of that encounter, but because I finally understood I could do a better job seeking justice by fighting for the defense. The county attorney’s office is a nice place to work, but you are stuck enforcing policies. You can’t always do what’s right. And I’m always pushing for the right resolution. As a defense attorney, I feel like I’m standing up for the little guys getting beat on.”
COMING INTO HIS OWN
Snader had been offered a position with a private defense attorney six months into his career as a prosecutor. He politely refused the offer. But when reoffered the opportunity a few months later, Snader accepted … jumping ship for a career in criminal defense. Snader was mentored by a board certified criminal expert for three years before starting his own practice. “I learned from one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Arizona. But, it was the right time to go out on my own,” he said. “We parted amicably. I did criminal defense for a law firm for a few years, but established my own practice in 1998.”
The Law Office of Howard A. Snader handles any misdemeanor or felony matter. Through the years, Snader has learned that his average client comes from strong families, but they have made a bad decision leading to a criminal prosecution. “My typical client is the 20-35 year old guy, who may be the black sheep of the family. Usually he will make one mistake and get caught. My cases run the gamut from DUIs to all levels of crimes of domestic violence, sex crimes and violent crimes. I have literally defended cases ranging from leash law violations to homicide.”
Not afraid or intimidated by the prospect of trial, Snader sees trial as a last resort. Sometimes trial is the only possiblity. But having worked as a prosecutor and defense attorney, he also understands how to negotiate a fair resolution. “To see both sides is an eye opening experience,” he said. “In one of my last cases as a prosecutor, I had a public defender in my office begging and pleading for a resolution. I told her it wasn’t going to happen; the policy was X and I saw no reason to deviate. Ten days later, now a defense attorney, I was literally making the same argument to a prosecutor seeking the same resolution she had asked for. Having now been on both sides of the argument, I fully understood the importance of trying to have the prosecutor see my client as an individual and not just another cog in the machine.”
Over the years, Snader has had many cases that have affected his practice. “I had one case,” he recalled, “a sex crime in which the defendant was sitting in jail. Eventually, I obtained a dismissal. He was released from custody, and he went home. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from his parents thanking me for representing him. They informed me that he had passed away from a brain aneurism after he was released from jail. He died at home. They were so grateful he didn’t die in jail. I still have their letter on my bookshelf reminding why I do this every day.”
“I don’t think I would be able to touch people’s lives like this on the prosecutor’s side,” he continued. “I don’t want someone’s life to be changed dramatically for one bad decision. Nobody’s life should be judged on one mistake; yet, that’s how our justice system works.”
For the past several years, Snader believes that his biggest challenge has been dealing with the “one-stop justice” that most prosecuting agencies are delivering. “They want to put everyone in a neat, little box,” he said. “If you are charged with X, you plead out to Y. The biggest stressor for me is dealing with that inflexibility.”
According to Snader, both sides of the criminal system have a responsibility to see justice delivered. “Unfortunately,” he said, “our system is adversarial; you want to win. Sometimes justice gets pushed aside for that.”
Outside of the office, Snader finds time to educate as many people as he can. He often hosts seminars and lectures, inviting other attorneys and professionals to participate. These legal clinics are created to address the concerns of those who don’t normally have access to the law.
Going a step further, Snader is proud to announce that his first book will be hitting the shelves soon. The working title is “Busted: Secrets Prosecutors and Cops Don’t Want You to Know!” This book is the culmination of his desire to educate those in trouble.
As Snader gears up to tackle 2015, he is facing a lot of changes. “My goal in the next year is to expand my practice, hire some associates and finally loosen the reins after 15 years of being a sole practitioner.”
He’s taken all the right steps toward this goal, though. Having just launched a newly revamped website and moved into new offices, this year is shaping up to be a game changer for the Law Office of Howard A. Snader.