By DAVID JONES
Editor at Large
GREAT SERVICE: Native Californian Ken Snoke adopted Tulsa as his home after serving in Viet Nam. The University of Tulsa law graduate served 39 years as an Assistant United States Attorney.
There was an alphabet soup of federal agencies at the Tulsa Historical Society June 3. There were representatives from the , the , , and other agencies. Judges and prosecutors from the Tulsa area were also in attendance. They were all there to say goodbye to an old friend and colleague. Ken Snoke was calling it quits as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
For the last 39 years Snoke has toiled as an assistant federal prosecutor. It didn’t start out that way.
“I graduated from Pomona College (in his native California) with a major in economics and a minor in engineering. Then I spent a year working on a masters in business administration.”
Then, with typical understatement, “I didn’t find it exciting.”
Timing took a hand in his ultimate choice of careers. The Vietnam War was heating up and knowing he had to serve in the military (the all-volunteer military was a far-away dream), Snoke went to Officer’s Candidate School for the Navy and found himself on a wooden-hulled minesweeper off the Vietnam coast. As the most senior of the junior officers on the ship, one of his duties was to hold Summary Court-Martials on board other ships in the division.
“It was my first experience with the law. These were relatively minor cases and I liked gathering and evaluating the evidence. I was prosecutor, defense attorney, judge and jury rolled into one.”
Upon leaving the Navy he went for a year to law school in California. Again fate took over. He had met a girl from Tulsa and, when they decided to marry, he transferred to the University of Tulsa College of Law while she kept her job with a Tulsa television station.
He never had a desire to be a Perry Mason. “I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor from the beginning. While I was getting my law degree I took advantage of an intern program that TU had with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Tulsa. I was naturally given pretty menial tasks but I liked what I did, the office got to know me, and I got one unit of credit at TU.”
The U.S. Attorney for the Tulsa district liked Snoke, so when he graduated from TU he returned to California with a glowing letter of recommendation. He had to take the California bar exam and, knowing it would be weeks before he would find out if he passed or failed, he and his wife decided to take a long European vacation.
“I got news that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles was trying to get hold of me so I called them. The secretary, I remember, was very nice but told me the head man was with someone. ‘But I’m calling from Rome,’ I said. ‘Rome, Georgia?’ she asked. ‘Rome, Italy.’ She put me right through.” As soon as I received word that I had passed the California Bar, I had a job.
It was different in California. The intimacy of the Tulsa operation (The U.S. attorney and five assistants) was lost in an operation that had around 80 attorneys. Four years later, after the arrival of two daughters, a decision had to be made for the best place to bring them up. When an opening occurred in the Tulsa office Ken and his wife Georgia bade farewell to the West Coast and headed inland.
In Tulsa Snoke’s reputation flourished. He became noted not only as a tireless worker but became a walking archive of historical jurisprudence. Let a complicated case baffle a young attorney and he found help in Snoke’s office. If Snoke didn’t have the answer in his memory bank he was famous for being able to go to his file cabinet and find an ancient folder with the necessary information. It was this ability, along with his dogged determination to mine the facts of a case, that his retirement well-wishers said would be the hardest to replace.
Over the years, Snoke says, he has probably tried well over 100 cases and lost so few that he would have fingers left over from the count. Each was satisfying in a way, but there is one he particularly remembers.
“I don’t want to get into names, but there was one investment counselor who bilked a number of retired people out of their savings. We managed to get the guy a long prison sentence but I was amazed at the number of letters I got from the victims who were glad that someone was at least demanding justice for their loss.”
It has been a long journey, but one which fills Snoke with a sense of satisfaction. He has tried both civil and criminal cases, spent 17 years as Chief of the Criminal Division, and retired as Senior Litigation Counsel.
In sum, he commented, “I always wanted to prosecute bad guys.”
According to the assorted judges, prosecutors, investigators and other law-enforcement representatives who crowded the speaker’s platform at his retirement party, he did that very well.