Sponaugle says experience makes him best choice
A LOOK AT JUDGE HOPEFULS: PART 1 BY DAN NEPHIN, Staff Writer
Thomas B. Sponaugle wasn't sure he wanted to be a lawyer after he graduated from Florida State University College of Law.
"You should have seen my father's expression when I told him that," Sponaugle said. So instead, he taught social studies for two years in New Jersey.
At the time, he said, he was interested in both fields, but the law drew him back.
Fast-forward two decades, and the 47-year-old Lancaster Township resident is one of four Republican candidates running for the sole vacant judge's seat in Lancaster County.
Sponaugle said the other candidates -- county prosecutor Christopher P. Larsen, county deputy chief public defender Merrill Spahn Jr. and Magisterial District Judge Jayne F. Duncan -- are all well-qualified.
But he said his range of experience gives him an edge.
"I think when it comes to me, it's broad experience of being in civil litigation for 16 years (and) handling that at a local and complex level. It's being familiar with criminal court, having been a public defender for five years and continuing to handle some criminal cases," he said in a recent interview.
"I think there's temperament involved and I think for the Republican Party, it's your commitment to the Republican Party," he said.
He said he's been helping local candidates get elected since 1999 and has served as secretary and vice chair of the Lancaster Township Republican Committee.
"I think it's important for a judge to respect the people who come in front of him and to be dignified and to act with humility and to make sure everyone feels they got a fair shot," he said. "... I've always tried to see both sides of the story. And I think lawyers and judges who know me know that."
He works at York-based Griffith, Strickler, Lerman, Solymos & Calkins, a general practice firm. While he focuses on complex civil law, he said he's also done defense work, along with family, municipal and condominium work.
Sponaugle said much of his legal experience is in what's called "complex litigation," which can involve multiple defendants. Think vehicle crashes, product liability and construction cases.
"Most of what I do is defense work for individuals and businesses who get sued," he said.
While his surname is well known in the area -- his grandfather, S. Woodrow "Woody" Sponaugle, coached at Franklin & Marshall College, where the Sponaugle-Williamson Field is named for him, and his great-uncle Boyd Sponaugle coached track and football at McCaskey High School -- he acknowledges he isn't known as well as the other candidates.
His highest-profile case was the 2002 defense of one of the people charged in York's 1969 race-riot slaying of a young black woman. His defendant, Robert Messersmith, was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 9 to 19 year prison sentence.
In Lancaster County, his most significant case involved the dismissal of drug charges filed against former Pagan motorcycle gang leader John Anderson in 1995 after Sponaugle developed information that a detective had stolen property from Anderson.
Sponaugle is married to District Judge Mary Mongiovi Sponaugle, who presides over a section of Lancaster city and township.
They have three children: Sophia, 11, Ben, 6, and Anna, 4.
The Republican Committee of Lancaster County is expected to endorse a candidate Feb. 19.
The candidates are seeking the seat held by Judge Louis Farina, who turns 70 this year, making him ineligible to run for another 10-year term.