Lawyer savors new challenges

Jul 21, 2006

TAMPA – Latour Lafferty’s office at Fowler White Boggs Banker radiates big-money lawyer.

He’s got the 18th-floor view of downtown. He’s got his name engraved in fancy letters on a brass plate by his door.

But all around him, Lafferty has surrounded himself with mementos from another life, the one he gave up.

Fifty-four dollar bills are mounted in a picture frame on his office wall. First Union National Bank gave him some of the actual loot for prosecuting two bank robbers who stole nearly $100,000.

On a bookshelf is a red evidence bag that holds a bullet from a drug case. An FBI agent gave him that one as a gift.

Then there are the photos of Lafferty and his fellow federal prosecutors. In one, the assistant U.S. attorneys stand on the steps of the old courthouse, wearing dark shades like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

For 10 years, this was Lafferty’s brotherhood. He represented the United States of America in criminal and civil courts. He put bank robbers and drug dealers in jail.

“The best job you’ll ever have,” his colleagues told him before he gave it up for the law firm life last year.

“How could you not miss it?” Lafferty says. “Does my blood start flowing when I think about it? Absolutely.”

Lafferty, 38, has a fancy first name, but people just call him “L.T.” He’s an aw-shucks kind of guy, blond-haired, hazel-eyed, with the frame of a high school linebacker.

He married the girl he asked out in 10th grade at Brandon High School. They have two kids, 7 and 6. Lafferty’s the president of the Brandon 86′ Rotary.

He grew up in Brandon, the son of two doctors. After college at the University of Florida, law school at Stetson, and two years working for a federal judge, the U.S. Justice Department hired him in Tampa.

He had never tried a case.

After five years, he followed one of his mentors to Washington to work for the independent counsel investigating President Bill Clinton. Lafferty wrote part of the final Clinton report dealing with Linda Tripp, a key figure in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The next year, he worked in the White House for presidential counsel Alberto Gonzalez.

A few years later, back home in Brandon, he pondered whether to leave government work.

Fowler White, one of Florida’s top firms, wanted him to join the firm as a partner, advising hospitals, doctors and health care companies on federal health care law.

He knew that some would think he was selling out.

But he wasn’t chasing the money, he said. He wanted to be a complete lawyer. He needed to experience private practice.

“I wanted a rich life,” he said.

In his high-rise office, Lafferty talks about how much he likes this side of law.

Instead of metal detectors in the lobby, visitors get a grand staircase and chandelier. In government, business came to him. Now, he has to network to find clients.

Still, sometimes when he’s alone at his desk, working late, he looks up and sees the Justice Department seal on his wall.

Copyright 2006 St. Petersburg Times. All Rights Reserved.