Monday, June 09, 2014
Judge Edward Smith: An Officer and A Gentleman
In addition to Senator Pat Toomey, the ceremony was attended by most of the Northampton and Lehigh County benches, along with many of the federal district court judges.
A Northampton County jurist since he was first elected in 2001, Judge Smith is a 27-year veteran of the United States Navy, where he currently serves as a Captain and as a military judge in the reserve component. His service took him to Iraq, where he was awarded the bronze star.
A Republican, Smith was nominated by President Barack Obama as Judge for the Eastern District of Pa. on August 1, 2013. He had the support of both of Pennsylvania's Senators, and was confirmed in a 69-31 vote on March 26, 2014. He was eventually serve in the federal courthouse in Easton. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania is one of the original 13 federal judicial districts created in 1789. Its first judge was appointed by George Washington. Smith is the 96th in what Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen called a "long line of black robes" over the past 220 years.
Unlike county judges, who are elected, appointments to the federal bench are for life.
Judge Van Antwerpen, the last Northampton County jurist to be selected to the federal bench in 1987, explained why. Though the vast majority of cases are heard in the state system; "[w]hen we need it, we have the independence of the federal system and its lifetime-tenured judges." He pointed out that it is the federal courts who struck down segregation and who have upheld the First Amendment rights to free speech against comments that the judges themselves found offensive. He called Smith both an "accomplished jurist" and a "true patriot" who "went to the Middle East at the risk of his own life."
President Judge Steve Baratta, who said Judge Smith will be"greatly missed in Northampton County," struggled to find what he called "Judge Smith stories." But the best he could come up with was someone having spotted him an a lawn tractor, in shirt and tie, cutting his grass.
The FBI, who does background checks on nominated federal jurists, was looking for Jude Smith stories, too. One Saturday morning, they knocked on the door of one of Smith's best friends, Attorney Joe Corpora. While Corpora's wife wondered what the FBI was doing at her door, Corpora came up with an embarrassing revelation about Judge Smith, and one he recorded on video.
Years ago, when Smith's and Corpora's children were much younger, Smith came dressed to his house dressed as Barney the Dinosaur and began singing "I love you."
"Do you know anything embarrassing?" asked the FBI.
"He doesn't sing or dance very well," answered Corpora.
Assistant District Attorney Abe Kassis, incoming president of the Northampton County Bar Association, called Smith an "officer and a gentleman" who "never forgot what it was like as a lawyer." He noted Judge Smith's unfailing courtesy to everyone before him, a hallmark of Northampton County judges. "He could sentence someone to 20 years in state prison and still have that Defendant thank him on the way out because he was so nice about it, " he joked.
"Believe half of what you heard," is what the modest Judge Smith told the audience after taking the oath. He thanked Attorney Ray DeRaymond, with whom he practiced for many years before becoming a judge. "He taught me everything I know," said Smith. He went on to say that everything good that has happened to him has been only because of the good people around him, from secretarial staff to the Sheriffs.
Smith is the grandson of Dr. George Smith, a south side Easton physician who also served as Mayor between 1960 and 1968.