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The Honorable Charles Z. Smith

Retired Justice of the Washington Supreme Court and prosecutor for the United States Department of Justice, Charles Zellender Smith was born on February 23, 1927, in Lakeland, Florida. Son of John R. Smith, Sr., a Cuban immigrant, and Eva Love Smith, he attended school in Franklin, North Carolina at age three, Washington Park School in Lakeland and Hungerford School in Maitland, Florida. Mentored by Dr. William H. Gray, Jr., President of Florida A&M College, he served as Gray’s administrative assistant. From 1945 to 1946, Smith served in the United States Army as a court reporter. He later joined the Gray family in Philadelphia attending Temple University, where he earned his B.S. degree in 1952. Smith then moved to Seattle, Washington, where he entered the University of Washington Law School. He was one of four minority students in a class of 120. He was the only African American or person of color in the graduating class. While in law school, Smith met Hawaii-born Eleanor Martinez, whom he married in 1955.

After graduating from law school, Smith served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Matthew W. Hill. From 1956 to 1960, he served as a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County. In 1961, Smith was recruited by U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to join his staff. Smith’s assistance was sought by the Attorney General in investigating mismanagement of the Central States Teamsters Pension Fund. He led a team conducting grand juries around the country, culminating in indictment and successful prosecution of James R. Hoffa and five business men for mail fraud and wire fraud in the Northern District of Illinois in 1964.

In 1965, Smith returned to Seattle where he became the first African American or person of color to become a judge in the State of Washington, being appointed as Judge of the Seattle Municipal Court. In 1966, again as a “first,” he was appointed to the King County Superior Court and subsequently reelected unopposed until he left the court in 1973. Also, in 1973, Smith was appointed Professor of Law and Associate Dean at the University of Washington Law School where he served until his retirement in 1986. Later in 1973 Smith was commissioned in the United States Marine Corps Reserve where he served in the Judge Advocate Division as a military judge until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1986.

Smith served as President of the American Baptist Churches, USA in 1976 and 1977 and participated with the National Inter-religious Task Force on Soviet Jewry. He served as a delegate to Task Force follow-up conferences in Rome, Italy, Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Madrid, Spain.

On July 18, 1988, Smith became the first African American or person of color to serve on the Washington Supreme Court. He served three terms retiring in 2002. In 1999, he was appointed by President William J. Clinton to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, created by Congress to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience and belief abroad. In 2001, the Student Bar Association at the University of Washington Law School established the Charles Z. Smith Public Service Scholarship. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Center for State Courts in 2004 and was honored by Pioneer Human Services in Seattle with naming of one of its low cost housing properties as the Chares Z. Smith House.

Smith lived in Seattle, Washington with his wife, Eleanor Martinez. The couple had four adult children and six grandchildren.

Accession Number

A2007.308

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/3/2008

6/4/2008

10/27/2007

Last Name

Smith

Middle Name

Z.

Schools

Washington Park School

Robert Hungerford Industrial School

Temple University

Florida Memorial University

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Washington University School of Law

National Judicial College

Naval Justice School

First Name

Charles

Birth City, State, Country

Lakeland

HM ID

SMI21

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Truth, Justice And Freedom.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Washington

Interview Description
Birth Date

2/23/1927

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Seattle

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chocolate

Death Date

8/28/2016

Short Description

Federal government appointee, law professor, and state supreme court judge The Honorable Charles Z. Smith (1927 - 2016 ) was the first African American to serve on the State of Washington's Supreme Court. In addition to holding this Washington Supreme Court position from 1988 until his retirement in 2002, Justice Smith was also known for serving on the staff of U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and being appointed to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom by President William J. Clinton.

Employment

Municipal Court of Seattle

Washington Supreme Court

U.S. Army

King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office

U.S. Department of Justice

King County Superior Court

University of Washington School of Law

U.S. Marine Corps

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Charles Z. Smith's interview, session 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the race relations in Franklin, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his mother's formal education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his mother's move to Lakeland, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his father's family background

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the origin of his father's name

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his early musical interests

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his sisters' radio show on WLAK Radio in Lakeland, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls attending Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School in Eatonville, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers meeting William H. Gray, Jr.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his decision to study law

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his academic accomplishments

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers enlisting in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his experiences in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his discharge from the U.S. Army

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about why he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his study of group dynamics at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers applying for law school

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his admittance to the University of Washington School of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his experiences in Olympia, Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls meeting his wife, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls meeting his wife, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his position as a deputy prosecuting attorney in King County, Washington

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about Washington's criminal justice system

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers prosecuting drug related cases

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his experiences with racial discrimination

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls being recruited by Robert F. Kennedy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about Dave Beck and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the feud between Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the reasoning behind Jimmy Hoffa's pardon

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls the Jimmy Hoffa case he tried in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the tensions between J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers J. Edgar Hoover

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his appointment to the Municipal Court of Seattle

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his role in decriminalizing public intoxication, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his role in decriminalizing public intoxication, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his appointment to the King County Superior Court

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers a murder case he presided over in the King County Superior Court, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers a murder case he presided over in the King County Superior Court, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the sentencing criteria in the State of Washington

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his cases while serving on the King County Superior Court

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about Seattle's discriminatory housing practices, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about Seattle's discriminatory housing practices, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his further judicial studies and education

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his judicial appointment in the U.S. Marine Corps

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers one of his U.S. Marine Corps cases

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the differences between civilian and military courts

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his teaching schedule at the University of Washington School of Law

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the University District Defender Services clinical program

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his work as a commentator on KOMO Radio and KOMO-TV

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his television segments on KOMO-TV in Seattle, Washington

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his work on the Juvenile Justice Standards Commission

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the enforcement of constitutional rights for juveniles

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the juvenile courts in the State of Washington

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls one of his juvenile court cases

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith shares his stance on incarceration

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about Gary Ridgway's trial

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers one of his King County Superior Court cases

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the American Baptist Churches USA

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the memberships of Baptist churches in Seattle, Washington

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes the National Interreligious Task Force on Soviet Jewry

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his involvement with various Washington task forces

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers his appointment to the Washington Supreme Court

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his tenure on the Washington Supreme Court

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his experiences with discrimination in the Washington Supreme Court, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his experiences with discrimination in the Washington Supreme Court, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his colleagues at the Washington Supreme Court

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith remembers the executive committee of the Washington Supreme Court

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith reflects upon his status in the Washington Supreme Court

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the civil rights leaders in Seattle, Washington

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference protests

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith reflects upon his judicial career

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about the importance of community programs

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith talks about his family

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

2$2

DATape

8$10

DAStory

8$6

DATitle
The Honorable Charles Z. Smith describes his work on the Juvenile Justice Standards Commission
The Honorable Charles Z. Smith recalls his tenure on the Washington Supreme Court
Transcript
Seventy-three [1973], you also served as co-chairperson of the Juvenile Justice Standards commission [IJA/ABA Joint Commission on Juvenile Justice Standards]. Now, that's, that sounds very important and, with the juvenile court over a hundred--we were talking about it before we started--$$Yeah.$$--doing this interview.$$Well, my background had included service in the juvenile court. When I was on the King County Superior Court, I was assigned on rotation to the juvenile court. So I had a background in juvenile courts. The American Bar Association and the Institute of Judicial Administration [New York, New York] had foundation grants to conduct an extensive study on juvenile practices. And I was initially a member of the commission, and through a transition of changes, I became co-chairperson of the, of the commission in the last five years of its existence. But we conducted studies. We hired researchers to do studies, but we had meetings of lawyers--the commission consisted of lawyers, judges, psychiatrists, social workers. And we would have a meeting somewhere around the country every three months. And all of this was, you know, developed and cataloged, and over a period of about--that started in '73 [1973]. Nineteen seventy-eight [1978] we published thirty-seven volumes of books on juvenile court practices. It was initially published by Ballinger Publishing [Ballinger Publishing Company] in Boston [Massachusetts]. And it was circulated throughout the country. And the Ballinger company was going to destroy the printing plates and the American Bar Association purchased the printing plates. So back in those days, we had printing plates. So it has been republishing, and since 1978, there is a current version of those juvenile justice standards, thirty-seven volumes. I, I pulled off the shelf a copy of it to give you some idea of what the volumes were like. But it's not necessary for this particular interview, but after it, I'll show you what it amounted to. But they sort of set the tone for creating a new approach to the treatment of juveniles and particularly, after a case called In re Gault [In re Gault, 1967], G-A-U-L-T where the United States Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia [U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] had a ruling that indicated that juveniles are entitled to constitutional rights. And up until that time, juveniles were not entitled to constitutional rights. And in the Gault case, very simply, Gerald Gault was charged with disorderly conduct for making an obscene telephone call to a neighbor woman. He was charged with a felony in Arizona. He went before the judge, and the judge says, you don't need to deny it. I know you did it. You're guilty and sentenced him to detention in the juvenile system until he reached the age of twenty-one years. And Gerald Gault then was sixteen years old. That case was appealed by a volunteer lawyer who took it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and they ended up saying that juveniles had a constitutional right. And that changed the tone of juvenile courts throughout the country. And so the Juvenile Justice Standards commission was sort of using the Gault case as a platform for saying we have to do things differently now than we have been doing it in the past. And so that's what the Juvenile Justice Standards commission was, and we completed our work in 1978, published our materials and the commission itself went out of existence.$So what were the highlights of your term on the supreme court of the State of Washington [Washington Supreme Court]? And I don't know if that's the best way to ask it, but what happened there? What were the significant events, I guess, for you?$$Well, the--it's, again, an interesting thing. I was on the court for fourteen years, and I wrote 350 opinions. And the most--and I cannot remember any particular one. You know, if someone called one to my attention, I would remember, but the collegiality on the court, we have nine justices on the supreme court, and you either get along with them or you don't get along with them because everything is done by group. All opinions are based upon the consensus of the group, so that even though I might write an opinion, and I recommend it to the others, they have to vote on it. And if I write an opinion and we take a vote on it, if I get five votes, then that becomes the court's opinion. But if I don't get five votes, it shifts. And it's not my opinion anymore. But the--it's sort of like, I guess, a fencing game. It's parry right, parry left, and you touche and you (laughter), you win your point by scoring. And with a supreme court such as ours and most supreme courts operate in the same way, it's a matter of intellectually convincing your colleagues of a position that you take on a particular case. Our cases are preassigned. And so at the beginning of a term, I knew, which cases were assigned to me, but they weren't assigned to me because of background. They're randomly assigned. Someone in the clerk's office pulls a, literally pulls a name out of a hat and says, this goes to Smith [HistoryMaker Charles Z. Smith], this goes to this person, this goes to that person, so that at the beginning of a term, I would get my assigned cases. So I had two judicial clerks, law clerks who worked with me doing the research, reading everything relating to the case, the briefs and other documents and things like that. Then I would prepare a presentence report, which was distributed to the other judges prior to the hearing. And then we would have the hearing where the lawyers would appear. And then we would go into recess to consider a case based upon the prehearing memorandum, prepared by the judge responsible for the case and the arguments presented by counsel. And then a recommendation is made for a result, and then the vote is taken. The chief justice presides over those meetings. So that's the way it would go. I found that, that experience was a good experience. I had some non-good experiences on the supreme court, but it had nothing to do with the routine process. And I have threatened to write a book called 'The Dark Side of the Temple,' and the Temple of Justice [Olympia, Washington] is where our supreme court is located. And the word dark has many meanings. I'm not white. Therefore, I am dark. As the junior justice on the court, I was assigned the worst courtroom, worst chambers in the building, next to the helicopter pad, and little things would happen. And then there was a cabal, C-A-B-A-L, against me from five of the nine justices, the chief justice and four of the others on a committee that ostensibly was based on seniority. And I had seniority over two of the people (laughter) in the group. But they were making decisions that affected me, and, and I chose not to make an issue of it while I was on the court and decided after I retired I would write a book. But I haven't had the time, energy nor inclination to begin writing the book yet. But when I write the book, I will tell of the negative experiences I had on the court. But--and they had nothing to do with race, which is very interesting. And I think it had to do with, one, my credentials, and two, my arrogance. I, I never took a second seat to anyone from an intellectual standpoint, and nobody on the court had my credentials. The highest ranking [U.S.] military person on our court was a first lieutenant in the Second World War [World War II, WWII]. And none of them had been law professors, and I was a full tenured law professor (laughter). And so I came to the court with a lot of credentials. My international activities, all those other things were unique in the sense that compared to other members on the court, who were provincial. And so these things created an atmosphere of resentment against me.