Former Blair County and U.S. District Judge D. Brooks Smith has stepped down as Chief Justice of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
But, Smith pointed out, he is not retiring as an appeals court judge.
He has hired paralegals and staff for the next two years and intends to take on a workload despite his new status as senior judge.
âI like to write opinions, hear cases. This is what judges do â, Smith said as he discussed his future. âI prefer to be a judge and decide cases. “
Although he maintains that he wishes to continue hearing cases and participating in panels of judges who decide specific cases, Smith has, over the years, taken on administrative duties at all levels of the court where he has served. served.
He handled administrative matters while serving as a Blair County Judge from 1984 to 1988.
In 1988, he became a U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania and eventually served as the administrative director of that court in 2001 and 2002.
Smith was then confirmed by the United States Senate in 2002 for a position as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
In 2016, he assumed the role of Chief Justice, but will step down from the role of Chief Justice effective today. His 70th birthday is Saturday.
He said he was forced, at age 70, to step down as chief justice.
The new leader of the 3rd Circuit is Michael A. Chagares, who appeared before the Court of Appeals after being assigned to the United States Attorney’s Office for the New Jersey District.
In a statement from the 3rd Circuit, Smith said: âMike Chagares brings a deep reservoir of goodwill to his new post. He is appreciated by everyone, both his colleagues and court staffâ¦ this affection and respect is an invaluable personal asset.
In an interview last week, Smith called Chagares “A good guy.” Chagares has been a judge of the 3rd Circuit since 2006.
Smith said he had several options he could pursue when he became a senior judge.
He could have “Pure and simple pensioner” or assumed inactive status, which means that he could remain a judge but not hear new cases.
Smith chose the third option, which was to take on a workload.
In his role as chief justice, Smith said he has faced many challenges, especially over the past two years.
He was responsible for keeping the courts running throughout the 3rd Circuit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He noted that there was “Budgetary challenges” too, and he had to make staffing decisions.
Now, he said, “I will spend all my time deciding cases and writing opinions” tasks he said he was looking forward to.
Smith will be busy
Smith said he didn’t have a lot of hobbies. He does not play golf or go fishing.
On becoming a senior judge, he said he would focus on his “legal outlets” of which there are many.
The 3rd Circuit hears the federal affairs of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.
He said he would start the new year sitting on the Ninth Circuit, the nation’s largest circuit court hearing cases from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Arizona, Hawaii and Guam.
Over the years he taught at Penn State Law School, but he will now become a âLawyer in residenceâ.
According to Penn State, this new title will allow Smith “To spend more time teaching and counseling law students at the university.”
He said he looks forward to his improved experience at Penn State.
Smith graduated from Penn State Dickinson Law School and, as he explained, “It’s energizing and refreshing to have new and young minds to talk to (about the law)” he said.
Teaching has been another aspect of his life that Smith enjoys.
As a member of the 3rd Circuit, Smith traveled to many parts of the world in an effort to explain the American justice system and encourage other nations to adopt American judicial precepts.
The judge, for example, visited Russia and in 2001 hosted Russian lawyers at his home in Altoona.
It was a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen as progressive, opening Russia to the world.
Smith, with his wry sense of humor, said: “You see where it got us.”
The judge is also a member of a 3rd Circuit âCommittee on Courts, Community and the Rule of Lawâ.
The committee has worked to help the public understand the role of courts and how state and federal courts interact.
There is a “Terrible lack of understanding” of the courts, Smith said.
The judges are “not politicians in robes,” he stressed.
Their focus is on the law and he will be involved in the effort to get this idea across to the public.
According to the mission statement of the Committee, âThe programs will be designed to improve knowledge of the courts and put a face to the judiciary in order to enhance understanding of the role the justice system plays in our democracy.
He said the courts wanted to reach in the six districts of the 3rd Circuit … the elderly, college groups, workers, Rotary clubs … “To any group we can to explain the role of the courts”.
A long career
Prior to entering public life, Smith was a lawyer at the Altoona law firm which included Robert C. Jubelirer, who eventually served in the Pennsylvania Senate and as Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania.
Jubelirer said he had known Smith since he was 14 and from the start said it was obvious the judge was heading towards âBigger and better thingsâ.
“He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known”, Jubelirer said when asked about Smith’s career.
âHe’s so good with people. He listens to people. He’s a leader. He is an outstanding lawyer, so respected. If every judge could be like him, it would be a better world â, said Jubelirer.
Smith, after graduating from law school in 1976, joined the Jubelirer law firm, but almost from the start he turned to public service.
He was Blair County Deputy District Attorney from 1977.
In 1981, he was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General and joined Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney George Parry to lead a multi-year grand jury investigation into organized crime in the Altoona area.
This investigation led to multiple prosecutions for hundreds of crimes, including murders.
In 1983, Smith became a Blair County District Attorney, a position he held until his appointment to the federal bench in 1988.
As Chief Justice of the 3rd Circuit, he also sits on the seven-member executive council of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
This placed him in a position where he dealt with policy issues facing federal courts across the United States.
It was “Interesting and stimulating work”, he said.