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Good riddance to a bad judge

Meet federal district judge Walter Smith. Now say a long overdue goodbye to him.

Walter Smith

Walter Smith

One of Texas’ strictest federal judges — serving a year’s ban from hearing cases after being slapped hard by a panel of appeals court judges last year — has retired amid a renewed investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco was publicly reprimanded for sexual misconduct last fall over a 1998 incident in which he reportedly groped and kissed a court clerk. He submitted his resignation to President Barack Obama last week, effective Sept. 14, and will draw an annuity equal to his current salary, $203,100 per year, for the rest of his life.

It was unclear if the resignation will end the investigation, which was restarted this year after an appeal by Dallas lawyer Ty Clevenger, who filed the original complaint against Smith and who wants the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach him.

A committee of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in July to continue investigating to see if Smith made advances toward other women. A spokesman for the 5th Circuit could not immediately say Tuesday whether the court’s Judicial Council will make its full investigation report public or whether the investigation will now end.

“Good riddance,” Clevenger said of Smith on Tuesday. “Thank goodness he won’t be able to hurt anybody else.”

Clevenger said he still wants Smith to be impeached “for two reasons: One, I think it’s appropriate. And, I don’t think he needs to be paid $200,000 after what he’s done.”

The Judicial Council issued the reprimand last fall, suspending Smith from hearing any new cases for a year, but did not recommend impeachment. The panel found he had made “inappropriate and unwanted physical and non-physical sexual advances” toward a court clerk in his chambers in 1998, which it deemed “in contravention of existing standards of behavior for federal judges.”

The council’s order also said Smith “does not understand the gravity” of the inappropriate behavior and “allowed false factual assertions to be made in response to the complaint, which together with the lateness of his admissions contributed greatly to the duration and cost of the investigation.”

Sounds like a heck of a guy, doesn’t he? Texas Lawyer tells us more.

The Fifth Circuit’s punishment confirmed judicial misconduct allegations originally filed by Ty Clevenger, a former Dallas lawyer who was previously sanctioned $25,000 by the judge for filing a “frivolous” racketeering case in his court. Clevenger was later reprimanded by the State Bar of Texas in 2014 because of Smith’s sanction but used the bar disciplinary proceedings to subpoena the witness who alleged Smith sexually harassed her in 1998 as part of his defense.

In her deposition, the woman stated that in 1998, Smith approached her in the courthouse smelling of liquor and told her to “come see me sometime.” Smith later called her and instructed her to come to his chambers, which she did, according to her deposition.

“He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me and I just froze. I couldn’t move,” the woman testified. “And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’ And I—and I—I just freaked out.”

Clevenger appealed Smith’s punishment to the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States in January, urging the body to suspend Smith from the bench immediately and recommend his impeachment. Clevenger also alleged that the sexual harassment incident was not isolated and submitted to the Fifth Circuit the names of other witnesses to Smith’s alleged abuse of women in the courthouse.

In July, the committee decided to send Smith’s reprimand back to the Fifth Circuit to examine whether there was a “pattern and practice” to Smith’s behavior, noting that Clevenger had provided the names of other witnesses.

You can see a copy of the woman’s deposition here, via the Current. And oh, yes, it gets worse.

According to statements the woman made during a 2014 deposition, it all started when Smith said hello to her one morning in 1998 as he was entering the courthouse — something that seemed only a little strange at first because she’d hardly ever seen the judge before, let alone talked to him. Also: his breath smelled like liquor.

After telling her good morning and asking how she was doing, Smith asked the woman to swing by and see him in his office sometime. It got even weirder when the judge called the woman immediately after she sat down at her desk upon returning from lunch later that day. “Where have you been? … I told you to come see me,” she recalled him saying. Smith told the woman to walk down the hall and tell his secretary she needed to see the judge. The woman thought that maybe Smith wanted to talk about a promotion – he was, after all, looking for a new courtroom clerk.

Instead, according to her deposition, “He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me, and I just froze. I couldn’t move. And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’” She told him that was a stupid idea. In return, “he pulled me to him again, and he kissed me again and stuck his tongue down my throat, and he pressed himself against me. I could tell he had an erection, and he said, you know, ‘A couch right here.’”

The woman says she thought about Smith’s reputation for having a temper. Considering he also seemed and smelled drunk, the woman says she struggled with what to do. Meanwhile, Smith started to grope her. According to the deposition: “I just remember he just put his arms around me, around my back, then lower. And then he started to try [to] touch my breasts, and I kind of pushed away.” The woman ran through excuse after excuse until she finally broke away, walked out of Smith’s office and sat down at her desk. She still asks herself why she wasn’t more direct. As she said in her deposition, “I was just trying to keep him from blowing up at me.”

The woman’s story would be alarming enough if it ended there. It doesn’t. The woman says Smith called her at her desk later in the day, asking her to take a couple of days off work. He wanted to take a trip with her. He told her he’d make sure she would get paid time off. Before coming into work the next day, the woman called her supervisor to tell him about Smith’s actions. She begged her supervisor not to leave her alone with the judge. She was scared because Smith apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer.

When the woman got to the office later that day, Smith had left a dozen yellow roses on her desk. Smith was calling as soon as she sat down (she figured he’d watched her walk into the building). “Where have you been?” he asked her, according to her deposition testimony. “I’ve been waiting for you here all day.” She told Smith he shouldn’t have sent her the roses. She says he told her, “I just had to.” Later that day, he managed to get her alone in her office by sending her supervisor on an errand.

It was a Friday, and later that afternoon, Smith again called the woman at her desk. He asked what she was doing that weekend. She said she was spending it with her grandparents. Before he left the office for the day, Smith left a note on the woman’s desk saying, “I hope you have a pleasant weekend.” She went into the office that weekend, grabbed her belongings, and left the flowers on the empty desk. A coworker would later tell her that Smith just let the flowers sit there and die.

Within hours of the woman telling her supervisors she was quitting, she says higher ups in the clerk’s office offered her six weeks leave with pay in the hopes that she’d reconsider at the end of it. She said in her deposition that while she was on leave she got a strange call from Smith’s law clerk. He claimed Smith had been in the hospital, and that he was so distraught, he couldn’t come into work.

The complaint eventually reached Harry Lee Hudspeth, who was then chief judge of the Western District of Texas, which is anchored in San Antonio (Hudspeth is now listed as a Senior U.S. District Judge in Austin). The woman claims that Hudspeth ultimately called her. He was dismissive throughout the call, she claimed. He didn’t ask a single question about the actual assault or Smith’s behavior toward her in the workplace. “It was ugly,” she said of the call. “It was disrespectful. It was demeaning.”

The woman actually did try to go back to her job but quickly realized she couldn’t remain on the same floor as the judge who called her into his office, attacked her in his chambers, and then continued to harass her. “I had a fear of walking out into the hall and running – running into him,” she testified.

Feeling outraged yet? Even without Ty Clevenger’s assertion that there are more witnesses out there, I’d bet a week’s salary that this woman wasn’t the only one Judge Smith harassed. No one believed her when she first reported it, he got away with it for 18 years, and he clearly still doesn’t get it. The odds that he’s a serial offender are off the charts. And hey, unless Congress takes action, he gets to enjoy a $200K-a-year retirement on your dime. Is this a great country or what?

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One Comment

  1. C. L. says:

    F**k me, I wish I could resign from my job just before getting canned and revive a $203K/yr check for life. Is this a great country or what ?