Two Court of Appeals Judges Retire
Judge George Bundy Smith
(Article on Judge Albert M. Rosenblatt)
From the time he was young, George Bundy Smith wanted to be a lawyer or a minister. By the time he received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1959, the civil rights movement was percolating. He decided it would be better to be a lawyer.
In September, Judge Smith retired from the New York State Court of Appeals. As the senior associate judge, he would preside over the court in Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye’s absence.
When I met Judge Smith in his Manhattan chambers in late August, race was still on his mind.
“When I got out of law school and became a member of the bar in 1963 we had one African American judge in the Appellate Division, First Department,” said Judge Smith. “No others, and none on the Court of Appeals. Once I leave, there will be no African American on the Court of Appeals.”
Judge Smith is the third African American to serve on the state’s highest court. Judge Harold Stevens was the first (1974), Judge Fritz Alexander II (1985-1992) was the second. Appointed to the court by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992, Judge Smith’s 14-year term expired on Sept. 24. His application for reappointment was denied by Gov. George E. Pataki. Had he been reappointed,
he would have had to retire Dec. 31, 2007, because he will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 in April.
“We have some excellent black judges,” said Judge Smith. “I hope when the time comes, that the governor will look at those persons. I hope African Americans and Latinos are added to the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals.”At the Court of Appeals ceremony honoring Judge Smith, Chief Judge Kaye called him an “indispensable right-hand man. ... [H]is passion for preparation and study of the law is matched by his passion for justice — justice for litigants and justice for society — which he has honed over his entire lifetime,” she said. “We know his struggle in every case, large and small, to reach just the right result, and then to express it thoughtfully, clearly and convincingly.”
“ [H]is passion for preparation and study of the law is matched by his passion for justice — justice for litigants and justice for society — which he has honed over his entire lifetime.”
Janet Gordon, a former principal law clerk, said: “When writing opinions for the court, he always sought to assure fair and just results and was never deterred by the prospect of being the lone dissenter. While his willingness to dissent meant that his staff would have to work late many nights drafting majority and dissenting opinions, we were always comforted by the fact that Judge Smith would be there, too, and would invariably be the last one to leave chambers.”
Born in New Orleans, La., to a teacher and a minister, both college graduates, he grew up in segregated Washington, D.C. He and his twin sister, Inez Smith Reid, entered Yale Law School in 1959. In his second year, Judge Smith participated in the Freedom Rides from Atlanta, Ga., to Montgomery, Ala., and met several civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.
After receiving his law degree, Smith worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, trying civil rights and demonstration cases in the South. He went on to receive an M.A. in political science and Ph.D. in government from New York University. In 2001, he earned an M.A. in the judicial process from the University of Virginia Law School.
Judge Smith’s judicial career began on the New York City Civil Court (1975-1979), followed by election to the Supreme Court. He was named an associate justice of the Appellate Division, First Department, in 1987 and remained on that court until his appointment to the Court of Appeals. Judge Smith and his wife, Dr. Alene Smith, a retired college professor, have two children.
One case Judge Smith remembers well is People v. Calabria. The first time it reached the Court of Appeals, Calabria’s robbery conviction was reversed due to prosecutorial misconduct.
A new trial was ordered. Again, he was convicted. This time, the conviction was affirmed, with Judge Smith and one colleague dissenting. “Judge Rosenblatt concurred with the majority, but urged the prosecutor to take another look at the case,” said Judge Smith. The prosecutor
concluded the wrong person had been convicted. The charges were vacated and the case dismissed.
“There are going to be times when the system errs ... and I think the judge has to guard against that time and time again,” he said. “There really is no adequate compensation for somebody
who has spent years in jail. You can pay him or her all the money in the world, and it won’t compensate for that loss of freedom or that loss of life if the person is executed.”
Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick paid Judge Smith tribute at the Queens County Bar Association this fall, saying: “I will miss my colleague, who has always been there for me, always willing to give advice and pep talks, always so very well prepared, always a champion
for justice and for what is right. I will miss his kind words and smile. When we next convene, I’ll be assuming the seat of senior associate judge. I’ll never be able to fill your shoes, however. There will never be another quiet, gentle giant like you.”
Contents Second “Mega-Courthouse” Opens Justice Court Reforms Street Corners Renamed for Court Officers School in New Court Complex Mental Health Courts Domestic Violence Awareness Month Judge Smith Retires Judge Rosenblatt Retires Virtual Library Services Court Programs Broadcast Online Wi-Fi in the Courts Deputy Chief Support Magistrate Court Construction Update Marian Wright Edelman Addresses Conference Historic Courthouses and Trials Did You Know? Judicial Institute (JI) Program Highlights JI Legal Updates