Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

George C. Smith '59 Receives William K. Thomas Distinguished Jurist Award

George C. Smith
Town criers from Canada, Australia and England opened and closed the swearing-in ceremony for new citizens at Perry Memorial, with Judge David Katz '57, Judge William Bodoh '64 and Judge Smith presiding

The winner of the 2005-2006 Moritz William K. Thomas Distinguished Jurist Award, Judge George Smith ‘59 has had an impressive public service career. At the age of 26, after only three short years as an assistant city attorney, he accepted a City of Columbus cabinet position as Executive Assistant to the Mayor. He then joined Ohio Attorney General William B. Saxbe’s office where he further honed his lawyering skills. Following a stint as Chief Counsel of Franklin County, George Smith was appointed Prosecuting Attorney for Franklin County and became one of the youngest to hold the post in a major metropolitan county in Ohio’s history. He served from 1971 to 1980.

Significant programs he initiated more than 30 years ago continue to flourish today. They include initiatives to target criminal recidivists, personalize the prosecutor’s office for victims of and witnesses to crime, and prosecute white collar crime and government corruption . In 1976, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorney’s Association honored George as “Prosecutor of the Year” and with the “Leadership Award” in 1978.

Judge Smith was appointed to the Municipal Court of Franklin County in 1980, then elected in 1985 to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Judge Smith to the federal bench. In that role, he has handled high-profile cases with fairness and efficiency. Judge Smith is well known for his mediation ability in the handling of his docket. Many major civil cases involving millions of dollars have been terminated through his efforts to work with the lawyers and their clients to understand what their needs are and work out a reasonable plan for mutual agreement. He has lectured on this and other subjects at bench/bar seminars during his tenure.

Generally, Judge Smith has participated in a range of community activities including Covenant Presbyterian Church, Leukemia Society, Central Ohio Lung Association, Project Hope, and Crime Stoppers. He is an Honorary 33rd Degree Mason.

Judge Smith with wife Barbara and granddaughter Amanda
Judge Smith with wife Barbara and granddaughter Amanda

For the last 15 years, Judge Smith has offered time and energy to improving the national memorial of Perry’s Victory at Put-in-Bay, on the southern edge of Lake Erie. Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over a British fleet in the War of 1812 ended British domination of the Northwest territories and fostered new respect from the British for our young nation. This led to a lasting peace and disarmament between the U.S. and Canada over the 4000-mile border.

National parks cannot raise money for themselves, so Judge Smith and a small group of committed friends created Friends of Perry’s Victory as a non-profit cooperation. Together with local citizens, they lobbied the federal government to fund better housing for park personnel, and to build a beautiful new visitors’ center. Nearly 200,000 people visit the Center yearly, to view the historical movie presentation and re-enactments and to examine artifacts in the museum.

Judge Smith’s involvement with the park continues to this day. He organizes the annual Historical Memorial Weekend, bringing in speakers to honor the military and promote peace, as well as the annual naturalization ceremony on the plaza of the Perry Monument on the Fourth of July.

In keeping with his love of history, Judge Smith served for seven years, at the request of then Governor George Voinovich, on the Ohio Bicentennial Commission. The only federal judge on the 50-member Commission, he served on the busy Longaberger Legacy Initiative Selection Committee. With nearly twenty hours of preparation before each bi-monthly meeting, Judge Smith helped to screen 50-60 applications for historical markers at each session. Eventually 297 grants were awarded over the seven years, reaching all 88 counties.

His service touches those outside Ohio as well. For the past sixteen years, Judge Smith has hosted delegations from foreign countries through the American Council of Young Political Leaders program. Through courtroom visits and personal discussion with Judge Smith and his staff, participants learn firsthand about the workings of the U.S. legal system. He mentors these visitors along with his son Geoffrey, a State Representative in the Ohio General Assembly, who is an active participant in the programs worldwide.

Working on projects close to his heart has created many fond memories for Judge Smith, yet he offers another story from an even earlier time: law school. Former Dean (1952-65) Frank Strong’s son John went to private choir school with Judge Smith. He remembers visiting the Strong household, when John said his dad was working on “a book.” Little did he know that it would become his constitutional law text! Later, Dean Strong on occasion would take him to OSU football games. “Here was this distinguished, thoughtful professor – yelling at the players just like everyone else,” he remember with fondness. Going to law school at Ohio State was when his education really began. “I was being thoroughly educated,” he says.

Judge George Smith is married to Barbara Wood Smith, a 1960 OSU graduate in education. They have three children: Curtis and Geoffrey, who received their undergraduate degrees from OSU, and Elizabeth Ann, a Moritz Law graduate.

Judge Smith, wife Barbara and friend Michael Colley
Judge Smith and wife Barbara with friend Michael Colley '61
Campaigning for prosecuting attorney
Campaigning for prosecuting attorney
Rep. Sam Devine, Chalmers Wylie and George Smith
Rep. Sam Devine and Chalmers Wylie meet with George Smith, then prosecuting attorney, on the career criminal program
Judge Smith, with Barbara, swears in son Geoffrey Smith to the Ohio House of Representatives
Judge Smith, with Barbara, swears in son Geoffrey Smith to the Ohio House of Representatives