Judge George C. Smith ‘59 Scholarship aims to benefit Moritz students with disabilities
By: James Grega, Jr.
Paying forward to future generations of lawyers was always a point of emphasis for Judge George C. Smith ‘59. Even after his passing in April of 2020 at the age of 84, his family is working to ensure Smith’s legacy continues to live on.
Judge Smith’s wife, Barbara Smith ’60, his children: Geoffrey Smith ’91, Curtis Smith ’95, and Beth Fligner ’97 — and his friend and mentee, Frank Ray ’73, have started the Judge George C. Smith Scholarship, which is designed to provide one or more scholarships to students who are enrolled in the Michael E. Moritz College of Law and graduated from a high school in Ohio, with preference being given to candidates with disabilities. Judge Smith lived most of his life without the use of his right leg.
“We wanted to create something that would honor his legacy and his contribution to public service,” Fligner said. “We wanted to give back to Moritz what it gave to him. The law school ultimately launched his career as a federal judge.”
Judge Smith had his right leg amputated when he was just 13 years old due to cancer. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg but ultimately had to use a wheelchair due to the physical strain on his hip in his later years. His disability didn’t deter him from being involved, however, as he served as class president at Columbus North High School before graduating in 1953 and enrolling at Ohio State as an undergraduate that fall.
As a student, Judge Smith was very active on campus, participating in a number of student clubs such as Romphos, Bucket and Dipper, Sphinx, Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, and named to the Phi Beta Sigma National Honor Society.
Judge Smith completed his undergraduate degree in just three years before pursuing a law degree at the Ohio State in 1957. Upon graduating in 1959, he served as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Columbus in both the civil and criminal divisions until 1962. As civil counsel, he served as counsel to the Columbus Board of Education and drafted the ordinance for the establishment of the German Village.
Judge Smith continued thriving in his career, ultimately serving as; Executive Assistant to the Mayor of Columbus (1962-1964), Assistant Attorney General for the State of Ohio (1964), Chief Counsel to the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney (1965-1970), Franklin County Prosecutor (1971-1980), Judge on the Franklin County Municipal Court (1980-1985) and Judge on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (1985-1987).
Early in his career, Judge Smith met and developed a bond with Ray, who was hired as a law clerk in the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office in 1972. A student at Ohio State at the time, Ray almost immediately became Judge Smith’s mentee and close friend.
However, Ray wasn’t the only member of the Columbus legal community that Judge Smith bonded with. According to Ray, Judge Smith routinely hired Ohio State law graduates to work for him at the numerous stages of his career.
“In addition to the legacy that he leaves as a sitting federal judge in our trial court here in Columbus, he has a legion of people who would call themselves alumni of his various offices,” Ray said. “Many of them were brand-new out of law school when he hired us, and many of us came from Ohio State.”
Judge Smith’s final, and most prominent position came in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan appointed Smith to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on November 6, 1987, and took the oath of office on December 1, 1987. He served in that role until January of 2002, at which time he received “senior” status.
Despite his rigorous work schedule and physical limitations, Judge Smith still found time to pay it forward. He was involved with numerous charities and foundations including President of The Lawyers Club of Columbus, President of the Ohio Prosecutors Association, President of The Athletic Club of Columbus, President of the Tri-Village Shrine Club, Law Day Chair Columbus Bar Association, Trustee for various charities including Leukemia and Lung Associations, Crime Stoppers, and Project Hope.
“He was always about inclusiveness, coupled with generosity, empathy, and fairness,” Ray said. “That is why he became such an exemplary judge on the federal court.”
Judge Smith was a student and practiced law at a time when accommodations for those with disabilities were scarce. In recent years, Saxbe Auditorium has undergone renovations that make law school at Ohio State more accessible for those with physical or other disabilities, including more handicapable seating and a wheelchair ramp to the main stage.
The Judge George C. Smith Scholarship aims to provide support to an Ohio State Law student with disabilities continuing Judge Smith’s legacy of paying forward to future generations of lawyers.
“If there is anything our recipient needs,” Fligner said, “we would like to provide that with this scholarship in his name.”
Anyone who wishes to make a gift to the Judge George C. Smith Scholarship should contact Jordan Gomes, Director of Development, at 614-688-1935 or Gomes.firstname.lastname@example.org.