I’m running for District 7 seat on KBA Board of Governors and appreciate your support!

A colleague encouraged me to run for the vacant District 7 seat of the Kansas Bar Association’s Board of Governors. If you’re a Sedgwick County attorney and a member of the KBA, I appreciate your support. Here’s the bio that will be sent with the ballot next month:

Judge Kevin M. Smith is assigned to the criminal department of the 18th Judicial District. He served in juvenile court his first four years on the bench, and one year in civil. He is an adjunct professor at Friends University where he teaches criminal law and criminal procedure to criminal justice students. He has published several law review articles on juvenile justice and the foster care system. Before being appointed to the bench in 2015, he practiced law for sixteen years, including time as an Assistant D.A. with the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s office, and as an associate with Martin Churchill, Chtd. Although Judge Smith is now in criminal, he continues to participate in foster care outreach activities to encourage our community to do its part to improve outcomes for foster children and their families. Sen. Pat Roberts nominated Judge Smith a 2019 CCAI Angel in Adoption due to these outreach efforts.

Judge Smith serves on the board of the KBA Family Law Section and previously served on the Board of Indigent Defense Services, and the IOLTA Committee of the Kansas Bar Foundation.

Shout out to people who make mistakes and take responsibility for them!

I represented hundreds of people in my law practice before becoming a judge. Many of these faced felony or misdemeanor charges as results of their bad choices. As I reflect back on that period in my life I realized how blessed I was to have represented mostly people who admitted their mistakes and worked to improve their lives as a result. I run into a few of these every now and then and am proud that my representation was a part of their turn around.

But my successful defense of these clients isn’t the point. It’s their proper attitude. We read about and see TV news reports weekly about people who blame America, the police, etc. for their disappointing lots in life. Some of these people probably made similar mistakes as my past clients. Some may not have faced such obstacles of their own making. In either case, many aren’t fully embracing their role in life outcomes and will probably make the same excuses 5, 10, 20 years from now—they’ll blame everyone but themselves forever, up until the point where it’s too late to do anything about it. In the meantime, people like my former clients will look back on lives well lived, realizing that perhaps because of or perhaps in spite of their bad decisions they turned their lives around and became successes in this life with healthy and happy families as well as careers, homes, etc. as proof.

I salute Americans who made mistakes and didn’t let their mistakes define them. Put another way, God bless people who faced obstacles in life and took the bull by the horns. YOU are what the American Dream is about.

We must fight to keep “The Shining City on a Hill”

We are blessed to be born in America. It’s tough to reach this conclusion if you live here and base your opinion on news headlines or facebook posts. I posted on my facebook this week an assumption that America is where the world’s downtrodden go when they want a better life. Shockingly, a couple people took issue with my premise that the land of unalienable rights is preferred to all other nations’ systems of questionable rights. Today I decided to confirm my hypothesis. I was correct! America is first in the world with 51 million immigrants, or 15.5% of our total population. The next is Saudi Arabia at 13 million. It’s not even close.

I appreciate the premise that some people have a harder time than others, and that we should strive to get closer to the color blind, merit-based society Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned, but any solution that includes moving away from the principles of unalienable rights and toward more government control is insane. As the old saying goes, don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater.

America is still and must remain the shining city on a hill.

Want to see how wrong the premise is that if you’re from one or the other group you can’t tap into the American Dream consider the success of first generation immigrants vs. those more attenuated from their immigrant ancestors. “The 2017 Kauffman Entrepreneurship Index shows that immigrants are more entrepreneurial than native-born Americans. Every year from 1996 to 2016, the pace at which immigrants started businesses outpaced U.S.-born individuals two-fold.” Janet Alvarez, Immigrants outperform native-born Americans on two key measures of financial success, NBC News online, June 21, 2019. Although some disparities exist between immigrant black households and the overall population, the disparity of education and income levels between immigrant black populations and native born is substantial. “U.S.-born blacks have a median household income of $33,500, a full $10,000 less than that among foreign-born black households.” Monica Anderson, Statistical Portrait of the U.S. Black Immigrant Population, Pew Research Center. I encourage you to drill down into the studies that led to these articles. It will make anyone stuck in a professional or economic rut reconsider his or her views on what it means to be an American and just how many opportunities we all miss every day in this great nation of unlimited opportunities.

Some interesting conclusions. Immigrants avoid debt. Immigrants want to be self sufficient not dependent on government–they work their tails off to get off government largess not look for new government programs to tap into. Immigrants take their ideas and dreams and turn them into reality. They do not let naysayers or depressing news reports divert them from their goals and objectives.

As for me, I grow tired of native-born Americans bashing immigrants. These studies make clear that the higher success rate and entrepreneurialism isn’t limited to any group. Blacks, Hispanics, Europeans, Asians, Indians, Lebanese, etc. are all well represented in the successful first generation immigrant population. People who come to America from lesser nations succeed. Time for native born Americans to learn from these great, fresh and untainted Americans.

Times have changed for the worst

I’m reading “The Sit-Ins”, by Christopher W. Schmidt (University of Chicago Press, 2018), which is about the 60’s sit-in movement begun by 4 black students who were tired of being denied service in the segregated South. To summarize, these brave kids went to a segregated lunch counter and refused to leave before they were served. Each day more students joined them until a movement across the entire nation resulted. The opposition was led by groups such as the KKK. The righteous protestors behaved as Christians should, the unrighteous racists didn’t. “When the ‘toughs‘ paraded around waving Confederate flags, black students responded by waving American flags.” Ibid. at 19. As one of the black students explained, “We don’t expect violence…but if it comes we will meet it with passive resistance. This is a Christian movement.” Ibid. at 20.

These protests led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and desegregation on a national scale. Good prevailed because good didn’t resort to bad. I wish Americans would learn from this history. Racists don’t typically wrap themselves around the American flag—they have the Confederate Battle flag for that—regardless of what Colin Kaepernick and flag burners claim. When they do, we should reclaim that symbol of freedom and liberty for all men, not degrade and abuse it.

Old Glory is tattered and torn, but it waves grandly in Patriots’ hearts

The flag represents the Declaration of Independence and its guarantee that all men are created equal and share the same unalienable rights, as well as the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10), which spells out some of these rights. It’s these American ideals that led to desegregation. It’s these American ideals that give all Americans equality of opportunity if they just grab onto the American Dream and work it like generations of all creeds have done before.

Defend America. Defend the Declaration and the Constitution. Don’t let uninformed and uneducated people take them from us, or change them into something that can’t be used by future generations to fight for freedom and liberty.

Also, fly the flag bravely, just like those men who flew it at the Greensboro, South Carolina lunch counter.

Whew! Thank goodness for 4 more years!

The June 1, 12:00 pm filing deadline is come and gone. We made it without an opponent for the 2020 election, which means 4 more years as a Sedgwick County Judge. Thanks to everyone for your support. Things will slow down a bit but I will continue participating in foster care community outreach so please send me an email if you know of any churches or civic organizations that would like an update on the foster care system and what they can do to help.

God bless,

Hon. Kevin M. Smith

Time to get to work and live the American Dream!

Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Rider and 26th President of the United States

When I was a kid I didn’t hear my parents talk politics. They ran their own businesses and enjoyed their free time doing fun things. I recall many weekends hunting and fishing, and boating at the lake house. They encouraged us kids to pursue extracurricular activities in middle and high school. I was a band geek until high school then transitioned to speech and debate. I had a fun childhood.

Mom and Dad always had good attitudes, and taught me to work hard and be optimistic. My parents showed me the difference a good attitude makes. Dad never considered not being successful at his business so it grew bigger and more successful every year. Mom was the model Zig Ziglar acolyte. She had (and still does) a positive mental attitude to the extreme, which resulted in her being a multimillion-dollar producer with both her real estate brokers, first Century 21, then Lou Smith Realty. Mom made me attend motivational seminars with her in high school. Zig Ziglar’s See You At The Top is still one of my favorite books of all time.

The early 80’s real estate crash hit them hard. It’s the only time in my childhood I remember them sharing negative thoughts. Yet, they pressed onward and turned lemons into lemonade when that’s all they had to work with. They were never defeated, and were always positive around us. As far as I knew, the economy was always great and thankfully they never made excuses, they just worked a little harder every now and then.

My childhood would have been very different if all my parents did was complain and moan about this or that politician, and this or that obstacle. Their economic future wasn’t dependent on one political party or another winning an election. It depended on their own blood, sweat and tears.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” —Teddy Roosevelt

What’s the point? Simple. We must latch on to the good news we’ve heard the past couple of days regarding a V-shaped economic recovery and get to work. Stop complaining about our leaders in D.C. and Topeka, at least from 8-5 now that we can go back to work and get something productive done. Imagine if that’s what we did between now and the August primary, then pressed into it again until the November 2020 elections. There are more than enough people wearing sackcloth and ashes to inform voters of the issues between now and these critical dates. Putting the time to best use by priming the economic pump so we take back what Covid-19 took from us is the absolute best thing all of us can do to regain the freedoms we were forced to give up during this awful season.

When I get worked up about things I have no control over I tend to neglect things I do control, which is very unlike Mom and Dad. Why get stressed and anxious when friends of different political persuasions express ideas I think are bonkers? Why should they get worked up when I share ideas they think are nuts? Just listen kindly, watch 30 minutes of news to get caught up, read a few choice online news journals, then get to work doing positive, productive things, sometimes with those friends who don’t always agree with me.

Today, my parents are very politically engaged. Why today when they weren’t when I lived at home? They retired. Now, when Dad isn’t fishing or hunting, and both aren’t working on their real estate properties, they are calling me to talk politics. They must have too much free time on their hands.

One of many from Dad’s most recent haul last week in Venice, La

We need to emulate men like Alexander Hamilton and stop making excuses for failure

Alexander Hamilton was an enigma, especially if you imagine him living in today’s world. He was effectively fatherless. His father was indebted and a drunkard who abandoned Alexander and his mother at an early age. Fortunately, he had family in the colonies and they set him up in an apprenticeship. Hamilton had all the excuses in the world to be a slacker and loser (just like his father), yet he used logic and reason to conclude that the surest path to success was hard work, study, and commitment to excellence.

Hamilton’s commitment to excellence led him to University where he excelled. When the Revolution hit America, Hamilton didn’t hesitate to fight for his country and served as General George Washington’s aid de camp. Washington saw Hamilton’s brilliance and relied on him throughout the war and during his presidency. Hamilton’s education and experience led him to believe in the merits of a strong central government and capitalism. He believed that hard work supported by a central government that protects the people’s rights were keys to America’s future.

Debating whether Hamilton’s federalist approach or Thomas Jefferson’s state’s rights/anti-federalist philosophy is best isn’t the point. The point is that Hamilton didn’t have government largess to fall back on. He had the grey matter between his ears, his hands and feet, and the clothes on his back. That’s all. The rest was up to him. He worked hard every chance he got, impressed everyone who knew him with his diligence, intelligence, and expertise, and took advantage of every opportunity by giving it his all. In the end he is known as one of America’s most influential founding fathers.

The other founding fathers were privileged. Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, et al., were part of the landed gentry. Yet, they welcomed Hamilton into their circles because he made the most of his natural talents by working hard and putting them to the use God intended. They needed Hamilton to form this nation. In addition to helping write the founding documents, he was one of three authors of the Federalist Papers, which were published anonymously in the colonies’ newspapers to convince the states to ratify the Constitution.

What if the founding of our nation happened today, with today’s mindset that if you aren’t blessed with wealth or notoriety you have no chance to forge a successful path in life? Imagine if Hamilton took offense at everything his fellow founders said about lesser castes such as the one he came from. One, he would have likely left those circles early on. Two, they would have kicked him out the first time he accused them of stealing from the lesser classes and keeping them in subjugation.

The gap between haves and have nots was much greater in 1776 than now, yet a poor man like Hamilton still desired to live off the sweat of his brow, and did so to great success. He didn’t blame the wealthy for his lack of opportunities. Young people would be wise to read about Alexander Hamilton and strive to be more like him and less like their contemporary whiners who look for reasons to fail instead of succeed.

I recommend reading Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. It’s excellent.

Be thankful for what we have not what we don’t

We are in strange times. After a massive shut down of the economy and hunkering down in our houses for almost 6 weeks, we will soon be able to get our hair cut! Seriously. I just got a text from my stylist asking me if I wanted to set an appointment for May 22. Heck yeah! Finally, something normal.

I say that just half in jest. But honestly, let’s put this latest crisis in perspective by comparIng it to past crises. I’m reading the latest Erik Larson book, The Splendid and the Vile, which is about how Winston Churchill dealt with WWII and specifically prepared for the Battle of Britain. Imagine hundreds of thousands of planes flying overhead every night and dropping bombs on you and your city, people dying in your neighborhood every day.

Remember the story of Anne Frank? She was a Jewish girl in Amsterdam. She and her family hid in silence in an attic for 2 years before the Germans found them, then she died in a concentration camp.

The Jews were enslaved by Pharaoh and Egypt for centuries before God delivered them out of bondage. Pharaoh killed the first born of the Jews, for goodness sakes. Imagine dealing with that tragedy.

Blacks in America were enslaved until we fought a Civil War to free them at the cost of more than 600,000 dead Americans from the north and south. Southern states kept them in bondage through Jim Crow laws for another hundred years.

The American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, etc. While America played a part in these wars, the civilians in other warring countries paid a much higher price than our nation. In fact, our economy boomed during and after most of those conflagrations. Their peoples suffered, starved, survived horrific acts of war, and died. Many emerged much less free and secure than the American soldiers who helped fight their wars.

Of all the places I’d want to be at the tail end of a pandemic, it’s America. So, be thankful. If you were in any other nation on this earth, your lot would likely be much worse.

God bless America!

Stay safe,

Hon. Kevin M. Smith

A Judicial Philosophy

A little more than 4 years into my time as a judge I’m happy to say that out of more than a dozen cases that were appealed from my court, the court of appeals affirmed all. The record supported my decisions. Conversely, getting those decisions “right” was at times heart wrenching, a feeling that every good judge shouldn’t hesitate to experience.

Judges cannot be arbitrary. Attorneys and litigants shouldn’t feel like they’re playing craps in Vegas every time they appear in a judge’s courtroom. A judge should hear the facts, apply the facts to the law applicable to each case, then make a decision based on this almost scientific approach. To do otherwise constitutes legislating from the bench, which is dangerous and unpredictable.

“The task of a judge is not to make the law – it is to apply the law.” ~ Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

“Originalism is sort of subspecies of textualism. Textualism means you are governed by the text. That’s the only thing that is relevant to your decision, not whether the outcome is desirable, not whether legislative history says this or that. But the text of the statute.” ~ Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

This may sound harsh, but my feelings shouldn’t interfere with this process. If the facts of a case line up with the elements of the law, I am bound to render the decision demanded by that process. It’s the only proper way to judge. Parties have an idea what to expect when a judge follows this philosophy.

Sometimes proper judging hurts my heart. Most of my cases so far involved termination of parental rights. Anyone who thinks this is without emotional consequences is clueless. I had a few sleepless nights during my time in CINC court. While I knew the families that stepped up to adopt the kids loved them and would take great care of them, I also knew there’d be trauma to go around, both with the biological parents who lost their parental rights and the children who would ask themselves for a very long time if there was something they did to drive away their parents.

The same thing happens in all areas of law: domestic, criminal, debt collection, and civil litigation. There will always be winners and losers, and sometimes these cases are close calls. Close calls take an emotional toll on judges, and we must not let that reality impact our decisions. The facts are the facts and the law is the law.

I suppressed evidence obtained through illegal searches. I overruled motions to suppress allegedly illegal searches. I found criminal defendants guilty. I found criminal defendants not guilty. I even found defendants not guilty when they violated the terms of their diversions when the stipulated facts were insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I approved lots of search warrants. A also denied a few warrants. The facts and the law compelled me to make each and every one of these decisions.

I also believe that as the judicial canons state, judges should engage in community outreach to positively impact the administration of justice, and write on important legal issues to accomplish the same objective. I’ve taken this to heart by speaking to churches and community organizations about the importance of community involvement in foster care support over the past few years, and will continue to do so even though I’ve been “promoted” to the civil division. I’ve also published at least one law review article a year and presented continuing legal education programs to provide useful information to attorneys. I firmly believe that judges should be involved in their community and the bar to enhance the administration of justice and I will continue to do so.

As the 2020 election draws near, you should know what kind of judge you are voting for. I appreciate your support.

God bless and stay safe,
Hon. Kevin M. Smith