Regent Law Review is publishing my latest article, Roadmap for a Convention of the States. There’s a way to do this without risking our unalienable rights.
I’ve served as District Court Judge for almost seven years. Before that I practiced law for 14. I have been part of dozens of jury trials as judge or attorney. Each time jurors amazed me by how conscientious they were in fulfilling their jury service.
Some jurors deliberated for half-an-hour before returning guilty or not guilty verdicts.
Some jurors deliberated for a time and returned multiple questions for clarification. Each time the wording of the question made clear that they were carefully considering the facts of the case and my jury instructions.
Some jurors deliberated for hours or days on the most serious charges, as well as the least serious, before returning verdicts that made total sense.
Just one juror blatantly disregarded my jury instructions, and the others on her panel immediately told me about it so the jury wasn’t tainted by the indiscretion.
I have never reversed a jury’s verdict, which means the verdicts were supported by the evidence. Indeed, in my almost seven years on the bench almost all of my jury verdicts would have been the same had the trials been before me without a jury, known as bench trials.
Whatever the path of my trials and the deliberations of jurors, they always affirmed my pre-trial statement to them that they are the most important cogs in the 6th amendment guarantee of trial by jury.
The above said, something is bothering me: the ignorant rantings of citizens who never served on juries yet are convinced that jurors are idiots. I have too many awesome experiences—as do my colleagues on the bench in Sedgwick County—to put up with such nonsense. I defend jurors who willingly serve far more vigorously than citizens who do all they can to disqualify themselves from service, or who bloviate while sitting in the jury pool to the point that no lawyer in his or her right mind would not use a peremptory strike to remove them. Until you have served on a jury, shut up.
If you have been a victim of a crime and the verdict didn’t go as you hoped, or lost a civil case and likewise disagreed with the verdict, you are the exception to my admonition regardless of how legally sensible a jury’s verdict may be. You have a unique perspective we must respect.
My disdain for juror bashers applies to high profile cases we have a hard time understanding, such as O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, and to more typical low level crimes we never hear about. Until you serve and experience the gut-wrenching that comes with gross and horrific testimonies from child witnesses or murder scene photos and are asked to send someone to prison or set him free because there’s “reasonable doubt,” stop. Respect jurors if not the process. Indeed, if you ever serve on a jury you might find yourself respecting the process too.
Perhaps Sedgwick County citizens are more deliberative than those in other jurisdictions. Perhaps some of our fellow citizens are speaking out about something they know nothing about. If the latter, I suggest you take advantage of the constitutional guarantee of a public trial by observing a trial to see what jurors, judges, and lawyers see in courtrooms. You will probably change your mind about jurors and see them as I do, wise citizens committed to fulfilling one of their highest civic responsibilities and thus ensuring that our legal system remains the best in the world.
- More than 14 years legal experience in family law, business law, estate planning, and employment law before appointed then re-elected judge.
- Successful businessman and attorney before becoming judge.
- Former Sedgwick County Assistant District Attorney.
- Advocate for community support of foster families and children.
- Appointed CCAI Angel in Adoption by Senator Pat Roberts in 2019.
- Endorsed by Fraternal Order of Police.
- Endorsed by Kansans for Life.
- Married more than 27 years and father of three daughters.
- Member of Central Christian Church.
- Committed to upholding citizens’ unalienable rights pursuant to United States and Kansas Constitutions.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Hon. Kevin M. Smith
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.