National Adoption Day was a great success in Sedgwick County!

Spent the morning at Exploration Place signing lots of orders of adoption and closing CINC cases. This is my favorite part of the job. I see smiling faces of kids, their new parents, and lots of other relatives celebrating a new, brighter chapter in these kids’ lives. I’m proud to say that I had more adoptions from my docket than any other judge participating. I’m not exactly sure what this means overall for my dockets, but for these families it means they can move on and not deal with DCF or the courts anymore. Huzzaah!

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Thanks to all the wonderful people from court services, SFCS, DCF, Exploration Place, and of course the lawyers who prepare the paperwork for next to nothing. Events like NAD remind me what I was called to do, make a difference in kids’ lives.

I’ve been presenting the CINC process to groups in our community to encourage people to volunteer as CASAs and foster families. If you want to be part of the solution to child abuse, child neglect, and the disintegration of the family, consider playing an active part by becoming a child’s advocate or foster parent. If you have a group made up of people who want to help these kids, send me an email so I can contact you and set up a presentation to your group.

 

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Pachyderm Club gives warm welcome to children’s advocates!

Click here for video of our child in need of care presentation and how you can help kids in crisis…

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I presented the long , drawn out CINC process to the Sedgwick Co Pachyderm Club and received a wonderful reception with lots of thoughtful questions and feedback. Thanks to Ashley Thorne of CASA of Sedgwick County, Julie White of SFCS, and super foster mom Tonya Burke who served on the Q&A panel. General premise is that since  the length of time is lengthy due to the need for services and overworked case workers, we need good families to foster kids and good people to serve as Court Appointed Special Advocates to walk beside the kids as they deal with a system that sometimes seems to not care about them.

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If you know a group of great people who’d like to help these kids, email me and we’ll be happy to present to it too.

It’s about the kids!!!

 

I’m teaching Criminal Procedure at Friends University!

62BDBB22-D745-4BBF-8CD4-15918A6B803FTime to give back to the community. I’ve been hired to teach criminal procedure to criminal justice and pre-law majors at Friends University in the Spring. I will take a practical approach with two classes (the first one, and one in the middle of the semester) taken up with (1) a panel of prominent law professionals involved in a very high profile case in Sedgwick County, and (2) a moot trial where students will see how to testify and not to testify if called as witnesses. The goal of all law enforcement should be to investigate properly, not violate the Constitution as they do, and only charge cases when there’s zero risk of pretrial dismissals due to unprofessional law enforcement behavior.

There will be a textbook (casebook, actually), but the lectures will be on the procedures involved from opening a case file to taking it to trial. I’m looking forward to it.

Thrilled to participate in Regent Law Review symposium!

My law school, Regent University School of Law, flew 0E97B25B-B20D-4A54-82B5-21BC1415A6EBme to Virginia last weekend to participate in a panel on technology and its impact on the practice of law. Also at the symposium and on a different panel was a fellow class of ‘99 graduate and law review alumnus Shawn Tuma, who presented on various high tech security issues. Although the information shared by the panelists was terrific, the most memorable part for me was reconnecting with my friend and seeing the campus after almost 18 years.

99A67F64-1889-4115-913E-E6EF4EA93320I love Regent. The school’s mantra, Christian Leadership to Change the World, is what compelled me to attend law school so far away from home—that and the potential opportunity to clerk with the ACLJ, which happened. While many secular law schools are struggling to maintain enrollment and are sacrificing quality of students and with that bar passage rates to stay afloat, Regent has refused to sacrifice its standards just for money. Yet, last year Regent admitted 70 new students, this year more than 90, and its Virginia Bar passage rate exceeds 80 percent in one of the nation’s toughest jurisdictions. It’s gradually increasing enrollment while other schools are still struggling.

I met several law review members. Suffice to say they are brilliant and I’m proud to call them future Regent alumnus. Thanks to Hannah Hempstead for her work putting the symposium together. What an amazing time of spiritual rejuvenation. Getting back to Regent reminded me why I went to law school in the first place. The Law is a calling, and I’m blessed to serve as a Christian lawyer and now judge.

See D.C. to remind you where we came from…

IMG_5721My family and I spent this year’s vacation in Washington D.C. We saw buildings that represent the most important parts of our government, including the White House, the Capital, and the Supreme Court. We also saw monuments dedicated to the Founding Fathers, including the Washington Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial. We even parked our car in the Ronald Reagan Building’s parking garage!

DSC04304It’s not the first time my wife and I have been to D.C. We went there a few times when I attended law school in the east coast. In hindsight, I wish I would have spent more time in D.C. It’s humbling to think that our nation, just 250 years old, has developed into such a force in this world. Yet, something else came to mind as we walked the streets of D.C. It feels a bit like Rome. Every structure, including the Smithsonian museums and the aforementioned hallowed halls of government and our forebears’ memorials, put the Greek ruins to shame. They have similar pillars of granite, murals on grand ceilings, and gold inlays everywhere. When you consider how deeply indebted we’ve become as a nation you can’t help but wonder whether those in charge are more concerned with leaving legacies of marble and stone rather than prosperity and hope.

DSC04345Yet, we still live in the freest nation in the world. We still have a Bill of Rights. We still have three branches of government so no single governmental institution can get away with stripping us of our rights for long. For proof of this, consider the plethora of excellent legal opinions the U.S. Supreme Court issued last week, especially this one.

DSC04443Lots of other things happened the past week or so that give me hope that we’re headed in an upward trajectory. Specifically, we spent the 4th on the D.C. Mall and watched a spectacular fireworks display. EVERYONE we saw was happy to be an American. I have no idea what party they belonged to–probably a smattering of both–but they were ALL happy. We should all be happy to be Americans. The world is a mess but we are citizens of the greatest, most stable nation on the planet, perhaps the greatest nation that’s ever been. We and our children already have an advantage over those stuck in other countries. Be thankful, regardless of who the president is or if your chosen candidate lost the last election. We are all Americans. Bless you brothers and sisters. Bless you.

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My journey to judge, 2015-2016

A little less than two years ago I made a decision, one that changed my career path and life forever. After an election season that brought a few surprises, Judge Richard Ballinger passed away. A friend called me and suggested I submit my name for the vacated judgeship. I’d been encouraged to file to run two years before, and two years before that, but this time felt different. It felt right. Before I considered how much I had to lose with shutting down my law practice and the stress that would bring, as well as the hundreds of current and past clients that I’d no longer be able to help, and decided that price was too high. I did this same analysis this time. To be frank, I thought my chances of being considered by Gov. Brownback was slim to none, and none had left town, so the price of changing careers wasn’t a factor. I went for it.

img_0547I was shocked when I made the short list of candidates who met with the governor. As I drove home from Topeka after my final interview, I dared to think I had a chance. I began to plan my transition. The ulcers acted up, but I knew it would be fine. Others had done it so why not me?

Gov. Brownback called Kevin O’Connor, not me. I moved on.

Judge Joseph Bribiesca unexpectedly retired. My friend called again. I submitted my name again. I made the shortlist again, but this time when I drove to Topeka for my final interview, only one of Gov. Brownback’s advisors met with me even though at least one other was suppose to be there. A couple uncomfortable questions were asked toward the end of the interview and I knew I was again the proverbial bridesmaid and not the bride.

Gov. Brownback called Deborah Hernandez Mitchell, not me. I decided I had no chance to be appointed so made plans to run for a judgeship instead. By the way, Judges O’Connor and Mitchell are fantastic. They earned their appointments without question.

I filed for Division 24, which was held by a judge who had ethics issues. I assembled a great committee. I mailed a press release that summarized my reasons for filing, which made it clear that I was not holding anything back, and even sent out a letter to members of the Wichita Bar letting them know that I’d staked my claim on the position and planned to “restore integrity to the bench.” I was excited about the campaign and received lots of encouragement from fellow lawyers.

Judge Eric Yost retired. Although this time the colleague who initially advised me to submit my name for the open positions and a few of my campaign committee members suggested I stay the course in division 24, I submitted my name anyway. The  governor’s office scheduled an interview for me with Gov. Brownback. The Thursday morning before the interview one of his assistants called to cancel and said it would need to be rescheduled. It wasn’t.

The next Tuesday my friend called to tell me other candidates had been called and told they didn’t get the nomination. Before, the successful candidates were called first, so I assumed I was out in the cold again. Yet…

Gov. Brownback called me and offered me the nomination. I accepted.

imageSix weeks later–I needed time to transition my practice to another lawyer and shut down the practice–Judge James Fleetwood swore me in as Division 12 judge. Almost one year later I unequivocally say that I know this is where I’m suppose to be even with the financial sacrifices my family has had to make with this career transition. I never thought I’d say this, but I understand how people can say that “it’s not about the money.” Being a judge isn’t and cannot be about the money. It’s about loving the law so much that you make decisions behind the bench that respect the Constituion, are unbiased and without preference to one side or the other, and apply equity and fairness when the law permits or even demands.

I am humbled and honored to be a judge for the citizens of Sedgwick County, Kansas. My journey the past sixteen or so years as a lawyer, including the two years leading up to my appointment to the bench, has been sometimes difficult and always rewarding. I promise to make the most of my experiences as a lawyer and judge by staying humble and committed to the principles that led me to the practice of law in the first place. You will always get a fair hearing in my courtroom, and can expect a decision based on law and truth.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Blessings,

Hon. Kevin Mark Smith