Judge Donald M. Smith expected to retire in May

March 03, 1995|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

Judge Donald M. Smith, one of only three jurists to sit on the state's District Court since its inception 24 years ago, is expected to retire May 1 from the Carroll seat he has held since 1971.

His retirement will create the county's first judicial opening since 1990, when then-Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore retired and District Judge Francis M. Arnold was elevated to fill the vacancy.

District Judge Joann Ellinghaus-Jones was appointed to fill Judge Arnold's spot in 1991.

Judge Robert F. Sweeney, the chief judge of Maryland's District Court, said Judge Smith notified him of his plans several weeks ago. It was not clear yesterday when Gov. Parris N. Glendening would name a successor.

"He gives a great deal of thought to what he does," Judge Sweeney said of Judge Smith yesterday. "He has a penchant for detail."

Judge Smith -- who said he would be available to talk to a reporter today -- declined to comment yesterday on the reasons for his retirement.

Judge Sweeney, echoing a familiar battle cry of Carroll's defense bar, said he had heard that his colleague was regarded as a tough judge.

"He has a reputation as a heavy sentencer," the chief judge said. "I have not known him to be an unfair sentencer. He doesn't always meet with the approval of the defense bar.

"But someone the defense bar might consider a hero may not be considered a hero by someone who's just been mugged. He always states what it is he's doing, and why he's doing it."

While Carroll's defense lawyers may find him harsh, Judge Smith doesn't mince words when he thinks prosecutors are in the wrong. He once described a search warrant by holding it up with one hand and pinching his nose with the other. The warrant -- and the resulting drug case based on it -- were thrown out.

In another case, Judge Smith once asked a prosecutor who was pursuing a case against a woman whose charges arose from defending herself against an estranged husband, "Since when is the state of Maryland in the business of prosecuting crime victims?"

Judge Ellinghaus-Jones -- who remembers practicing in front of her judicial colleague -- said yesterday that Judge Smith has been an invaluable resource.

"He loves a good argument," Judge Ellinghaus-Jones said.

"He loves to banter with the lawyers."

Judge Arnold, who worked with Judge Smith from 1980 until 1990, said that his colleague is "probably one of the most knowledgeable students of the law in the whole state. I've learned a lot from Judge Smith."

Judge Smith, 63, was appointed to the bench in 1971 when the District Court was formed by the consolidation of the state's system of justices of the peace, county trial magistrates and People's Courts.

Although he was born in York, Pa., he attended public schools in Taneytown. He graduated from Western Maryland College, served in the Army, then graduated cum laude from George Washington University law school. He has been a member of the Maryland Bar since 1957, and was in private practice until 1971.

Judge Sweeney said that he, Montgomery County District Judge Douglas H. Moore Jr. and Judge Smith are the only original members of the court. When Judge Smith departs in May, the 98-member bench will have five vacancies. Judge Sweeney will be forced to retire in 18 months when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. Judge Moore will reach 70 in January.

District Court judges, who make $84,800 annually, are appointed to 10-year terms by the governor with confirmation by the Maryland Senate. They may be reappointed at the end of their terms.

Judge Ellinghaus-Jones said that whatever the reasons for Judge Smith's retirement, being tired of the job can't be one of them.

"I have never heard him complain," she said. "You know, this man's tried literally millions of speeding tickets, and I've never heard him complain about any aspect of this job. That's pretty admirable after more than 23 years on the job."

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