We are saddened to report the loss of a Leschi resident this year whose loss is felt far beyond Leschi: Charles Z. Smith. A graduate of the University of Washington Law School, the Judge achieved many “firsts” in his career. He was the first African-American lawyer to clerk at the Washington Supreme Court, as well as the first to be appointed to the King County Prosecutor’s Office. He was chosen by Robert F. Kennedy to serve as a special prosecutor investigating the abuses at the Teamsters’ Pension Fund.
Upon his return to Washington State, he was appointed the first African-American municipal court judge in Seattle, and later became the first to be appointed to the King County Supreme Court. In 1988, Gov. Booth Gardner appointed him to another first: the first African-American Washington Supreme Court judge. He remained there until his retirement at the age of 75, the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges in this state.
All who worked with Judge Smith noted his passion for civil rights; his family noted that his life was based on three principles: truth, justice and freedom.
I read a tribute to Judge Smith by a person of Japanese descent; the Judge had worked long and hard for reparations for the Japanese-Americans who were relocated to detention camps during WW II. The writer recounted an incident when Henry Miyatake, asked Judge Smith “Could this happen again?” The Judge explained that “The President has unlimited authority to issue an Executive Order to do anything.” He noted the steps a President would have to take but basically, it can happen again. Should it happen again? No. He then quoted Thomas Jefferson; “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” We must stay involved, we must question, we must ask for commitments. These wise words are even more important in today’s political climate.