Monday, November 20, 2023

Court of Appeals Judge George Bundy Smith

A Legacy of Judicial Excellence and Civil Rights Advocacy
By Kimberley Bernard
Kimberley Bernard is a third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to attending law school, Kimberley earned her bachelor’s degree from the University at Albany, SUNY, where she majored in English with double minors in Business and Sociology.
At the law school, Kimberley has served as treasurer for the Black Law Student Association, was a semi-finalist in the 2022 Donna Jo Morse Client Counseling Competition, and was the recipient of the 2023 James Campbell Matthews Student Award. Currently, she works as a student assistant in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office.
With an interest in family law, Kimberley has spent the last few years dedicating herself to these matters. In the Spring of 2023, Kimberley interned with the Family Violence Litigation Clinic, representing clients faced with domestic violence issues before the court. During the summer of 2023, Kimberley worked as a Summer Law Clerk for Arquette Law Firm, focusing on family and matrimonial matters.
This fall semester, she has had a Field Placement in the chambers of the Honorable Richard Rivera and she serves as a part-time Legal Aide for the New York Attorney General’s Office’s Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigation Office.

George Bundy Smith, a distinguished jurist, left an indelible mark on the legal landscape of New York State during his tenure on New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. This paper examines his judicial philosophy, landmark decisions, and lasting impact on civil rights and social justice within the context of the Court of Appeals.

Raised amidst racial segregation, Judge Smith’s personal experiences with inequalities fueled his commitment to civil rights and social justice throughout his career. His journey from being the only African American in his high school class to serving on New York's high court showcased his dedication to justice, fairness, and equality.

This paper explores Judge Smith’s early life, legal career, and educational journey, which included experiences such as being a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights Movement. His tenure as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and as a law secretary to influential jurists provided him with insights into the legal system’s transformative power in promoting civil rights and social progress.

The paper delves into significant rulings and opinions authored by Judge Smith, including his majority opinion in People v. LaValle (2004) that challenged the constitutionality of a “deadlock instruction” in death penalty cases. Another significant opinion, People v. Calabria (2000), addressed prosecutorial misconduct’s impact on a fair trial. Additionally, this paper highlights Judge Smith’s impactful dissent in People v. Tortorici (1999), where he challenged the majority’s approach to due process in cases involving mental competency.

Judge Smith’s commitment to public service extended beyond the bench, as he actively championed civil rights causes, promoted diversity within the legal profession, and engaged in various legal organizations. While his decisions were not without criticism, Judge Smith’s legacy is one of unwavering dedication to justice, equality, and civil rights. His impact on the legal community continues to inspire future generations in their pursuit of a more just society.
To read the paper, open HERE.