Judge was in law more than 50 years
SEATTLE — Charles Z. Smith, Washington state’s first black Superior Court judge and state Supreme Court justice, has died at 89.
In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee credited Smith’s “illustrious pursuit of the law,” saying he demonstrated his commitment to justice as he prosecuted public corruption and broke the state Supreme Court’s color barrier.
Smith died Sunday in Seattle, The Seattle Times reported.
Born into a world of poverty and segregation in Florida, Smith served as a court reporter in the Army during World War II and was admitted to the University of Washington Law School without having to take the exam after an associate dean saw his college transcript.
He went on to work for more than 50 years as a lawyer and judge.
Gov. Booth Gardner appointed Smith to a vacancy on the Washington Supreme Court in 1988. But it wasn’t the first time Smith had been offered a seat on the high court.
As Smith recalled for an oral history for the Washington State Heritage Project in 2008, Gov. John Spellman tried to appoint him in 1981, but he declined because he was just starting out in private practice after having spent 10 years as an associate dean of the UW Law School.
In the oral history, Smith described himself as “arrogant” enough not to be embittered by the hurdles racism posed.
“I always thought I was bright. I did a lot of reading. Nothing bothered me,” he said.
“The fact that I could not drink from a white water fountain didn’t bother me because I didn’t need the water.”
Current U.S. District Judges Ricardo Martinez and Richard Jones were among Smith’s students at the university.
Smith retired in 2002, when he reached the high court’s mandatory retirement age of 75.
Smith is survived by his wife of 61 years, Eleanor M. Smith; children Carlos Smith, Michael Smith, Stephen Smith and Felicia Gittleman; six grandchildren and four siblings.