Reflections on the Shooting of a Judge
March 20, 2020 § 10 Comments
Last Monday my fellow chancellor in the Twelfth District, Charles Smith, was ambushed and shot after exiting his pickup to enter the courthouse for the work day. He suffered extensive injuries, and was in critical condition until yesterday, when he was taken off the ventilator. His femoral artery was clipped, and Meridian surgeons had to operate to stop the bleeding. Only after they did that was it possible to transport him to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, where he has been since and will be for the foreseeable future. He is improving, but still may have to undergo multiple surgeries (he has had 4 already), although we actually got an optimistic report yesterday that damage to his pelvis may not be as bad as originally thought, and that he may not need as many surgeries as they thought at first.
It appears that this was a sniper-type rifle attack. No handgun could inflict that much damage unless at point-blank range; from everything we know, Judge Smith never saw his assailant.
Charlie, as he has been known to us, is an affable, easy-going, kind, considerate person. He’s a family man involved in his church. It’s hard to imagine what he could have done to incite such a savage blow.
And that’s the most troubling aspect. Every one of us — lawyers and judges alike — have handled cases where one party, could be your client, is crazy. By crazy, I mean irrational and even violent. You are lying to yourself if you haven’t thought at some point, even deep down, that you could be in danger from someone you represented, or was on the other side, or was in your court room.
An FBI agent visited my law partner, Tom, back in the 90’s to tell him that a former client he had represented in a criminal case had made a statement that if no one else was willing to kill Tom, the former client would do it himself. Thank goodness it never materialized. A former circuit judge told me of a time when a SWAT team spent the weekend in his home because of credible death threats they had learned of. I’ll bet most of you could relate similar experiences of your own or abut which you’ve heard.
I hope that this atrocity will get public officials to start paying serious attention to courthouse security. Judges should not feel that their lives are in jeopardy at their workplaces. Lawyers should not have to walk through courthouse crowds where some are wielding handguns waiting to intimidate, threaten, or even kill them.
The Declaration of Independence, our American Creed, which predates the Bill of Rights by 11 years, states that each citizen has the unalienable Rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Life is the first and foremost right, eclipsing all others. Without life, all those guarantees of the Bill of Rights are meaningless. The Declaration goes on to say that governments are instituted “to secure those rights.” Government must do whatever is necessary to ensure that the lives of lawyers, court personnel, and judges are preserved and protected. It’s our unalienable right.