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.

 

§ 10 Responses to Reflections on the Shooting of a Judge

  • Teresa Gipson says:

    Continued prayers! Need to really get to work on who did this! Let’s not let it be another Christian Andrecchio case where you throw it aside! Got to be a disgruntled person he fooled with in court! Praying they take time to see!

  • Debbie Joiner says:

    You are right in every way. The shooting should never have happened and no lawyer should be in fear of their life. It was awful. So glad the Judge is strong as well as his family. And I know they are proud of friends like you.

  • Dale Smith Burcham. says:

    Charlie is my children’s father and one of the hardest things I ever had to do was make that call to them. Charlie did not deserve this. Thank God he is improving each day. Thank you for all the prayers.

  • Carolyn Gerald says:

    Oh my goodness…had not heard about this…Very powerful message…well said..Our thoughts and good wishes are with the unfairly injured Judge.

  • Kathy McNeely says:

    You have to walk to either side of that courthouse to enter, yet you park in the rear. There’s no door in the rear of the courthouse.

  • Marvin Floyd says:

    If you can have guns to protect you we should have the same opportunity to for ourselves. Who knows when we go to the courthouse if someone is gunning to hurt someone we want to feel protected an you can bet the police are more worried about you than they are me. Keep my weapons.

    • Larry says:

      That point has greater weight where there is no protection. We have armed deputies to protect you in our courthouses. They do the job you think you need to do. Fewer guns equals less confusion and tragedy in a bad situation.

  • Praise the Lord for the good news about Chancellor Smith! More security is needed.

  • Philip Thomas says:

    This attack is particularly disturbing because Judge Smith did not have a chance to defend himself. So the plan most of us in the profession have for dealing with an attack would not have worked.

    Judge Primeaux’s comment about everyone in the profession knowing what it’s like to worry about a crazy litigant is spot on. Like many of the stressors in the profession, it’s something that should be recognized and discussed.

  • John Gunn says:

    Well said Judge…and so true!

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