Former Waco judge named in federal judicial harassment investigation

Former U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr. (File)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A retired Waco federal district judge was named in a federal Supreme Court investigation initiated late last year into sexual harassment issues in federal courthouses.

KWTX obtained a copy of a letter written by James C. Duff, director of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Administrative Office of the United States Courts to two ranking members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary that explains what the high court is doing to help ensure safe workplaces for federal courthouse employees.

In the letter Duff explains that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts formed a committee in late December 2017 to investigate "Events in recent months (that) have illuminated the depth of the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, and events in the past few weeks have made it clear that the Judicial Branch is not immune."

As examples in the letter, Duff lists past events that have cast shadows on the federal judiciary concerning workplace harassment and the first example he cites names former Waco federal district Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr.

Smith, who was the first judge on the Waco bench when it was created as part of the Western Judicial District of Texas, was appointed by then President Ronald Reagan and until he resigned on Sept.19, 2016 was the only judge assigned to that bench.

A permanent replacement for Smith has not yet been named and a series of federal judges routinely preside in the Waco courtroom to dispatch its docket.

“Please be advised that of this date, September 14, 2016, I intend to retire from office as a United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas,” Smith wrote in a letter dated Sept. 14 to President Barack Obama.

“I understand that, upon my retirement, I will receive, during the remainder of my lifetime, an annuity equal to the salary I was receiving at the time of retirement,” he wrote.

Federal district judges are paid $199,100 a year and upon retirement receive that salary for life.

Smith was embroiled in controversy in 2015 when a federal court in New Orleans ordered sanctions against him after an investigation found that he groped a female court employee and ordered that he attend sexual harassment classes and refrain from hearing any new cases for the period of one year.

In July 2016, a federal judicial conduct committee ordered the 5th U.S. Circuit Court to re-investigate the case against Smith.

The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States reviewed a petition filed by New York lawyer Ty Clevenger naming Smith, 75, and said in its order that the reprimand issued against Smith in December 2015 may not have gone far enough in the punishment meted out to Smith and ordered the 5th Circuit Court to review the evidence against Smith again.

As part of his petition, Clevenger provided testimony from a witness to the harassment that would have forced the committee to consider ordering the review and said that when he provided the same evidence to the 5th Circuit Court, that panel ignored the evidence.

The committee directed the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Council to investigate further whether Smith engaged in a “pattern and practice” of making inappropriate sexual advances toward women who worked in the federal courts building.

The four-page decision said the 5th Circuit Court failed to adequately deal with the issue and directed the counsel to take another look.

Smith immediately announced his retirement.

Smith graduated from Baylor University in 1964 and from Baylor Law School in 1966, his official biography shows.

He began his legal career as an attorney in the Dunnam and Dunnam law firm, in Waco and also worked at Wallace and Smith and later at Haley, Fullbright, Winniford and Bice.

The governor of Texas appointed Smith to the 54th State District Court after the late Judge Carl Anderson died in office.

He was defeated in a subsequent election for that bench by now retired Judge George Allen.

He was appointed to the federal Magistrate’s bench in 1983 and elevated to district judge in 1984.

Smith could not be reached for comment.