Sherman Wendell Smith, Jr., retired judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, passed away on September 4, following a long illness. He was 72 years old.
His service will be held on Saturday, September 17, at 11 a.m., at St. James Episcopal Church, 3903 Wilshire Blvd., in Los Angeles.
Appointed in 1979 by Governor Edmund J. Brown, Jr. to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, Smith eventually rose to presiding judge of the Municipal Court. His lifelong efforts to ensure fair and equal access to justice for every citizen, particularly the poor and African Americans distinguished his career.
He mentored scores of young people, and was a constant presence on panels and in the community, working to increase the numbers, visibility, and impact of minorities in the profession.
A native of Washington, D.C., Smith was born on January 2, 1944, to Sherman W. Smith, Sr., and Ethel Hoffler Smith. He excelled academically and athletically at the city’s Spingarn High School where he graduated in 1962.
He earned a B.A. in political science at Howard University in 1966, followed by his J.D. from Howard Law School in 1969. While in college, Smith worked in the Washington office of Augustus (Gus) Hawkins, California’s first African American congressman.
Relocating to California after graduation, Smith joined the Los Angeles Public Defenders Office and served as a deputy public defender from 1971 to 1976 before entering the appellate division of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office in 1977. He became a Special Counsel to then-City Attorney Burt Pines, charged with developing projects to change the way the agency related to and served poor and black communities.
Smith served as president of the New Frontier Democratic Club from 1973 to 1975, and was on the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee. He was a member of the Governing Board for the California Center for Judicial Education and Research from 1993-1997, served on the C.J.E.R. Continuing Legal Education Committee, and chaired the California Judges Association’s Committee on Education and Planning in 1995.
After his retirement from the bench in 1999, he served as an Alternate Dispute Resolution mediator and arbitrator. He handled a wide variety of cases, including Elder Abuse, Intellectual Property, Construction Defect, Commercial, and Employment Litigation.
He received numerous awards for public service and judicial excellence. The U.S. House of Representatives paid tribute to him in 1988 and the John M. Langston Bar Association of Los Angeles named Smith a Legend of the Legal Profession in 2012.
Smith is survived by his wife, Sallie; son, Sherman III (Renee); grandchildren, Devon, Hunter and Colin; stepmother, Helen; brother, Roger; sister, Louise; and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Charitable donations in Smith’s memory may be directed to the Tower Cancer Research Foundation or a cancer society.