- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

A liberal group is trying to dig up dirt on Appeals Court nominee Judge D. Brooks Smith, angering Pittsburgh lawyers who say it is a smear campaign and should be stopped.
"The idea that senators could take important action based upon this kind of unprincipled muckraking is appalling," said Amy J. Greer, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association.
William A. Weiler, a lawyer who has never won a case before Judge Smith, told The Washington Times he was contacted by Community Rights Counsel (CRC) Director Doug Kendall, who tried to sway his opinion against President Bush's nominee to the 3rd Circuit Court.
The legal group promotes regulated land use and is part of a larger coalition led by People for the American Way that critics say is targeting Mr. Bush's conservative bench nominees.
Mr. Kendall "was apparently contacting attorneys who had lost one way or the other in front of Judge Smith," Mr. Weiler said. "I told him I would go in front of Judge Smith again in a minute, he is a very fair judge."
In one product liability case involving pacemakers, Mr. Weiler said he lost the case because Pennsylvania law was not on his side.
"It was a fair decision, unfortunately for me," he said. "I thought he was wrong, but every time I'm ruled against I think they are wrong."
Mr. Weiler reported the conversation Wednesday to Miss Greer at the bar association. She called the actions "rumor mongering."
"I'm really shocked. I am not a partisan on this issue, I just want a good judge, and this is not how you determine whether a judge is a good judge," Miss Greer said.
"This enrages me as a lawyer; this is just not right," she added.
Mr. Kendall denied polling lawyers and said Mr. Weiler is the only lawyer he contacted.
"Judge Smith went to Hilton Head to a seminar on product liability at the time the case was pending. I find that disturbing, and I called Mr. Weiler about it," Mr. Kendall said.
"He is the only lawyer I initiated contact with. I don't know what he is referring to," said Mr. Kendall, who would not rule out initiating contact with other lawyers in the future.
Mr. Weiler said he found nothing wrong with Judge Smith attending legal seminars.
Senate Democrats, however, have used the trips to seminars, totaling $30,000 in value, to question Judge Smith's credibility. Judge Smith told the committee during his Feb. 26 hearing that he would not take any trips as a circuit court judge if they appeared improper or created a conflict of interest.
Judge Smith is also being criticized for his role in a 1997 fraud case involving Mid-State Bank, where his wife, Karen, was vice president of lending. The Smiths also held $100,000 to $250,000 of Mid-State Bank stock and a 401(k) fund with the bank in the same amount. He eventually recused himself in the case.
"None of the parties, lawyers or judges nor the trustee has questioned my conduct," Judge Smith said.
The fraud charge was not leveled at the bank; a bank client was accused of defrauding dozens of Pennsylvania school districts.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking Judiciary Committee member, called the CRC actions "typical."
"These outside groups are vicious. They don't care about the quality of the bench, they care about the ideology of the bench," Mr. Hatch said.
Judge Smith is widely supported in his home state of Pennsylvania. His backers include a former Clinton judicial nominee in the same district who failed to obtain a hearing for more than two years.
"I have known Brooks Smith for more than a decade," said Lynette Norton in a March 20 letter to the Judiciary Committee.
"He is intelligent, fair, honorable and compassionate. Indeed, he was one of those locally who extended moral support to me during my own long ordeal," Miss Norton said. "Those of us who were denied the opportunity to serve their country as jurists reap no personal benefit from seeing other qualified candidates denied. I urge the committee to approve the nomination of Brooks Smith."

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