'You could always count on him:' Nashville remembers Judge Phil Smith

Judge Phil Smith
Posted at 4:46 PM, Sep 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-05 22:24:24-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For the first time in more than a dozen years, Judge Phil Smith's courtroom will sit empty. Smith died over the weekend unexpectedly.

He was 62.

Metro Councilmember Freddie O'Connell just saw Judge Smith for the first time since the pandemic. He had no idea, it would be their last.

"We had just sworn in a lot of folks, and Judge Smith had participated in the swearing in of some folks I knew," said O'Connell. "You think you’re celebrating and it turns out you’re saying goodbye to someone."

NewsChannel 5 Legal Analyst Nick Leonardo had several clients appear in Judge Smith's courtroom, who specialized in Family Law.

"Divorces, you know, modifications of parenting plans, also adoptions," explained Leonardo.

No matter the complexities of the case, Leonardo says Judge Smith was always fair.

"Judge Smith had a unique gift. He had the ability to hear really bad facts about a party at a trial but yet he was still able to be fair and have a fair ruling at the very end. He understood that he genuinely had really good folks coming before him, he was just seeing them on their worst day," he said.

That professional courtesy extended to the attorneys as well.

"Judge Smith didn’t play favorites in his courtroom. You could be in there against another titan of the bar and you might have been a lawyer for two years, but you had just as good of a shot. And if you had the right set of facts on your side, you would win," said Leonardo.

Long before Smith became a judge, he was a respected trial lawyer that was often seen on NewsChannel 5. For high profile cases like the trial of Mary Wrinkler and the complex custody battle between accused murderer Perry March and his former in-laws, our reporters turned to Phil Smith for analysis.

"It’s a bit of a unique domestic case, it’s got an international twist to it," Smith told NewsChannel 5 back in 2007 about the Perry March custody battle.

And though is courtroom is now empty, those who knew him feel full of appreciation for all he did for Nashville.

"Every time you saw him, he was ready with a quick smile. He just had that air of somebody that if you, if you needed him to be there for you, you knew he would be there for you," said O'Connell.

Who replaces Judge Smith?

NewsChannel 5 Legal Analyst Nick Leonardo says the Judicial Trial Court Vacancy Committee will now convene to narrow down Judge Smith's successor to three top candidates. The final decision on the appointment will be up to Gov. Bill Lee.

"I will say though, the Fourth Circuit Staff is tremendous. They have some folks that have been with Judge Smith even before he got there and I am certain that Fourth Circuit Staff will continue to carry business on in respect to his memory and what it was he stood for and how he ran his courtroom," said Leonardo.