Prop. 8 judge, N. Randy Smith, still finds time for teaching

Published: Sunday, Dec. 5 2010 11:50 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-born and BYU-educated judge will find himself in the middle of a whole lot of hubbub when the case stemming from California's controversial Proposition 8 lands back in court Monday morning for oral arguments before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Judge N. Randy Smith, 61, was born in Logan. He attended Utah State University before transferring to BYU, where he received a B.S. in accounting in 1974 and his law degree in 1977. Successfully nominated to the 9th Circuit by President George W. Bush three years ago, Smith still remains the most recent newcomer of the nearly 30 active judges on the 9th Circuit. He currently resides in Pocatello, Idaho.

Joining Smith on the three-judge panel are Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, 65 years old, nominated in 1994 by President Bill Clinton to the 9th Circuit, and 79-year-old Circuit Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, who was nominated to the 9th Circuit in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. (Proposition 8 supporters filed a motion last week seeking Reinhardt's disqualification from the panel because his wife is the executive director of the ACLU of Southern California and a financial donor to the "No on 8" campaign, but Reinhardt declined to recuse himself.)

In what may be the final step of the appellate process before the matter reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, the judges will listen to attorneys from both sides in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case challenging the constitutionality of a California voter initiative restricting the scope of marriage to heterosexual unions. On Aug. 4, Judge Vaughn R. Walker of the trial-level U.S. District Court ruled Proposition 8 is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Throughout his adult life, Smith has consistently made time to teach business classes to university students. He began teaching college courses while still a student at BYU and continued doing so as a young attorney, first at Boise State (1977-82) and then Idaho State University (1984-present). His teaching regimen never yielded to the heavy time demands of some of the responsibilities he undertook along the way such as being partner at a law firm, chairman of the Idaho Republican Party or a state trial court judge.

"(Smith) teaches as an adjunct," said Jim Jolly, who for the past 22 years has been Smith's department chair in the Idaho State business school. "Even with his busy schedule, I always contact him when I'm ready to do the next semester's schedule and say, 'Are you going to be available? Are you willing?'

"He says, 'Oh of course, I really want to do it.' He finds the time in his busy schedule. He really enjoys teaching."

Scheduling classes around his judge job is always an issue for Smith, who maintains his chambers in Pocatello but is obligated to commute to 9th Circuit headquarters in San Francisco when his name is randomly chosen from the pool of judges to hear a case (which is how Smith ended up on the panel for the Proposition 8 appeal).

"Being on the 9th Circuit now, he has to travel to California quite a bit," Jolly said. "But that's on a pretty regular schedule. He teaches night classes for us. For example, for a long time it was a Thursday night but then his travel schedule changed so now it's on Tuesday night, and then he often travels late in the week."

Smith's course offerings include Legal Environment of Business, a sophomore-level class providing a broad overview of topics like employment law, and the upper-division Business Law, which teaches students everything they need to know about contract law in order to run a business. His teaching style incorporates the Socratic method, a way of teaching students by asking them questions that's common fare in American law schools.

"Nobody doesn't like Randy," Jolly said. "Semester in and semester out, he is probably our most popular instructor in terms of student evaluations. They absolutely love him, he cares about them and he's easy to talk to.

"He's just a nice guy. If you met him on the street, you would probably never realize that he's a Circuit Court judge. He's kind of the guy next door — soft-spoken, easy-going, just another guy. He's Randy, but he really knows his stuff too. The students really appreciate both those aspects."

e-mail: jaskar@desnews.com

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