Carl E. Smith’s court filings and affidavits loudly spouted incredible claims about the alleged criminal and sexual proclivities of various lawyers and judges in his community.
But for two years, while the Missouri Supreme Court considered the criminal contempt conviction and attorney discipline cases that sprung from his actions, Smith chose to remain silent.
One week after the Supreme Court revoked his law license in a one-page order, Smith, 63, spoke with Missouri Lawyers Weekly for the first time.
The Ava attorney described doggedly pursing his claims of corruption in the 44th Circuit, meeting new clients while he was jailed for contempt and how it feels to lose your license after 23 years of practicing law.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
How are you feeling since you were disbarred?
I’m saddened that I can’t work. I’ve worked since I was 11 years old. I liked this job because I had the chance to help other people.
On the other hand, I have certain principles that I have to adhere to. I’m of the Christian faith, and I have to do what I think is right. And if I receive information about misconduct, I feel I have to report it. I have to live with myself. That’s paramount to why I took the course of action that I did.
The affidavits and filings you put forth detailed graphic accusations against judges, prosecutors and lawyers you see every day. What has it been like when you encounter them in the community?
We don’t discuss these issues. Up until last week, I’ve had numerous cases with [Wright County Prosecuting Attorney] Jason MacPherson and before [44th Circuit] Judge R. Craig Carter. The week before last, I had two cases in front of [44th Circuit] Judge John G. Moody. We got along just fine. Business is business, and I represent my clients and they represent theirs.
I just tried do what I thought was the right thing by reporting the information. I made people sign sworn affidavits under the penalty of perjury. It was pretty serious. I’m an old Los Angeles cop and a Vietnam veteran, and I fought for honesty and justice. I know that sounds corny. But I can’t be any other way. If I got information like that and I didn’t submit it for investigation, I’m as bad as they are.
If I have to lose the job that I love to be that kind of person, then I guess that’s what happened.
If you had a second chance to do it all over again, would you have done anything differently?
I decided a long time ago that only two people have to like me. God is one. And the other is me. If he likes me and I like me, then I can survive.
My job is to resolve other people’s problems and make their lives as pleasant as possible under the certain situation.
But your filings detailed allegations about sex and illegal drug use by judges and prosecutors. The fallout from the statements you put forth caused those people problems and didn’t make their lives any easier.
I certainly have no personal animosity against anyone. I don’t know what happened [during the events alleged in the affidavits]. I didn’t view any of this. But when these things appear in cases, and I use them to represent a client, and witnesses and clients are willing to sign sworn affidavits under the penalty of perjury … what do I do?
I always thought the court system was where they found out what was truth and what was falsity. I didn’t think it was my job to figure it out.
I hoped it would be properly investigated and decided one way or another. I’m not judge, jury and executioner.
They were terrible accusations. But just as in life in general, people say bad things about people all the time.
But you’re not just a person on the street repeating bad things about other people. You’re a lawyer. Aren’t you held to a higher standard?
I generally tried to keep it within the [court] system so it could deal with the matter internally. If you received information that tended to show that there was some kind of corrupt system, what would you do? It’s a decision everyone has got to make.
I wish it never had happened. I wish I had never known any of this. But it is what it is.
Were you at all surprised that the Supreme Court disbarred you after upholding the statements at the center of your discipline case as constitutionally protected speech?
I’m not surprised at the outcome. I’m disappointed in it. I’m not a bad person. My discipline record is perfectly clean except for this.
Due process talks about life, liberty and property. I don’t think my life was in danger. My liberty was when I was incarcerated. I was exonerated on the basis of First Amendment speech. But they’ve taken my property. Taking somebody’s job for talking is like putting him in jail for talking. I don’t really see the difference between the two
After a Douglas County jury convicted you of criminal contempt, you spent 28 days of a 120-day sentence in the Ozark County Jail. What was that like?
I wouldn’t recommend incarceration to anyone. On the other hand, I’ve always tried to make the best of a bad situation and try to keep upbeat. I’d talk to the inmates. A couple of them hired me later.
A day or two after I arrived, the television went out in the jail. I had my daughter buy a new TV and bring it down there so other inmates could have something to watch on TV. I like to watch the police shows where the good guys are getting the bad guys and locking them up. But the inmates would want to watch “Two and a Half Men.”
I’m thankful for all the friends who helped me and supported me. But when you’re in jail, it’s hard to do anything creative or positive. You’re just stagnant.
How did you feel in October 2009 when the Missouri Supreme Court ordered your early release from jail while it considered your appeal?
I remember exactly how I felt. I was in the common room watching TV. The jailer — I’d become friends with all the jailers — came over and said, “Carl, how’d you like to go home?” And I said back to him, “If I have to give up my principles, I think I’d just as soon stay here.” He said, “Carl, you don’t have to give up your principles.” So I said, “That would be great, then.
How will your discipline case affect other attorneys?
It’s an important legal issue for all my attorney friends. How do you know what you can say and what you can’t say? It’s not like I walked into court and was being a jerk and calling a judge names. This is different.
If this decision implies that an attorney has to investigate the statements of his own client … instead of charging the client $500, do you have to charge them $2,000 and pay an investigator to check out with that client says?
I thought that a client comes in, they tell you something, you put it in the pleadings and go to court, and a judge or jury figures out who’s lied and who’s telling the truth. How much investigation does an attorney have to do before he reaches the level to where he is protected from incarceration or the loss of his license?
I made the clients and witnesses sign a sworn affidavit under the penalty of perjury. I thought that would be sufficient. But apparently not.
It’s not like I was trying to get some benefit or advantage from this, that’s for doggone sure. I didn’t make any money off this. It’s been nothing but difficult and very costly to me personally.
What are your next steps following your disbarment?
It hasn’t yet been a week. I’m still trying to get over the shock of the order.
My oldest daughter Amanda Robinson is an attorney in Kansas City [with Shook, Hardy & Bacon]. She does a lot of work with the poor in the inner city. Frankly, so far that’s all I can think of, to help her get something started like that. Not for the money but for doing something good.
To do that, I’d have to go to Kansas City. But I like this area. I like the people here. I’ve got a lot of friends and supporters here. I like the geography of the land, the creeks and streams. It’s really beautiful. I’ve lived in the same place for 38 years. I don’t imagine myself leaving anytime soon.
Have you ever apologized to any of the attorneys or judges named in the affidavits, or will you in the future?
No. I don’t know if I will see them in the future because I’m no longer in the situation where I would come in contact with them.
I appreciate the time that the Missouri court system has permitted me to practice. I appreciate being given the opportunity to help others in cases. I wish God’s blessings in the future for the legal system and the people in it.