Smith is an elected judge presiding over civil and criminal cases in the court of common pleas for Northampton County, based in Easton, Pa. In Iraq, he found people who yearned to trust courts, prisons and police. But their faith had been shattered under the rule of Saddam Hussein, and it was still being tested in the violence that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"There were situations where people would be dropped off outside prisons and they would be locked up and no one would ever see them," said Smith, a captain who served as a "rule of law" adviser.
In other cases, corrupt police officers tortured detainees who belonged to different religious sects, he said.
Stationed in Baghdad, Smith traveled around the country inspecting prisons and working with Iraqi officials to root out abuses and establish systems for due process in criminal courts. Insurgents were active, but they didn't deter Smith or his military colleagues.
Overall, he said, the country underwent a marked transformation for the better while he was there.
"Baghdad was a city that was beginning to thrive and that was going from chaos to order. The attitude of the people regarding their safety and their security greatly improved, as was their hope for the future," Smith said. Smith affiliated with the Naval Reserves in 1990 after serving three years on active duty. A graduate of Dickinson School of Law, he was an attorney before being elected a judge in November 2001.
His stint in Iraq drove home the profound power judges wield over the freedom of people convicted of crimes, Smith said. It is a power they must use responsibly and humanely.
A case close to home reinforced the lesson this year. Two judges in northeastern Pennsylvania were found to have sent hundreds of juveniles to a private prison in return for bribes, earning national headlines and reminding Smith of the abuses he saw in Iraq.
"Of course, one corrupt judge can do more to destroy the confidence of the people in the judiciary than a thousand good judges can do to bolster that confidence," he said.