Lawyers and criminal defendants alike knew where they stood when they appeared before District Judge Doug Smith.
“He can be tough, but fair, and he runs a very efficient courtroom,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Bill Terry. “And sometimes you have to be tough.”
Smith is retiring from the bench Friday, after having served in Las Vegas Justice Court and the Clark County District Court.
“He’ll look at your criminal history, and he’ll look at your potential,” Terry said.
In his final weeks of a more than 20-year stint on the bench in Las Vegas, Smith ordered a defendant into court for a sentencing a day after he had been shot by police.
The 52-year-old felon, Christopher Ganci, with a criminal history that spanned 30 years and a graze wound on his left shoulder, did not want to face a judge known for handing down some of the harshest sentences in the Regional Justice Center. And Ganci let Smith know.
“I know you. I know your reputation,” Ganci said last month. “And I’d rather took a bullet yesterday than come see you.”
The judge pored over the defendant’s rap sheet and gave him five consecutive sentences of life behind bars without parole.
“I am a tough sentencer,” Smith said in a phone interview about a week before sending Ganci to prison. “But I’m consistent. I did what I think was right.”
Smith was elected as justice of the peace in 1995, serving until he was elected to District Court in 2008.
Before taking the bench, he worked as a prosecutor and a public defender.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, a former defense attorney, said he has known Smith since the early 1980s. Wolfson recognized that Smith could be stern from the bench.
“He’s a loss to the court,” Wolfson said. “He’s been a good judge … On the bench, he was firm. But he’s really a teddy bear off the bench, and a very jovial man.”
Smith earned his law degree from Whittier Law School in California, and he was admitted to practice law in Nevada in 1983. He worked briefly in the Clark County public defender’s office before his car was burglarized, and he said he felt “violated.”
“I thought, well, somebody needs to go to jail for this,” Smith said. “If I’m thinking that, I’ve kind of lost the edge of the public defender.”
As a justice of the peace, he said he helped establish a drug court program. On the District Court bench, he sometimes faced criticism.
As recently as 2017, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline reprimanded Smith for misrepresenting endorsements from public agencies. The judge agreed that he neglected to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that no one else made false statements about his campaign.
In the newspaper interview last month, Smith said he regretted the decision. He added that as a judge his aim was to “try to be kind to people. I didn’t have any personal grind against anyone. The charge as a judge is to make sure the public is protected, and that’s what I tried to do.”