Jack Smith named Person of Year
Orange City Attorney John Cash “Jack” Smith, an Orange High grad and local lawyer for five decades, is The Record Newspapers Person of the Year. RECORD PHOTO: Lawrence Trimm
For The Record
As if he needs another accolade …
John Cash “Jack” Smith walked across the stage in Huntsville last month to pick up a master’s degree in
History from Sam Houston State.
And now Orange’s walking and talking history book collects another recognition: Jack Smith is the Record Newspapers’ Person of the Year, highlighting our 60th Anniversary Edition.
Smith, 80, is an 11-time winner of Texas Monthly’s Super Lawyer Award, including the last eight years consecutively.
He has practiced law since graduating from the University of Texas Law School in 1964, has been board certified in in personal injury trial law for 40 years and has won numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts and settlements.
He’s been in private practice with his son, Chris, for 16 years. Prior to that he had a long tenure as Orange representative for the Beaumont law firm of Mehaffy Weber.
Jack Smith has been City Attorney for Orange the last 27 years.
He is a past member and Chairman of the Board for the Stark Foundation and is the immediate Past Chairman of the Board of the Lamar State College Orange Foundation.
A Paul Harris Rotary Fellow, he has served on the LCM School Board and taught history at LSCO and hopes to continue.
And he’s been a Sunday School teacher for more than four decades. That’s how he met his wife at Orange’s First Baptist Church.
“I didn’t like him at first; I thought he talked too much,” said Juliet.
“But I thought he was an excellent Bible teacher.”
Soon, Jack asked her to attend a show at the Lutcher Theater, which would be their first date.
“I asked a mutual friend, ‘What can you tell me about Jack Smith?’” Juliet recalled, “and he said, ‘You can do better than that.’”
“I think he wanted to date her himself,” Jack said.
“I said, ‘Tell me something bad about Jack Smith,’ and he couldn’t,” said Juliet, who’s been married to Jack for 35 years.
“I checked him out with other people. Nobody could tell me anything bad about Jack Smith.”
The couple married in 1984.
Juliet’s first husband was also named Smith. More of a coincidence: Jack and Juliet each have two children from their previous marriages named Chris and David. They have two grandchildren.
Smith was one of three prominent Orange attorneys to graduate from Orange schools in the Class of 1957.
Smith and former Orange County DA Jim Sharon Bearden graduated together from Orange Stark High.
Wayne Peveto, who served nearly two decades in the Senate of the Texas Legislature, was a classmate at Stark High until transferring to Orangefield for his final two high school years.
Peveto and Smith were law partners, beginning in 1967.
“Jack had just taken a job with the Josiah Wheat law firm [in Woodville] when I got out of law school and came back to Orange in 1967,” Peveto recalled.
“I said, ‘Jack, why do you want to leave Orange? Why don’t you stay here?’ And we formed a law firm with Jim Morris – Morris, Smith and Peveto – and I stayed with that firm for several years after my election in 1972 to the Legislature.”
Peveto and Bearden and their family law firms now share offices in the same building on Border Street.
“Jack and I worked a lot of cases together,” Peveto said. We tried some cases together even after I formed a new law firm. I practiced law with Jack my whole career.”
Smith is the second of four generations of his family to live in Orange. His father and two brothers came to Orange after World War II and operated first, Smith Radio, then Smith Radio & TV, for more than 35 years.
One of the company’s big clients was the Stark family and their various operations.
“I’m a great admirer of Lutcher Stark,” Smith said. “He was a visionary man. He was quite a philanthropist.
“He was also a big customer of my dad’s business. He bought all their TVs from us and I was in and out of their houses putting in TVs.”
Smith recalls working a full day with his dad putting up a rotating TV antenna at the Starks’ lake house on Calcasieu Lake.
“We were invited to eat dinner with Mr. Stark and Nelda [his wife]. And then he gave me my watch when I won the Stark Reading Contest as a Stark High senior in 1957.”
Smith successfully represented the Stark Foundation in a 2001 lawsuit brought by Stark Family heirs.
Tom Hanna of Nederland, Jefferson County District Attorney from 1971-78 and current legal counsel for the Jefferson County Appraisal District, was Smith’s roommate for three years of college at Baylor and one year of law school at UT.
“We were kind of the original Odd Couple,” Hanna said. “Jack was always the neat one, I was sloppy. He was more studious. I was just exploring my way through life.
“People would ask how we survived as roommates. I said, ‘May came every year.’ We would not see each other for three months. By the time we got back in the fall, we’d forgotten all our sleights and fights.”
Marriages ended their time as roommates but not their association.
“We kind of went our separate ways but we remained good friends. In 1981, I joined a law firm, Mehaffy Weber and Jack and I ended up partners for 16 years,” Hanna said.
Along with their wives, they also adopted Colorado as their getaway space. Smith and Hanna purchased a condo together, then they each upgraded to townhouses next to each other.
Besides frequent trips to Colorado, the Smiths have done a lot of globe-trotting: “We’ve been all over Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Egypt, Jordan, Greece and extensive travel in England,” he said.
The walls of Smith’s office are full of certificates like his law credentials, art celebrating the UT football team – he’s had season tickets since 1968 — and a frame containing a length of thick cable.
“Being the city attorney, to me, is a public service job. I still charge them the same as I did in 1992,” Smith said.
“But mostly what I enjoy is litigation.”
The cable on the wall represents a favorite trial in Smith’s memory bank.
An employee on a construction job in Mont Belvieu was left a paraplegic when hit by a cable from a crane boom that had snapped under load. The lawsuit was against the crane operator, charging that he had been reckless.
Smith proved that the crane’s manufacturer was at fault because it had posted the wrong chart on load limits inside the cab of its crane.
“We tried that case in the Eastern District of Texas [court] in Beaumont and wiped the floor with that chart,” Smith said.
“Jack’s mind is amazing,” Juliet, his wife, said. “He’s a fast reader, retains what he reads and he can write.”
She says that was the key to him earning another college degree at 80. With a 3.66 grade point average, Smith points out.
Years earlier, Smith completed eight years of study to obtain a diploma in Biblical Studies from the Southern Baptist Seminary.
Today, he and Juliet are members of the Calder Baptist Church in Beaumont, and Jack still teaches Sunday Bible class.
“I admire Jack’s energy. Jack is never in a bad mood,” Juliet said. “He’s my anti-depressant.”
“It’s been a very good life,” Jack Smith said. “A very active life. Mentally, at least, I’m no different than I was 25 years ago.”