Attorney of the Month Award for Pima County


Judge Joe Smith

Hon. Joe Smith

December 2015

By Michele Mirto

The Honorable Joe Smith has been selected as the Outstanding Pro Bono Attorney of the Month for December. Judge Joe, as he is affectionately known among program staff, has been a member of Southern Arizona Legal Aid’s Volunteer Lawyers Program since May of 2014. Judge Joe is a frequent participant in the program’s family law clinics. He has focused his time on the Follow Up Clinics, where he helps self-represented litigants prepare to represent themselves at trial, handle discovery and disclosure requirements, calculate child support and draft motions. Since joining the program, Judge Joe has led forty-six clinics, donated one hundred and thirty-seven hours and assisted two hundred and four clients. His easy demeanor and good sense of humor make Judge Joe a favorite among clients and staff alike.

Q & A WITH Judge Joe Smith

Where are you from?  I grew up in rural southwest Nebraska and for grades 1-8 I went to a one room country school.

Where did you go to college?  
BS in English and Education from the University of Colorado/Boulder
MA in Theatre University of Texas at El Paso
PhD in Theatre History from the University of Missouri/Columbia

Where did you go to law school?  Drake University (Des Moines, Iowa) Class of 1989

How long have you lived in Tucson?  We moved to Arizona permanently in July of 2013

What is the history of your practice of law?
After I graduated from law school I was an attorney for the Iowa Employment Appeal Board for about six years.  After that I was a Public Defender for a little over four years.  I was appointed as an Associate District Court Judge in September of 1999 and retired in January of 2010.  I worked four years as a Senior Judge.

What are your current practice areas?  My work is exclusively for the VLP in family law.

What drives you to volunteer with VLP?  Save for one year my entire working life has been in education and public service.  In that work I frequently encountered good people who, through no fault of their own, needed a hand up.  I guess you could say it’s in my blood to extend that hand when I can.

Anyone you would like to acknowledge for contributing to your legal career / pro bono service?  I always acknowledge my former boss at the Iowa Department of Human Services, John Terrell.  He pushed me to go to law school and made it possible for me to finish.

One reason you would encourage attorneys to volunteer with VLP?  I know the pressure of making it in the practice of law is great, but it’s such a privilege to be an attorney.  It’s rewarding to see the difference you can make with just a few hours of your time to folks who really need the help.

Favorite Tucson restaurant?  Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails

Things you do when not working or volunteering your legal services?  I love to read, history and biography mostly. Also, I’ve taken up quilting in retirement.

If this award was accompanied by prize money, how would you spend it?  Travel

Things that you wish were closer to your office?  It would be nice if I lived closer to the SALA office.  An 84 mile round trip is quite a commute.

Any hidden talents?  I’m a passable electrician and plumber and a fairly accomplished cook and baker.

Are you a dog or a cat person?  Cat definitely.

Person you most admire?  Living the Dali Lama. All time Eleanor Roosevelt

Food you can't live without?  Cheese

Best vacation destination?  Viet Nam and Russia