2019 Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger Judicial Excellence Award

07/03/2019 -Named in honor of its first recipient, retired Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger, this Award is given to a Rhode Island jurist for exemplifying and encouraging the highest level of competence, integrity, judicial temperament, ethical conduct and professionalism.


Hon. William E. Smith, Chief Judge of the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island, is honored with the 2019 Chief Justice Joseph R. Weisberger Judicial Excellence Award. Judge Smith was appointed to the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island in 2002 by President George Bush to fill the seat vacated by Ronald Lagueux. He became Chief Judge in 2013. A graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where he was a George F. Baker scholar, and Georgetown Law Center, graduating cum laude, Judge Smith started his professional career as an associate at Edwards & Angell, LLP in 1987, becoming partner in 1994. In 2000, he became Staff Director of the Rhode Island Office of U.S. Senator Lincoln D. Chafee.  He returned to Edwards & Angell in 2001, before taking the bench in 2002. Prior to his appointment to the bench, he served as City Solicitor for the City of Warwick, counsel to the Rhode Island Secretary of State, and Municipal Court Judge for the Town of West Warwick.  He was a member of the Rhode Island Judicial Tenure and Discipline Commission and the Task Force on Alternative Dispute Resolution. Judge Smith has written and published hundreds of opinions, and handled many cases of substantial public interest.  He has sat by designation on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for many years. He was appointed by the Chief Justice of the United States to several committees, and currently serves as chairperson of the Federal Judicial Center’s District Judges Education Committee. In 2014, Judge Smith received the Citizen of the Year Award from the Rhode Island Association for Justice.  And, in May 2019, he was awarded an honorary degree from Bryant University. Judge Smith created a highly successful “Litigation Academy” for young lawyers to gain practical experience in trying cases in federal court; a “re-entry court” (the HOPE court) for prisoners returning to society after long periods of incarceration; and a “Deferred Sentencing Program” designed to help young offenders stay out of prison and help them become productive members of society.  He has initiated programs and policy changes to make the federal court more accessible to the media and public. Judge Smith is the Chair of the Board of Directors of Roger Williams University Law School and a Member of the Roger Williams University Board of Trustees.  He is also a member of the adjunct faculty of the law school. Judge Smith co-authored a book in 2015, and has had several articles and essays published in legal journals. He currently sits on the Boards of Family Service of Rhode Island, the YMCA of Greater Providence, and the Rhode Island Burn Foundation.  He spent many years on the Board and as Chair of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and is currently an emeritus board member.

According to Attorney J. Richard Ratcliffe: Judge Smith displays, in exemplary fashion, the competence, integrity, judicial temperament, ethical conduct and professionalism that are the criteria for selecting a jurist for this honor. His greatest contributions, however, are in guarding fundamental fairness and the independence of the judiciary, as well as ensuring that the next generation of lawyers is properly trained to competently try a case in court.

According to the Honorable John J. McConnell, Jr. of the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University School of Law Dean Michael J. Yelnosky: Chief Judge Smith is well-respected by his colleagues on the bench, the lawyers and litigants who appear before him, court staff, and a wide swath of non­lawyers in Rhode Island. He is a true leader in the legal and broader   community. Moreover, through his work sitting by designation in courts across the country and his involvement in the activities of the Federal Judicial Conference and the Federal Judicial Center's Committee on District Judge Education, Chief Judge Smith's reputation is increasingly national. His commitment to judicial education echoes the remarkable contributions made by Chief Justice Weisberger at the National Judicial College.