Judge Raymond Smith served the 20th Circuit Court (then covering both Allegan and Ottawa Counties) from 1947-1970. Prior to serving in that role, he was a municipal judge in Holland, Michigan. He was born 27 January 1907 in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan to Frank L & May Smith and died 25 January 1983 in the same city (interred in Pilgrim Home Cemetery, Holland).
Attorney James Townsend recalls that the Circuit Court operated with a bare bones staff. He says of Judge Smith, specifically:
“He was covering two counties during a twenty-four year period, and he had no secretary. He had no assignment clerk. He kept the court calendar on a little book that he carried with him when he would go from one place to another, and would write down the schedule of the cases that were being set for trial…. [H]e typed his own opinions; which might explain why many of his opinions were one page or one paragraph. Yet he was able to focus on what the issues were, to get to the point, to do what was necessary, and to come up with very good decisions.”
A hotly-debated Circuit Court case involving the lake access road to what was until it’s destruction in 1875 the village of Singapore, Michigan bear his name covering a span of nearly 5 years. This case is riddled with irregularities, e.g. vanishing files and documents. Though hearings pertaining to it were presented in 1949-51, these records have, for the most part, been lost. One portion which is still extant indicates in the testimony of a Ms. Tews:
“The Register of Deeds of Allegan County testified that the Singapore plat had been recorded in 1832 and although it had been carefully preserved all these years, it had disappeared within the last 30 days from the Register of Deeds’ office. The staff reported that a thorough search had failed to discover the plat.”
This case would not be finally settled until 2011, many decades after Judge Smith’s retirement from the Court. The various manifestations of this issue over the years have included the following cases:
- David Bennett v. Allegan County Board of Road Commissioners (dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Raymond Smith 14 Jun 1948)
- Allegan County Board of Road Commissioners v. David Bennett (decided 24 Sep 1948 by Justice of the Peace Leslie Junkerman & by Circuit Court Judge Raymond Smith on 9 Feb 1951)
Judge Smith ultimately ruled in Bennett’s favor in this case , but his ruling in a similar 1963 case seems to be just the opposite:
“Allegan County Circuit Court Judge Raymond Smith ruled on March 27, 1963, that the road was a public right-of-way to Lake Michigan, putting the 66-foot-wide easement in Allegan County Road Commission hands…. State law designates Great Lakes waters and beach as public property to the high-water mark, past which where private land can begin.”
Judge Smith’s juidicial inconsistency in this regard seems to have spawned nearly 70 years of muddied legal waters with regard to public accessibility to the Great Lakes.
With regard to protection of the public at large, Judge Smith went above and beyond. He consistently ruled to commit persons acquitted by reason of insanity to mental facilities during his tenure on the bench. A high profile example came before his bench in August 1953. In the Dr. Kenneth B Small case, the named party had murdered New York resident Jules Lack and plead insanity. Prosecuting Attorney Dwight M Cheever (a future Allegan County Probate Judge) asked for committal to the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan, with which request Judge Smith concurred, stating that he “felt under a legislative mandate to commit persons acquitted of murder by reason of insanity.” By whatever means, Judge Smith was devoted to keeping murderers away from society, whether in prison or in asylums.
- James Townsend; in Ann Paeth, “Oral History Interiew with James Townsend,” Sesquicentennial Oral History Project: 150 Stories for 150 Years (15 Jul 1997), 13.
- s.v. “Raymond L Smith,” findagrave.com.
- Townsend, op. cit., 13-14.
- Michael E Allen, “Dugout Road Closed Legally 60+ Years Ago,” Allegan County News (25 May 2011).
- Scott Sullivan, “Ganges Street-end Case Seems to Have No End,” Allegan County News (23 Sep 2009); idem., “50-Year Ganges Street-End Case Nears End,” Allegan County News (16 Jan 2013).
- “Dr. Small Ordered Placed in Hospital,” St Petersburg Times (3 Aug 1953).