Good news on Idaho judges — for tiny R.I. district

As the effort to add to Idaho’s bench continues, a Boise native makes good across the U.S.

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comDecember 5, 2013 

William Smith

Idaho’s struggle to address booming caseloads got a boost last month when Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson introduced a bill to add a third U.S. district judge in the state. But with a divided Congress and fiscal woes, passage is a long shot.

As a point of pride, however, some consolation comes this week from Rhode Island, where Capital High School graduate William E. Smith became the new chief judge of the U.S. District Court.

Smith began his seven-year term as chief judge Sunday. He was appointed to the bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from Georgetown University.

Smith attended St. Joseph’s School in Boise and is the son of the late 4th District Judge W.E. Smith, who served more than three decades as a probate and state court judge in Ada County. Smith’s mother, Eileen Coughlin Smith, 93, lives in Boise.

The judge is part of a family of legal eagles: Stephen, a brother, is an attorney at Hawley Troxell in Boise; Tom, another brother, is a law professor at the University of San Diego; and sister Trish Cassell is a senior district attorney in Salt Lake County, Utah.

Smith leads a Rhode Island bench with four U.S. District judges: himself, Mary Lisi, John McConnell and Ronald Lagueux.

By contrast, Idaho has just two U.S. district judges, B. Lynn Winmill and Ed Lodge.

Rhode Island’s population is 1.1 million; Idaho has 1.6 million souls. Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, covers 1,545 square miles; Idaho, the 14th largest, has 83,570 square miles.

Idaho’s proportion of federal lands — which generate a considerable number of cases with federal jurisdiction — is also a tad larger than Rhode Island’s. About 62 percent of Idaho is in U.S. ownership; in Rhode Island, the figure is 0.4 percent.

Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics

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