District Judge Bret Smith earned respect from laymen and lawyers during his first four years on the bench.
On Thursday, during a launch party for his re-election campaign at Muskogee Golf Club, he asked them for their support for another four years. Smith made the case during a stump speech that he "can make a difference" as judge in Oklahoma's 15th Judicial District.
Smith said he is making a difference on the bench through family court and his work with children. Striving for change in the lives of those children, he said, will make the biggest difference in the community.
"A lot of these adults were in that system as kids. It's learned behavior," Smith said. "And if you don't start changing that behavior early on, then you are going to get a similar result because that is what they know."
Smith said only a handful of district court judges preside over the juvenile docket. He said those typically get shuffled off to "the most junior judge and the most junior" prosecutor because nobody really wants "to spend the time and effort" it takes to adequately deal with them.
Acknowledging the heartbreak these cases sometimes cause for the parties, Smith said they also can be the most rewarding.
"Whenever you see a success, whenever you see a child that you have worked with and appreciates what you've done for them — put them on the right path — it gives you that energy and gives that desire and that willingness to continue and help those people," Smith said. "It's not just those kids, it's those parents."
Tim Thompson, community affairs manager for OGE Energy Corp., said he met Smith when he began campaigning for the judicial post from which the late Judge Thomas H. Alford retired. Thompson said he has learned "from being around him" since then that Smith "cares about people."
"Anybody involved in the judicial system up there, you can guarantee he's going to give you a fair shake," Thompson said. "What sold me on him was his involvement with kids. We're lucky to have him in this county."
Thompson said Smith helps "put them on a path to work out their problems." He said Smith makes sure they complete the work that "needs to be done" to "reunite those families," and Smith's supporters need to do what they must to re-elect him to a second four-year term.
Lowell Howe, a Muskogee lawyer who introduced the judge to those who attended the campaign event, said he had always been impressed with Smith before he was elected to the judiciary. He said there were times when they represented clients who "didn't always agree," but he and Smith were able to come to an understanding.
"I was curious to see if that would actually filter over to the bench," Howe said. "What I can tell you now is, we don't always agree because justice doesn't always mean that my clients are right."
Howe said Smith is "willing to listen" and "is going to treat every person in that courtroom with the utmost dignity."
"I know he's going to make a fair ruling — not just give me what I want, because I don't think that that's really what lawyers always deserve," Howe said. "The facts are the facts, the law is the law."
Smith is the first candidate to formally announce plans to campaign for the office. The period for filing declarations of candidacies or petitions for the 2022 election cycle is April 13-15.