The Washington Post

Chesterfield Smith; ABA Head During Watergate

Chesterfield Smith, 85, a prominent Florida lawyer who, as president of the American Bar Association in 1973, became a critic of President Richard Nixon’s efforts to avoid the stains of the Watergate scandal, died July 16 in a hospital in Coral Gables, Fla., after a heart attack.

Mr. Smith, who was the bar association’s president in 1973 and 1974, denounced Nixon after the chief executive fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus, who had refused to fire Cox. Nixon also abolished the special prosecutor’s office.

The day after what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” Mr. Smith, a longtime corporate lawyer who had supported Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, released an American Bar Association statement.

It said, “No man is above the law,” and urged that an independent special prosecutor be employed to investigate the president. The quote and the bar association’s position was carried on scores of newspaper front pages across the country.

Mr. Smith called on Congress to reestablish the special prosecutor’s office. A former American Bar Association president, Leon Jaworksi, became the new special prosecutor and continued to probe presidential abuse of power.

Mr. Smith recalled, in a 1999 interview with the Associated Press, that “the justice system was being torn down by Nixon’s actions.”

Before being becoming American Bar Association president, Mr. Smith served as president of the Florida Bar Association and on the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission.

Mr. Smith was born in Arcadia, Fla. The man who became an early champion of civil rights and pro bono legal work for the poor, and who was a mentor to women in the legal profession, sometimes described himself as “a cracker from Arcadia.”

He was a World War II Army veteran and a graduate of the University of Florida and its law school.

Beginning in the 1950s, he represented the phosphate industry and citrus growers, and was instrumental in mergers that resulted in the firm Holland & Knight, which he chaired for many years. The firm, which had more than 1,200 lawyers, became the country’s eighth largest, with 32 offices across Florida, in the District, and elsewhere in this country and overseas.

He was the recipient of many awards. In 1969, he was named “Distinguished Floridian of the Year” by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. In 2002, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presented him with the Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award. Legal Services of Greater Miami has named its headquarters building in his honor.

Mr. Smith, who knew and worked with the leading Florida movers and shakers and advised some of the leading corporations of his time, never lost sight of the real meaning of the law.

Once, addressing a group of law students on the role of the American Bar Association, he said: “We are not a trade association. We are not a union. We are out to improve justice and its administration of society. If you don’t intend to work to improve the quality of justice, then I hope you flunk your exams.”

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Republicans debated Saturday night. The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says...
Rarely has the division between Trump and party elites been more apparent. Trump trashed one of the most revered families in Republican politics and made a bet that standing his ground is better than backing down. Drawing boos from the audience, Trump did not flinch. But whether he will be punished or rewarded by voters was the unanswerable question.
GOP candidates react to Justice Scalia's death
Quoted
I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish.
Sen. Marco Rubio, attacking Sen. Ted Cruz in Saturday night's very heated GOP debate in South Carolina. Soon after, Cruz went on a tirade in Spanish.
The Fix asks The State's political reporter where the most important region of the state is.
The State's Andy Shain says he could talk about Charleston, which represents a little bit of everything the state has to offer from evangelicals to libertarians, and where Ted Cruz is raising more money than anywhere else. In a twist, Marco Rubio is drawing strong financial support from more socially conservative Upstate. That said, Donald Trump is bursting all the conventional wisdom in the state. So maybe the better answer to this question is, "Wherever Trump is."
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

March 6: Democratic debate

on CNN, in Flint, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.