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Dayton names Cass County's Judge Smith to appeals court

WALKER – Gov. Mark Dayton announced Wednesday he has appointed Cass County District Court Judge John P. Smith to fill an at-large vacancy on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Smith will replace the Honorable Wilhelmina M. Wright, whom Gov. Dayton earlier this year appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Gov. Arne Carlson first appointed Smith to a Ninth Judicial District seat in 1991. Smith has been re-elected to the seat four times since then.

“He is highly regarded by his colleagues, as evidenced by his election as President of the Minnesota District Judges Association. I have the utmost confidence in his experience and ability to serve on the Minnesota Court of Appeals.” Gov. Dayton said in making his announcement.

Smith said in a telephone interview Wednesday he has enjoyed working with high quality lawyers and staff while serving in Cass County District Court and will miss his association with people in Walker.

“I’m happy to have the opportunity to try something new,” he said of his successful application to seek appointment to the higher court. When asked about his goals, he said he hopes people will think he does a good job as an appeals court judge.

He counts the success of Wellness Court, a joint venture with Leech Lake Reservation, among the high points of his years as district court judge.

He and his wife, Linda, have raised four children to adulthood at Nevis, a town of 300 people. They have two grandsons.

Smith has been active in Boy Scouts of America, currently serving as a member of the executive board of the Central Minnesota Council. When his son, Zachary, was growing up, Smith served as the scoutmaster for his son’s troop.

Seven boys started out in first grade in that troop. All seven achieved the rank of Eagle Scout before graduating from high school.

As a judge serving close to home, Smith said he has felt fortunate to be able to see his children grow up to become successful adults with the benefits of living in a small community where they could enjoy all the North Country has to offer.

As a young person himself, Smith set a goal to travel to all the continents in the world and has achieved that goal. He has visited 122 countries.

A fan of all kinds of sports, he has volunteered as an usher at Olympics in Atlanta, Ga.; Sydney, Australia; and Athens, Greece. He plans to volunteer again for the Olympics scheduled for Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

The Olympics have been places he has enjoyed using his photography hobby.

“Every person has thousands of experiences,” he said. In his photos, he tries to capture those experiences that he sees reflecting in the personality and culture of each person he photographs.

He plans to retain his home in Nevis.

Smith earned his B.A. degree with honors from Concordia College in 1971, his J.D. from William Mitchell College of Law in 1975 and his L.L.M. from Emory University of Law in 1987.

He was a civil trial specialist with the firm of Smith and Hunter in Park Rapids before his appointment to the district court bench. While serving in the Ninth District, Judge Smith has served as chief judge of the Ninth District.

Currently, he is president of the Minnesota District Judges Association and serves as a faculty member with the National Judicial College in Reno, Nev.

Minnesota Court of Appeals handles most of the appeals from the final decision of the trial courts, state agencies and local governments. It is comprised of judges who represent each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts, plus 11 at-large judges.