Michael Smith, a Voice for Justice Reform, Is Dead at 78


The Vera Institute of Justice was founded in 1961 by Louis Schweitzer, a philanthropist, and Herb Sturz, a magazine editor who went on to become chairman of the City Planning Commission and a deputy mayor during the Koch administration. It was named for Mr. Schweitzer’s mother. The two men’s goal was to correct what they viewed as inequities in a bail system that detained defendants simply for being poor.

“Many institutions fail when their visionary, charismatic founder leaves,” said Greg Berman, who directed the Center for Court Innovation, founded as a partnership between the New York State Unified Court System and the Fund for the City of New York, for 25 years.

“That wasn’t the case at Vera,” Mr. Berman added. “Following in Herb’s footsteps, Michael solidified Vera’s reputation as one of the most important criminal justice reform organizations in the country.”

Michael Edward Smith was born on June 30, 1942, in Manhattan to Francis E. Smith, an importer, and Alexandra (McNally) Smith.

Raised in Darien, Conn., Michael attended the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., and graduated in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree from Princeton. In the summer of 1964 he coordinated volunteers for the Mississippi Freedom Schools at Princeton; that fall, he was the starting center on the college’s undefeated football team.

From 1965 to 1967, he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, where he earned a degree in philosophy, politics and economics and roomed with Mr. Bradley. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1970.

After working as an assistant to Charles E. Goodell, a Republican senator from New York, he helped establish a public-interest law firm, the Legal Action Center of the City of New York, and served as its deputy director. He directed a Vera office in London, which experimented with criminal justice programs in Britain, from 1974 to 1977. He returned to New York as Vera’s deputy director and was its director from 1988 to 1995.



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