Peter S. Smith

Peter S. Smith, was a longtime Baltimore attorney who pioneered programs that provided legal representation to the city's poor and disenfranchised.
Peter S. Smith, was a longtime Baltimore attorney who pioneered programs that provided legal representation to the city's poor and disenfranchised.(Baltimore Sun)

Peter S. Smith, a longtime Baltimore attorney who pioneered programs that provided legal representation to the city's poor and disenfranchised, died Feb. 14 at his Durham, N.H., home of complications of lymphoma.

The former Mount Washington resident was 76.


"Peter was consistent throughout his life in his commitment to equal rights and access to justice. He was always asking, 'How can I help?'" said Mike Millemann, a professor of law at the University of Maryland. "This was his career and he did this for 50 years. He was just a terrific lawyer."

The son of Sam Smith, a shoe manufacturer, and Norma Smith, a painter, Peter Sheridan Smith was born in New York City and raised in Durham, N.H.

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1956, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1960 from Bowdoin College, and his law degree in 1963 from Cornell University Law School.

"As a member of the elite Appeals and Research Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, he wrote and argued appeals in some of the most significant cases in the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, assisting in the preparation and defense of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Act of 1965," said his daughter, Abigail Smith of Washington.

In 1966, Mr. Smith became the first attorney of the Neighborhood Legal Services Program of Washington, which was the first civil appellate legal services program in the nation.

"In a first for a legal services attorney, he argued before the before the Supreme Court of the United States the landmark case Shapiro v. Thompson that brought an end to welfare residency requirements," said Ms. Smith.

Mr. Smith was hired in 1969 by Piper & Marbury, which is now DLA Piper International LLP, to establish and direct an inner-city branch office of the law firm whose practice was devoted exclusively to helping the poor. It was the first law firm in the nation to launch such a program.

Under his direction, the program became a model for other law firms across the country and became the subject of a book, "The New Private Practice — A Study of Piper & Marbury's Neighborhood Law Office."


Mr. Smith joined the faculty of the University of Maryland Law School in 1972, where he created one of the first clinical legal education programs in the U.S., in which students practiced law in a full-time basis with their professor.

"The law students represented children who were being prosecuted in the Baltimore juvenile court and whose parents had little or no financial resources," said Ms. Smith.

"Under his direction, the clinic students litigated a case in the U.S. Supreme Court involving the rights of juveniles not to be tried more than once for the same offense. It was the first appearance before the court by a law school clinical program," she said.

"There are so many firsts associated with Peter's name and he was a pioneer in so many respects. He had an extraordinary sense of quality, and when he filed legal papers they were perfect," said Mr. Millemann.

"And the students he taught, swear by him. He had high standards, was very demanding, and had high expectations and they performed up to his expectations," he said. "He was extraordinarily committed to his clients. He really took care of them. He did a lot of good."

In 1990, Mr. Smith moved from his Ken Oak Road home to his childhood home in Durham, where he continued practicing special education law and represented children with disabilities as a solo practitioner until retiring last year.


The late Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert I.H. Hammerman once wrote in an appraisal of Mr. Smith in a court opinion.

"Recognition is the last thing Mr. Smith would seek, and this is even more reason why it is due him," wrote Judge Hammerman.

"Mr. Smith is an excellent lawyer, a vigorous and able advocate, but above all one who has a keen social conscience and who has dedicated his considerable talents and abilities to fulfilling the calls and demands of that conscience," he wrote. "This court and our entire community is in his debt and we are fortunate to have him in our midst."

Mr. Smith enjoyed hiking and summited Mount Katahdin in Maine annually for 60 years.

During the summer of 2013, Mr. Smith, who was 74 at the time, took his three grandchildren to the top of Mount Katahdin, which at 5,270-feet, is Maine's highest mountain.

He was a lifelong avid Red Sox fan.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in Huddleston Hall at the University of New Hampshire, 73 Main St., Durham.

In addition to his daughter and three grandchildren, Mr. Smith is survived by his wife of 48 years, the former Marjorie Kester; and a son, Douglas A. Smith of Washington.