Jared Smith, the Hillsborough circuit judge whom voters ousted in August after his controversial ruling in an abortion case, won’t have to hang up his judicial robe after all.
Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Smith to fill one of the three vacancies Tuesday on the newly created 6th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Lakeland. Smith’s appointment will take effect Jan. 1.
Smith lost the August election for his judicial seat to Tampa attorney Nancy Jacobs. The unusually contentious race saw abortion loom as a key issue.
Smith became a target of criticism from reproductive rights advocates after an appeals court overturned his decision in a case involving a 17-year-old girl who sought a judicial waiver to obtain an abortion without her parents’ consent.
He’d concluded that the girl did not demonstrate the maturity, intelligence and other qualities necessary to make the decision. In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel found that Smith abused his judicial discretion.
Although judicial races are nonpartisan, the race between Smith and Jacobs carried an air of partisanship. Reproductive rights advocates backed Jacobs, a criminal defense and family law attorney. She had twice before campaigned for judicial vacancies.
Smith, an evangelical Christian, became the target of further criticism when a video surfaced of his wife speaking about Jacobs during a campaign appearance in a local church. In the video, Suzette Smith was heard saying that Jacobs, who is Jewish, “needs Jesus,” among other comments.
The comments sparked accusations of antisemitism.
Jacobs called her comments “troubling.”
Smith’s wife later posted a message to her husband′s campaign Facebook page denying antisemitism and professing that her husband has Jewish relatives and respects the Jewish people.
Jacobs defeated Smith 52% to 48% in the election. It is rare for a sitting judge to lose reelection.
Shortly after his loss, Smith applied through a Judicial Nominating Commission to be on the new appeals court. The state Legislature created the new 6th District Court of Appeal in June. Based in Polk County, it will include nine judges who will hear appeals from the trial courts in 10 counties in central and Southwest Florida, but not Hillsborough.
Smith was one of 33 applicants and 18 finalists, which also included Republican State Rep. Mike Beltran.
But before the selection was announced, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat, filed a challenge in the Florida Supreme Court. She claimed that Smith, Beltran and two other nominees were ineligible to serve on the Lakeland-based court because they did not live within the geographical boundaries of the new district.
The court rejected Thompson’s arguments last week.
A news release from the governor’s office announcing Smith’s appointment Tuesday states that he’s a resident of Lakeland. He previously resided in Lutz.
Smith was appointed as a Hillsborough County judge by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. DeSantis elevated him to the circuit level in 2019.
Before becoming a judge, Smith was a partner in the firm of Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force. He obtained his law degree from Washburn University and holds a bachelor’s degree from Fort Hays State University.
DeSantis appointed Judges Joshua Mize and Keith White of the Orlando-based 9th Judicial Circuit to fill the other two appeals court vacancies.