A portrait of the late City Judge Allen Smith was unveiled during a ceremony at Riverhead Justice Court yesterday afternoon.
Smith, 77, who sat on the city bench for 20 years, died suddenly on July 25, 2020.
His portrait hangs on the wall behind the jury box next to a portrait of Judge Henry Saxtein, whom Smith replaced on the city bench after Saxtein died in 2000 at age 50.
Master portrait painter Vicki Sullivan of Melbourne, Australia was commissioned for the oil on linen portrait. Funding for the work was raised by Smith’s friends and colleagues.
Family, friends and colleagues of the late city judge gathered in the small courtroom for the ceremony, while others watched via Zoom. His colleagues shared thoughts on Smith’s service to the city and his work to elevate the city’s court.
“I think Justice Smith would be thrilled to have us all here,” said friend and colleague Jonathan Brown. “I see so many of you that he has known and appreciated as a friend, client, colleague all these years. I know Justice Smith was warm to everyone,” Brown said. “He was a friend and a mentor to many of us,” he said, citing Smith’s “generosity of spirit.”
Riverhead Justice Lori Hulse, who joined Smith on the bench in 2016, spoke about her professionalism and dedication to the court.
“Allen was a great judge and a great man. The court has not been and will not be the same without him,” Hulse said of the court’s senior judge. “Allen embodied all the qualities a city could hope for in a municipal judge. Allen was smart. He understood the law and the court’s role as a gatekeeper. He had common sense. He understood the people of Riverhead and he never lost sight of fairness and justice,” Hulse said.
The judge recalled how Smith framed her when she first took her seat on the bench. “He was collegial and kind,” she said. “He greeted me with kindness. He always offered me his treasure of knowledge. He was like, ‘Let Uncle Allen help you,'” she said, prompting laughter from the audience. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of the word,” Hulse said.
“Allen listened to all points of view. And he wasn’t afraid to change his mind or bow down when he felt it was right to do so. He wasn’t afraid to stand firm either,” Hulse said.
Both Hulse and retired City Judge Richard Ehlers spoke of Smith’s long crusade to have the city’s court facilities replaced – a mission that would remain unfinished during his lifetime.
“He recognized the need not just for safety and security. And because this courtroom here is woefully inadequate in almost every way, but because it meant something to him that the work we do here is recognized as important to those who come before us,” Hulse said.
Ehlers, who along with Smith has repeatedly asked the city council over the years to replace the courthouse for safety and security reasons, as well as improve the functionality of the busy local courthouse.
“Allen put his heart into the building, like me,” Ehlers said. “And we were led to believe, by the city council when they hired the architect, that we would choose the design for the new building at the armory, on Route 58 and it would be built,” Ehlers said. , referring to the former state armory donated to the city by the state in 2011 for the construction of a new police and justice complex. But this was not to be the case, because the members of the municipal council balked at the expense.
“And it broke his heart when we had to face the reality that they didn’t have the will. They didn’t have the courage to do it,” Ehlers said.
“It’s easy not to have common sense for this court because a lot of the people we serve here are unattractive. We’re not a place where fancy people come. Fancy people don’t sit where you sit today. I’d bet if you’re not a lawyer, you’ve probably never sat on those benches before,” Ehlers said.
“It’s really kind of a measure here. We are going down. We put Allen on the wall – and it’s a beautiful portrait – and he deserves to be there and that’s a wonderful thing. But he deserves to be in a better room. He deserves to be in a proper courtroom that matches his stature as a lawyer and as a judge, and my work here and the work of current judges here, and the work of court clerks here,” Ehlers said. “It really broke his heart and it took the steam out of me,” said Ehlers, who retired from the bench in 2015.
Moving on to Smith’s portrait, Ehlers addressed his former colleague directly. “Thank you, Allen, for all you have done for the court. Thanks for what you have done. But now, I hope every time you look here and see the elected officials who can elevate the building to the proper facilities that our community needs, that will be accomplished,” he said.
City council members were present at the ceremony but did not speak.
Southampton City Judge Deborah Kooperstein, who along with Smith set up and ran the East End Drug Court, reflected on the time she spent with him in this endeavor – the debates they would have , the laughs they shared. “He was a great storyteller,” recalls Kooperstein. “He always found something to laugh about.” But Smith was not one to mince words. “You always knew where you stood with him,” Judge said. “And he did not suffer fools.”
Charlene Mascia, Smith’s domestic partner, took a moment to speak publicly to her children, thanking them for allowing her to be part of their family. She paid tribute to his late wife, Janice, for supporting Smith throughout his career. “So thank you guys. Thank you for sharing your father with all of us. I love you so much,” she said.
Reverend Anton DeWet, pastor of Old Steeple Community Church, where Smith was a congregant, offered an invocation to begin the ceremony and a blessing at its conclusion.
He thanked the judges and court staff for the work they do for the community.
“I’m going to read this blessing as if it came from Allen for all of us,” he said. “Let the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face, may the rains fall gently on your fields. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community is facing unprecedented economic disruption and the future of many small businesses is at risk, including ours. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family business and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But now more than ever, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we rely on you to make our work possible.