Great Floridians Film Series - Chesterfield Smith, Part 1


Uploaded by FloridaDeptOfState on 14.12.2010

Transcript:
The history of Florida is marked by its phenomenal growth,
from an isolated rural swamp land
to a progressive leader in business and free enterprise.
From backwoods cracker country to international trading center.
With that growth came visionary changes.
Changes that demanded visionary leaders.
Those leaders can be found in many places.
From the arts to business to politics.
Every now and then leadership can be found among the citizens.
This is the story of one such citizen.
A citizen who never held public office,
yet, made a profound impact
not only in the state of Florida and it's people
but the nation itself,
and perhaps even the world.
The early 1970s was one of the most turbulent eras in American history.
Some historians will record that it was during these years that the constitution faced its
most critical test since the Civil War.
The Vietnam conflict was seeing its highest casualties ever
and the Vice President of the United States Spiro Agnew
was caught taking bribes and forced to resign in disgrace.
But these were not the only troubles the country would face. "The Nixon administration, particularly
after his second election,
found itself fighting a war on two
fronts. One was on the
front with the protestors
against the war in Vietnam and the other
was the problems that the Nixon administration was beginning to have with its
ridiculous and bungled
Watergate affair."
In 1972, agents of the Committee to Re-elect President Nixon were caught breaking
into the democratic national headquarters at the Watergate Hotel.
During the ensuing investigation
it was discovered that secret tape recordings were made by President Nixon
that may reveal his efforts to cover up the truth.
When special prosecuter Archibald Cox asked the federal court to issue a subpoena,
forcing disclosure of the tapes
the President balked
and told Archibald Cox's boss, attorney general Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.
Elliot Richardson went to see the President.
"I think he knew pretty well what I had in
mind and I went there and
resigned
as attorney general
rather than carry out the order to fire Cox.
My deputy William Ruckelshaus also resigned
as did most of my own staff.
That left the
solicitor general,
number three in the department, Robert Bork
as acting attorney general.
And the whole episode became known
then on as the quote
'Saturday Night Massacre' unquote.
"It was a bombshell, there's no doubt about it. we were
literally sort of in a bunker mentality you might say.
We had a President of the United States that you know had placed himself
above the law,
was conducting himself as if he was above the law, and
very few people wanted to call that
into being as such. And so it was in the days of the imperial presidency
in which the power of the presidency had been growing and certainly Nixon took it
to a new height."
The country was in a crisis.
For the first time in history an American president was using the power of his office
to challenge the authority of the supreme court of the United States, and therefore the
constitution itself.
The public was outraged, but none more so than the dynamic and outspoken president of the
American Bar Association,
Chesterfield Smith.
"When he couldn't get anybody
to fire
Cox he eventually got Bob Bork
to fire Cox.
When he fired him he sent the FBI in.
They went down and
went in to
Archibald Cox's office and started looking for all of the things to take over
and take control of
the FBI.
Moving in on an independent prosecutor. Moving in on the court system
and taking it over.
And people all over America got scared.
I remember I thought
this can't be happening.
We have a court system.
This case is being litigated. If you lose
a case in court you have to do what the judge says or you have to appeal him.
And the President's got to do what Judge Sirica said
or appeal him."
The loyalties of the nation were strongly divided. Something had to be done. But the situation
was so volatile that many were reluctant to speak out. Bill McBride was then administrative
assistant to Chesterfield Smith.
"We were at
a Chicago Bears football game
on Sunday
after the Saturday Night Massacre.
And he was very
pensive
for him.
He'd read all the newspapers, received calls from all over the United States.
And about
well into sometime in the middle of the first half of that football game
says, we need to go out to the Bar soon or I need to do something."
"And he kept
digging me in. Saying, Mr. Smith what are you going to do?
What are you going to do? You've got to do something. And I kept worrying about the football
game. And we looked,
finally at the half I said, come on!"
So he drove out to the American Bar Association offices
which were closed on Sunday. They opened them up.
He summoned a number of people from around the country
who flew in.
They had hookups with lawyers, maybe 20 or 30 lawyers from around America.
He maybe talked to 50 or 60 that afternoon
and issued his statement which was then published the next day."
"The basic statement said nobody is above the law.
If a judge
has a court hearing and he rules,
you do what he says
or you appeal it.
Do one or the other. And the President
cannot ignore the law. The President's not above the law"
"So Chesterfield Smith, as the president of the American Bar Association,
was in a unique position to effect
what happened
from the point of the Saturday Night Massacre forward."
The leadership exerted by Chesterfield Smith and his call to action
was a bold and daring move.
And there were many strong and powerful people in the country who disapproved.
"Most A.B.A.
offices don't like to rock any boats.
They just ride with the waves.
But he was a man
who was saying something that a lot of people were thinking but were not bold
enough to verbalize. And he did.
And he had a very tough battle within the A.B.A. because there were many people who
thought, well that's none
of lawyers business. Lawyers are about the business of representing clients and shouldn't be
taking positions on what's going on in the government."
"Like you always do when it's a controversial thing the people who talk to me generally liked it.
But every now and then I'd get somebody and say, you're a damn
busy body, you're a damn idiot. What does this do to you? You're tearing down the profession.
You're tearing down the A.B.A." Eventually the leadership of Chesterfield Smith and others
prevailed. The White House finally succumbed to the pressure. A new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski
was appointed.
And the integrity of the investigator was restored.
"We the people
at the end of the day,
had the final voice in what happened.
We the people insisted that
there be an
investigation that went to the bottom of
the things that had been done.
And we the people
were championed
in that insistence.
We were given a voice by
the leadership of the Bar
which itself
was embodied in Chesterfield Smith."
This is the story
of Chesterfield Smith.
Chesterfield Smith was born in 1917 in Arcadia,
a small rural cow town in South Central Florida.
His father, Cook Hall Smith,
was an electrical contractor
and eventually became DeSoto county superintendent of schools.
Chesterfield adored his mother Grace.
She worked as a social columnist for The Arcadian, the local newspaper
and was heavily involved in many civic organizations.
Well liked among the community, Chesterfield always remembered her as a happy mom.
Prehaps one of the greatest influences of Chesterfield's young life was his uncle and namesake,
Chesterfield Stanhope Smith,
who owned the local drugstore
and in 1935 became a state legislator.
Through high school, Chesterfield worked part-time at his uncle's pharmacy
and graduated high school at the age of 16.
After working a few more
years he enrolled at the University of Florida.
But soon after World War II interrupted his studies
and Chesterfield listed in the Florida national guard.
Eventually
he joined a unit that was mobilized and sent to Europe
where he served in General Patton's third army.
Chesterfield was awarded the bronze star and the purple heart,
and by the end of the war Chesterfield had reached the rank of major.
After the war
Chesterfield returned to the University of Florida.
Upon graduating at the top of his class, Chesterfield returned to Arcadia
and began his law career in 1948 at the firm of Treadwell and Treadwell.
His job initially was to research cases the law library.
"I walked in there one night
and he was in the
middle of that library of ours,
which was huge.
He had books
scattered all around him built up. You could hardly see a head sticking out over the
top of them. And that more or less epitimizes the way the guy worked for me.
He just got the job done.
I told him he was going to make one hell of the lawyer.
That he didn't belong in a little community like this.
And the first offer he had he
should move on.
Well he got one and he moved on."
In 1950 Chesterfield was hired by the firm of Holland, Bevis, and McRae.
The lessons that he had learned in Arcadia would serve him well.
For within three years he became the managing partner.
"I became a partner right away because a client liked me.
We decided
one, that
we were going to specialize.
In those days everybody did everything.
And that was all over the state. That was in
Miami, that was in Tampa, that was in Jacksonville, they weren't specialists.
And we were going to specialize.
The second thing we decided
was our future was probably with phosphate.
Since Holland always believed it was with oranges and citrus
and he argued with me about.
But we decided it was with
phosphate. And we started in that and we started growing and developing and doing it
in a general sort of way my
second or third year I really started
running the firm. I didn't officially start running it until 1957."
"First time I met Chesterfield was when I was a young legislator in Tallahassee.
He was there
representing a number of clients, particularly the phosphate industry.
We had some clashes because I
young and interested in things like seeing that we preserved our environment, that we did a
better job of reclamation.
Chesterfield had a client to represent. He did that very effectively but he also
was wise enough to understand that
Florida was changing terms of its attitudes values and its political direction.
And I'm certain played a key role
in bringing phosphate industry and other clients into the
modern era of Florida
to which the
state benefited and his clients were very well served."
"This is one of Chesterfield's
most
appealing qualities.
You knew that underneath any advice that he gave
that Chesterfield gave to me or to the council generally,
back underneath that was a consciousness of what was in the public good.
And I can refer specifically to land reclamation.
To cleaning up water and air emissions
out of the phosphate industry which were a
natural consequence of the mining and chemical process and we had to live with that.
But Chesterfield was our conscience.
He made us do the right thing."
"That somebody has told me
often
that it's is very rare
that the wrong thing to do is good business."
Smith's success at consolidating the phosphate industry would put the law firm of Holland, Bevis,
and McRae on the road to prosperity.
But he also knew that in the long run it was dangerous to be dependent on one client.