Even as he faced prison for taking bribes as the chief procurement officer for the City of Atlanta, Adam Lorenzo Smith still found support from attorneys who rallied around him to ask a federal judge for leniency.
Smith, who left a Holland & Knight partnership for the city post in 2003, had demonstrated such legal talent, energy, warmth, and generosity toward others that his fall from grace—culminating in a 27-month prison sentence in January—was a stunning aberration that even he could not explain, attorneys who knew him said.
Smith surrendered his bar license to the Supreme Court of Georgia Monday.
Among the more than 70 people supporting Smith in letters to the court were a former dean at Georgetown University Law Center, partners with Holland & Knight and Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta, a former Baltimore prosecutor who is now director of black church studies at Yale University and an advocate of the High Court of South Africa.
It was a rare outpouring by members of the legal community for a man convicted of violating the public’s trust by taking more than $40,000 in bribes from a vendor who secured millions of dollars in contracts with the city.
Federal prosecutors and investigators branded Smith’s acceptance of bribes, delivered in $1,000 packets over two years in restaurant restrooms, “greed-based criminal conduct.”
But those who wrote to Jones on Smith’s behalf, strove to reflect a more complex view. Here are excerpts of letters sent to the court on Smith’s behalf:
The Rev. William Mathis, director of black church studies at Yale University and a former Baltimore city prosecutor.
“I am well aware of the number of individuals who have failed to make appropriate choices” or “fully comprehend the ramifications of their actions,” Mathis said.
“I really do believe Adam has grasped a better sense of responsibility, accountability and professional ethics,” he continued. “The hope of us all, after terrible experiences, is that there are those who will ‘get it right’ by taking responsibility and accountability for their lives and future as they become law abiding citizens and contributors to a progressive community for all. I believe Adam is one who is ‘getting it right.’”
Everett Bellamy, a former senior assistant dean at Georgetown University Law Center, who currently serves as general counsel of Thread Bioscience Inc. in Maryland.
Bellamy described Smith, whom he knew as a law student, as “deeply remorseful.”
“He also realizes that as a member of the bar, he was held to the highest standards of conduct,” Bellamy said. “This is a tremendous fall from grace. However, Adam is human. … Personally, I support him and have not changed my opinion of his character and personal qualities as a human being.”
Dave Houze, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa.
A fraternity brother of Smith’s, Houze served with Smith as a senior administrative analyst in Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s administration. Houze said he assisted Smith, who was appointed as chief procurement officer after Franklin’s election, “to restore credibility and oversight to the city’s procurement process, which previously had been tainted by corruption and malfeasance” during the Campbell administration.
Houze said he left city government for law school in 2007. After earning his J.D., Houze said he fell on hard times and was living in a homeless shelter when he bumped into Smith on the street. Smith welcomed Houze into his home until Houze found a job.
“Adam’s criminal behavior is an aberration,” wrote Houze. “‘I know Adam to be a mentor, a confidant, an ambassador of goodwill, both here and in the United States and Africa.”
“Even as I write this letter, I cannot fathom what motivated Adam to do what he has done, to violate the trust of the people of the city of Atlanta and to transgress the law,” he said. “I do know, however, that this is not the Adam I went to college with and worked with and came to know over the years. I know that he is truly remorseful and will do everything he can to redeem himself.”
James Patterson, a partner at Atlanta’s Smith Gambrell & Russell.
Patterson worked closely with Smith when the younger lawyer was an associate at Patterson’s former firm, Thomas, Kennedy, Sampson & Patterson. “Whenever we dealt with any matter involving the representation of a client, I found his input and his actions to be beyond reproach,” Patterson wrote.
“I am aware that Adam Smith has committed serious crimes. I am still of the opinion that his core character is exemplary. I would trust him to do what is right under every set of circumstances that I can imagine. It is my belief that the actions Adam Smith took in connection with the crimes to which he has confessed are aberrations and will not occur again.”
Aasia Mustakeem, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
Mustakeem recalled that, as an associate at what was then Gambrell & Stolz, Smith was “a thorough and thoughtful attorney” with an understanding that surpassed “book knowledge learned in law school.”
Mustakeem said Smith became her hero after he “wrote an impassioned and thoughtful memo to the managing partner of the firm articulating the many reasons that the MLK Jr. holiday should be officially recognized by the firm.” That letter came after the firm announced it would no longer observe the holiday.
“Adams’s essay convinced the firm of the importance of the King Holiday not only to African American attorneys and staff at the firm, but to the city of Atlanta, the nation, and all people of good will,” she wrote.
“While Adam may have made a mistake in this current instance, I know that this is not a permanent character flaw,” she concluded.
W. Reeder Glass, partner at Holland & Knight.
Glass said he had a close working relationship with Smith during his tenure as a partner at Holland & Knight. “Whenever we dealt with any matter involving the representation of a client, I found his input and his actions to be beyond reproach,” Glass said.
After Smith left for City Hall, Glass said he continued to advise the younger lawyer.
“What I saw … was a dedication and desire to bring quality, transparency and integrity to government through his conduct,” Glass recalled. “This sense of commitment makes the current situation very difficult to reconcile with the individual I know. I sincerely believe what happened was a moment of weakness for which I and I hope society will forgive.”