Walter Smith: Where is the Waco Trial Judge Now?

Image Credit: Federal Bar Association

As a limited series living up to its title in every way conceivable and thus also serving as a sequel to Paramount’s ‘Waco’ (2018), Showtime’s ‘Waco: The Aftermath‘ (2023) is unlike any other. That’s because it delves deep into not only the authorities’ alleged unfair standards of justice following the titular 1993 deadly siege but also the rise of the extremist right-wing “Patriot” movement. Yet for now, if you just wish to learn more about the Judge who presided over the trial between the Federal Government and the Branch Davidians — Walter Smith Jr. — here’s what we know.

Who is Walter Smith Jr.?

It was reportedly back when Walter was relatively young that he first developed a keen interest in our judicial system, only for it to continue evolving to extraordinary lengths as the years passed. Thus, of course, the Fallas County, Texas native enrolled in Baylor University School of Law for his Juris Doctorate as soon as he finished his Bachelor’s in Arts from Baylor University in mid-1964. That’s how he then got an opportunity to kickstart his career by joining a private practice in Waco in 1966 itself, just for him to end up sticking to this one particular domain until 1980 rolled around.

David Costabile as Judge Walter Smith

Walter’s first job was ostensibly at Dunnam & Dunnam law firm, but he soon moved on to Wallace & Smith LLP before later joining Haley, Fullbright, Winniford, & Bice in his highest position ever. However, this changed in 1980 as he was appointed a State Judge of the 54th State District Court in McLennan County, Texas, that is, until he got to evolve much, much further starting in 1983. He actually did a brief stint as a Federal Magistrate in the Western District of Texas (1983-1984) prior to being nominated to the same court for a new seat by President Ronald Reagan himself.

Walter was confirmed to be the first Judge on the Waco Bench upon its creation on October 3, 1984, and he proudly remained the only one assigned until his retirement on September 14, 2016. Though throughout this period — nearly 32 years — he maintained the Branch Davidian criminal trial was his most challenging to navigate owing to the sheer animosity in the air at every turn. There was obviously a flood of intrusive international media due to the horrific siege being explored in the proceedings, yet it was the hostile environment inside his courtroom that bothered him more.

Walter Smith Jr. Prefers to Stay Away From the Limelight Today

While there’s no denying Walter had an incredibly long-lasting, positive career, the months leading up to his retirement were completely different as he’d been suspended following a controversy. It was in early December 2015 when a federal court ordered sanctions against him after an investigation uncovered he’d forcefully groped a female courthouse employee in his chambers in 1998. He was subsequently not just instructed to attend sexual harassment classes but also suspended from office for a year — this suspension, rather than firing, allowed him to clear the cases he already had.

Image Credit: KWTX

Then, in a public letter to President Barack Obama dated September 14, 2016, Walter announced his intention “to retire from office as a United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas… I understand that, upon my retirement, I will receive, during the remainder of my lifetime, an annuity equal to the salary I was receiving at the time of retirement,” which was reportedly above $203,000. It hence comes as no surprise the Waco, Texas resident has since preferred to maintain total distance from the limelight; instead, the 82-year-old is likely focusing on just his family as well as loved ones these days.

Read More: Bill Johnston: Where is Waco Lead Prosecutor Now?