Featured Story

Riverhead Town Justice Allen Smith, a lifelong public servant, dies at 77

Judge Allen Smith, a sitting Riverhead Town Justice and longtime public servant, was remembered this week as a tireless advocate for his community who gave back for decades through a career in public service. He died Saturday at the age of 77.

Judge Smith, who suffered a heart attack in April, had served his Riverhead community for more than 45 years, including a five-year stint as Town Supervisor from 1975 to 1980.

He was first appointed to the bench in 2000 and has served in the position ever since.

“With a heavy heart,” Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced the judge’s passing in a statement.

“Justice Smith devoted his entire life to public service,” she wrote in a press release. “A pillar of the community, he brought integrity and rectitude to all of Riverhead.

“The entire town of Riverhead mourns his loss, our sympathy and our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends at this time,” she continued.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a drive-through public service will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 29 and Thursday, July 30 at the Riverhead Firehouse. A firematic service will be on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. It will be broadcast in the parking lot of the firehouse for all to hear. A private burial will be held Friday.

In 2003, Judge Smith and Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein received approval to administer the East End Regional Intervention Court, more commonly known as the East End Drug Court, something he long held as one of his finest accomplishments. The drug court aims to treat drug offenders so they will be able to beat their addiction and become productive members of society after they are released from jail.

In recent years, Judge Smith has lobbied town officials for a larger, safer Justice Court.

Judge Lori Hulse, who currently serves alongside Judge Smith, said he was “so highly esteemed in the Riverhead community and in the legal profession that he seemed larger than life.”

“He had been judge for 15 years when I came on, and we quickly became friends and trusted colleagues,” she wrote in a statement. “He could be relied on without question and earned many accolades and awards throughout his career. It’s hard to imagine him not working at his desk; discussing legal issues, providing advice with incredible institutional knowledge, making a joke with a smile, referring to himself as ‘Uncle Allen’ as he offered his help. He was dedicated to dispensing justice equally and even-handedly, and helped countless people while presiding in drug court. He was a well-respected jurist, but more than that, he was a compassionate, decent man. He will be terribly missed.”

Former Town Justice Richard Ehlers shared the bench with Mr. Smith for the prior 16 years, and he remembers him as a tenacious supporter of the justice courts and a believer in their importance within the criminal justice system.

Mr. Ehlers recalled a story Judge Smith told him that, when he was first elected town supervisor, he discovered the town kept poor financial records and could not balance its books. “They did everything in pencils,” Mr. Ehlers recalled Judge Smith telling him. “He went office to office and broke all the pencils.

“He was so determined that the professionalism of the justice court be equal to countywide courts,” Mr. Ehlers said. “He was very concerned about jury procedures. The justice court is usually the lower of the demanding courts. He wanted to be on equal footing, and properly so.

“To a litigant in the justice court your jury trial is just as important as the one going on in the superior courts.” Mr. Ehlers said. “And he was passionate about the drug court. He was certainly very proud to be the criminal bar association’s Attorney of the Year. That plaque hangs proudly in his office.”

The judge’s resumé lists a lifetime of public service, including stints as Riverhead town attorney, Greenport village attorney, Riverhead Fire Department volunteer, Riverhead Board of Education member, assistant Suffolk County district attorney and Riverhead Rotary Club member.

In January, the News-Review named him its Public Servant of the Year for his distinguished career. He is scheduled to be honored with a video tribute from the newspaper next week, which was made in advance of a People of the Year event that was canceled when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Friend and fellow attorney Peter Danowski said in December that he was surprised the judge had never previously received the honor.

He recalled Judge Smith’s legacy as town supervisor as “professionalizing Town Hall” by hiring “top-notch people.”

Mr. Danowski also described the judge as a “big-time fireman and really kicked butt cleaning up some really bad landlord situations [in town.]”

Judge Smith has received numerous other awards and acknowledgements over the years.

In April 2019, the Kiwanis Club of Greater Riverhead honored him and four other residents at its 18th annual Breakfast of the Stars, which recognizes people “who are quietly supporting the mission of Kiwanis, changing the world one child, one community at a time” by giving back to the community.

In 2015, the East End Emerald Society named Judge Smith grand marshal at its second annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Jamesport.

“We wanted somebody who had a track record of law and order, somebody with good moral character,” parade organizer John Cuddy said.

Former Riverhead Police Chief Joe Grattan described the judge as a major supporter of the department. He called his passing “very sad.”

“I just saw him recently coming out of the market,” Mr. Grattan said. “He and I chatted about Riverhead.”

Following his heart attack in April, having been treated among the death and despair of the coronavirus, the Judge told the News-Review he was “feeling pretty lucky.” He was eager, he said, to begin learning new technology, so he could continue to serve his community from the bench.