Justin Smith in 1980

Former DA Justin Smith was dedicated to justice

Longtime Jackson County District Attorney Justin Smith died Tuesday at his Medford home. He was 72.

Smith served as district attorney from 1968 to 1988. He then worked as a public defender until his retirement in 2000.

People who worked with Smith through the years praised his strong commitment to justice.

"He always told all his staff to seek justice, not just seek a conviction," said Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White, who worked as a deputy district attorney under Smith from 1973 until 1981. "He'd remind us that we represented all people, not just the police."

White remembered Smith as a funny guy and a great storyteller, whose favorite stories got better each time he told them.

"He was a person who served this county extremely well," said Medford attorney Bill Fowler, who worked as a deputy district attorney under Smith from 1970 to 1972.

"He had a good sense of justice," Fowler said. "It was a pleasure to work with him."

Fowler said Smith had been married and had a son and daughter who live outside the area.

Smith prosecuted Manuel Trinidad Cortez for killing two 11-year-old Ashland girls in December 1979 and planned to call for the death penalty, but the Oregon Supreme Court struck down the state's capital punishment law before the sentence was imposed on the convicted murderer.

Smith also won the conviction of Russell Obremski, who shot two Medford women in 1969. In that high-profile case, Laverna May Lowe was killed at her home and Betty Ann Ritchie was kidnapped from West Main Pharmacy, and her body was dumped in the Applegate area near Carberry Creek Road.

Funeral arrangements for Smith are pending at Perl Funeral Home of Medford.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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