H.T. Smith’s powerful voice and effective advocacy skills were evidenced early on when he persuaded the University of Miami School of Law to admit him before even taking the Law School Admission Test. His argument: that it was unfair to punish him for not being able to take a test that was not administered in the jungles of Vietnam, while he fought for his country.
His legal career blazed new trails from the start – – as Miami-Dade County’s first African-American assistant public defender, and then as the County’s first African-American assistant county attorney. His law firm, Long and Smith, was the first African American law firm to practice in downtown Miami.
For the past 45 years, H.T. has been a trial lawyer specializing in criminal defense, civil rights, and personal injury. He is a lawyer’s lawyer. In 2017, he was voted the Top Trial Lawyer by the members of the Dade County Bar Association. The National Law Journal recognized him as one of America’s Top 10 Trial Lawyers of the year, and he has been inducted into the “Legal Legends” of Miami-Dade County. H.T. has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America for 22 years, and he is also listed in Florida Super Lawyers, and Law and Leading American Attorneys.
H.T. was one of the lead attorneys in the successful legal challenge to Ward Connelly’s effort to pass a Constitutional Amendment outlawing affirmative action in public education, public employment, and public contracting in Florida. In his argument to the Florida Supreme Court, H.T. described Connelly’s so-called “Civil Rights Initiative” as a “cruel hoax” on the people of Florida.
In the landmark death penalty case of Aubrey Arthur Livingston v. State, he single- handidly changed the law in Florida by successfully arguing that it was a denial of a defendant’s right to a fair trial to allow the jury to recess once they commenced deliberations.
H. T. was the founding President of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association; President of the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association; and President of the 40,000 member National Bar Association, where he established the organization’s first million dollar endowment.
From 1986-1990, he chaired the Free South Africa Movement, leading the successful effort to persuade governmental entities, universities, and pension funds in South Florida to divest their financial interests in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.
Then from 1990-1993, H.T. led the hugely successful Boycott Miami Campaign – which was organized after local politicians snubbed Nelson Mandela during his historic visit to Miami. The tourism boycott lasted 1,000 days, and its settlement resulted in significant economic and educational opportunities for African Americans, including the development of the first Black-owned convention-quality hotel in the United States–on the ocean, on Miami Beach; 25 full-tuition scholarships per year at FIU’s renown hospitality management program, in perpetuity; creation of the Black Executive Forum to reverse the Black brain-drain in Miami; establishment of the INROADS/Miami program to provide internships, externships, scholarships and mentoring to Black college students; creation of the Batten Fellows program to provide leadership training to Black professionals; depositing of millions of dollars in Miami’s only Black owned bank; and partnering large corporation with Black businesses to increase earnings.
In 1995, H.T. led the effort to raise $5 million dollars to build the 27,000 square foot NFL Youth Education Town (YET) Center at Gwen Cherry Park in the Scott Carver Projects. After constructing this youth center – using a Black contractor and a majority of Black sub-contractors – the Youth Center was donated to the Miami-Dade County Parks Department for the benefit of the children living in that neighborhood. This NFL YET Center provides computer training, homework assistance, educational programs, arts and crafts, health, nutrition and fitness courses, and all types of sporting activities for hundreds of inner city kids daily.
In 1997, H.T. Chaired the Declaration of Rights Committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, championing a successful constitutional amendment which makes explicit that equal protection of the law is available to women and persons born outside of the United States.
He also served as Co-Chair of the successful $200 million Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond referendum that upgraded parks in every community in Miami-Dade County. Later that same year, H.T. fought for equal rights for members of the LGBTQ community when he served as Co-Chairman of the successful “Say No To Discrimination” election campaign in Miami-Dade County.
In 2003, H.T. was tapped to become the first Director of Florida International University College of Law’s Trial Advocacy Program. In 2006, the student body presented him with the “Pioneer Award” for his innovative excellence as a legal educator, and in 2010 the University honored him with the prestigious “Top Scholar Award”.
In just 10 years, his Mock Trial teams have won state, regional and national championships, and are currently the back-to-back champions of the Florida Justice Association’s Mock Trial Competition.
Recently, H. T served as a Charter Board member of OUR KIDS of Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties which has the responsibility for overseeing the provision of a continuum of services to all abused, abandoned, and neglected children with a budget of over $100 million.
H.T. presently serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Miami, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Gwen Cherry Park Foundation.
H.T. Smith – -one of Miami’s distinguished native sons — was born in Miami and educated in Miami’s then – – segregated public school system. He is a proud graduate of Florida A&M University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics, and a minor in Physics. Upon graduation, he received his commission as an officer in the United States Army.
H.T. has devoted his entire legal career to “agitating” for justice, equal rights and human rights for the least, the last, the lost, the looked over and the left out. In a letter to the National Bar Association, President Nelson Mandela wrote, “We join your members in paying special tribute to your retiring President, H.T. Smith, whose name became well-known for his consistent and courageous contribution and support for the struggle of our people against apartheid. We wish H.T. well, we are confident that wherever injustice and racism raises their ugly heads, H. T. will be there to raise his powerful voice of protest and resistance.”