Rebecca Beach Smith

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Rebecca Beach Smith (born 1949) is the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and civic leader. Among her many decisions is the 2011 ruling that decided the title to and restrictions upon artifacts salvaged from the wreck of the RMS Titanic.

Early life, education[edit]

Judge Rebecca Beach Smith was born in Hopewell, Virginia.[1] She received a B.A. degree from The College of William & Mary in 1971, and then received a M.A. degree from the University of Virginia in 1973.[1] After she worked as a planning analyst for Enviro-Med, Inc. (1973-1974) and research associate at the National Academy of Science (1974-1977), Smith attended law school and received her J.D. degree from The College of William & Mary Law School in 1979.[1] She was executive editor of the William and Mary Law Review, graduated first in her law school class and was awarded membership in the Order of the Coif.[2] In 1997, Judge Smith received The College of William and Mary Alumni Medallion, the highest award the William and Mary Alumni Association can bestow on a graduate of the College of William and Mary.[3]

Professional career[edit]

After earning her M.A. degree, Smith was a planning analyst for Enviro-Med, Inc. in Washington, D.C., and La Jolla, California from 1973–74.[1] She then was a research associate for the National Academy of Science, Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C. from 1974 to 1977.[1] After she graduated from law school, Smith entered the private practice of law in Norfolk, Virginia.[1] She then served as a law clerk for the Honorable J. Calvitt Clarke, Jr., Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 1979–1980.[1] She was again in the private practice of law at a large firm in Norfolk from 1980 to 1985.[1] Before being appointed a federal district judge, she was a United States magistrate judge for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1985 to 1989.[1][2]

On August 4, 1989, President George H.W. Bush nominated Smith for appointment as a federal district judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to a seat vacated by Judge D. Dortch Warriner.[1] The United States Senate confirmed Smith's appointment on October 24, 1989, and she received her commission on October 25, 1989.[1] She was the first female federal judge in Virginia.[2] On December 4, 2011, Smith became Chief Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Titanic artifacts decision[edit]

Premier Exhibitions Inc., the parent company of RMS Titanic Inc., the company that salvaged the artifacts from the wrecked ship RMS Titanic on the ocean floor, asked Judge Smith to award it sole title to the artifacts with covenants to preserve them forever. On August 15, 2011, Judge Smith granted title to thousands of artifacts from the Titanic to RMS Titanic Inc., subject to a detailed list of conditions concerning preservation of the items.[4] The artifacts can be sold only to a company that would abide by the lengthy list of conditions and restrictions.[4] RMS Titanic Inc., can profit from the artifacts through exhibiting them.[4][5]

Viagra patent decision[edit]

Just a few days before her decision in the Titanic artifacts case, Judge Smith upheld the validity of Pfizer Inc.'s patent for the erectile dysfunction pill Viagra.[6] The decision blocked Israeli firm Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., a manufacturer of generic drugs, from marketing a generic version until 2019.[6] Teva had argued that the Pfizer patent was invalid and unenforceable.[6] Among reasons for her decision, Judge Smith found there was no convincing evidence to support Teva’s claim that that Pfizer intentionally withheld documents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.[6]

Civic work[edit]

In addition to her professional work, Judge Smith has devoted much time to work with civic groups, professional associations, charities and educational institutions, including a term as President of the Alumni Association of The College of William and Mary.[2] Judge Smith was a founding member of the I'Anson - Hoffman American Inn of Court, which "was established by charter on May 1, 1987, in Norfolk, Virginia, as part of a nation-wide movement to emulate the British Inns of Court, for the purpose of promoting the goals of excellence, civility, professionalism and ethics in the legal profession" and was president of the organization between 1989 and 1991.[7] She was a member of the Federal Judges Association’s board of directors and the United States Judicial Conference Committee on Technology.[2] She also was the president of the Norfolk Academy Board of Trustees between 2002 and 2005 and a trustee of the school, a private elementary and secondary school in Norfolk, Virginia, for eighteen years.[2][8] United States Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Smith to the United States Judicial Conference Codes of Conduct Committee, and she was serving in this capacity in 2011.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k [ 'Federal Judicial Center Biographical Directory of Federal Judges: Smith, Rebecca Beach' retrieved December 5, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g 'August 12, 2011 article on The College of William and Mary web site', retrieved December 5, 2011
  3. ^ 'The William and Mary Alumni Association web site', retrieved December 7, 2011
  4. ^ a b c 'Norfolk Virginian-Pilot article, August 16, 2011, on court's final artifacts decision', retrieved December 5, 2011
  5. ^ A year earlier, Judge Smith had ruled that RMS Titanic, Inc. was entitled to full compensation for the artifacts but she also reserved ruling on the details until a later date, which she noted could possibly be at least a year later due to the complexity of the matter, including the need to determine final preservation conditions for the artifacts and restrictions on their sale or disposition. 'New York Times August 14, 2010 article on court's 2010 artifacts decision', retrieved December 5, 2011
  6. ^ a b c d 'Bloomberg News August 15, 2011 article on Viagra patent case decision' retrieved December 5, 2011
  7. ^ 'The I'Anson-Hoffman American Inn of Court', retrieved December 7, 2011
  8. ^ The WMU source states simply that Judge Smith was president of the Norfolk Academy but the Norfolk Academy web site lists her as President of the Board of Trustees between 2002 and 2005; this is the only "president" of the institution or an administrative body of the school which is shown on the web site 'Norfolk Academy web site, Board of Trustees', retrieved December 7, 2011