James Smith

Hon. James L. Smith (Ret.)

JAMS Mediator, Arbitrator and Referee/Special Master

Case Manager
Denise Mitchell
T: 714-937-8229
F: 714-939-8710
5 Park Plaza, Suite 400, Irvine, CA 92614

James L. Smith is available to conduct cases virtually. JAMS is equipped to provide virtual ADR services on a variety of online platforms, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and more.


 Judge Smith retired from the Orange County Superior Court to become a full-time arbitrator, discovery referee, and mediator in 1997 after 26 years as a trial court judge. To this day, he is the only Orange County judge, active or retired, to have been assigned to all of the Court's calendars, including two years as Presiding Judge of the Probate Department. Since joining JAMS, Judge Smith has participated in the resolution of a variety of disputes involving estate, probate, and trust issues.

Representative Matters

  • Discovery referee in litigation involving trust with high eight-figure assets
  • Mediated case involving dispute over community property rights and assets owned by trust 
  • Mediated dispute involving properties outside of trust, entitlement of what is considered community property, domestic relations and related insurance policies 
  • Mediated hundreds of disputes between surviving heirs over trust distributions 
  • Mediator in federal case involving distribution of nine-figure estate assets 
  • Mediator on probate matter involving dispute between decedent’s three children from previous marriage and decedent’s wife. Dispute involved 850 and 11700 petitions to determine which property belongs in estate and how property should be divided. 
  • Panelist in binding arbitration involving distribution of high seven-figure trust assets 
  • Probate and trust mediation involving assertion that client acquired substantial community property during 30-year marriage and that half of that property belonged to estate 
  • Probate mediation involving parties seeking determination regarding claims to certain real and personal property, as well as validity of certain estate planning documents 
  • Resolved as mediator case involving property valuations, distribution of remaining properties and trustee removal issues 
  • Resolved in mediation determination of trust property ownership 
  • Resolved in mediation disagreement over which beneficiary designation controlled disposition of IRA account 
  • Resolved two related matters involving determination of operative trust instruments, possible trust reformation and claims of malpractice 
  • Settled at mediation dispute between three co-trustees over sale of real property 
  • Settled dispute between former primary beneficiary son and neighbor who was newly appointed as trustee. Matter also involved governing board of directors, who were estate’s recent beneficiaries, for large public university system. 
  • Settled matter involving three probate petitions and one civil action, all related to estate planning documents of deceased husband and surviving spouse
Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS. 

  • Chair, Presiding Judges Advisory Committee to the Judicial Council, 1995
  • Governing Board, Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER), 1986-1992
  • Judicial Criminal Advisory Committee on Trial Court Coordination, 1974-1978
  • Judicial Criminal Justice Planning Committee, 1974-1978
  • President, Camp Osceola Board of Directors, 1974
  • President, Orange YMCA Board of Directors, 1964-1973
  • Member, Executive Committee, Orange County Superior Court, (7 years, not continuously)
  • Professor, Western State University College of Law, 1972-1989; (teaching Trial Practice, Trial Advocacy, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Introduction to Legal Education)
  • Member, faculty of numerous programs presented by the Center for Judicial Education and Research (CJER) and the California Judges Association (CJA)
  • Taught at the California Judicial College and has served as Team Leader of the Large Court section of the Presiding Judges Institute presented by CJER
  • Participated in numerous CEB programs on various subjects including E-Discovery, Bias In the Workplace, Arbitration Procedures, Effective Mediation Practices, Managing Mental Health and Evidence
  • Served as instructor in Criminal Law for the Orange County Peace Officers Academy
  • "Levity Over Decorum," ADR Profile, Daily Journal, June 14, 2013
  • Judge, Orange County Superior Court, 1980-1995 (Presiding Judge, 1994-1995; Assistant Presiding Judge, 1991-1994; Complex Litigation Panel, 1992-1993; Presiding Judge, Probate Dept. 1987-1988; Supervising Judge, Criminal Panel, 1984-1985; Family Law Panel, 1982)
  • Judge, West Orange County Municipal Court, 1971-1980
  • Sole practitioner with emphasis on litigation, 1967-1971
  • Partner with Schlegel, Friedemann, Kelley & Smith, 1964-1967
  • Deputy District Attorney, County of Orange, 1963-1964 (founded Fraud Div., 1964)
  • Admitted to the California Bar and the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 1963
  • LL.B. (JD), Hastings College of the Law
  • B.A., University of Redlands

Counsel Comments

    • “[Judge Smith was] able to take the cares and sorrows of interesting, sometimes very complex, clients and communicate to them that their outcome would be just.”

      - Prominent OC Attorney




This page is for general information purposes.  JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness.  Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More