CECIL COUNTY — Michael D. Smigiel Sr. has passionately and effectively represented hundreds of clients as an Elkton-based attorney for 33 consecutive years and thousands of state residents during his 12 years as a delegate at the Maryland General Assembly.
But his deepest loyalty was rooted in something much deeper, much more sacred to him than even the clients and citizens he represented.
“I remember him carrying the Constitution in his pocket. He had a clear idea of what it meant,” recalls private practice lawyer Thomas Kemp who for 40 years has operated out of a Main Street office that is a few blocks east of where Smigiel hung his shingle as a solo practitioner.
Kemp is one of many people who shared their memories of Smigiel after learning of his death. Surrounded by loved ones, Smigiel died Sunday afternoon in the intensive care unit of an area hospital after battling several medical issues, according to a notice his family posted on social medical. Smigiel was 64 years old.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, surviving members of Smigiel’s family had not released funeral plans, other than to say services would be private. The family asked for “understanding and privacy during this time of grief” in their social media post.
After graduating from high school, Smigiel served in the US Marine Corps from 1975 to 1979. Smigiel was visibly patriotic, according to those who knew him, so it was only a given that he would serve his country in the military. As for the branch in which he served, Smigiel was quite proud.
“I remember the Stars and Stripes playing and Mike standing at attention,” Kemp said, noting that while he has no memory of the public place in which it happened and of Other details about it, he vividly remembers this: “Afterwards, he said to me: ‘Once a Navy, always a Navy.'”
Smigel went on to earn an AA degree in history and psychology at Elgin (Illinois) Community College in 1982, after his honorable discharge from the Marines. And from there, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Northern Illinois University in 1985.
Then Smigiel attended Northern Illinois University School of Law, where he presided over the class and earned a JD in 1989. Later that year, Smigiel, who moved to Chesapeake City with his family, admitted to the state of Maryland. Bar and began his private practice in an office on Main Street. Civil works made up the bulk of Smigiel’s workload.
“He was a fierce litigator. He represented his clients vigorously, whether he was the plaintiff or the defendant. He was always ready for a (legal) fight. He never did anything on tiptoe. He always made his position known and you always knew where he stood,” said Cecil County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Keith A. Baynes, who has practiced law for nearly 40 years, which includes a long stint as a prosecutor before becoming a judge in 2011.
Smigiel was known for his straightforward – even blunt, at times – way of presenting legal arguments and presenting his case in court. And he was always mindful of the US Constitution in doing so. In other words, Smigiel was a true upholder of the principles set forth in this fundamental document and a strong defender of his client’s rights which he granted.
“A lot of people disagreed with him and didn’t like his style because he could rub people the wrong way sometimes, but his clients loved him,” Baynes remarked.
Findlay McCool, who has practiced law in Cecil County for 40 years, recalled how Smigiel could keep his professional and personal worlds separate from each other. Because of his consolidation approach to the practice of law, Smigiel did not hold a grudge.
“Mike and I were on different sides of the coin many times. But no matter how hot things got inside that courtroom, we were always able to put our differences aside. Like any good lawyer would, we were able to leave him in the courtroom and go down the hall and talk about being parents,” McCool said.
Smigiel’s children and McCool’s children took lessons at the same karate studio, where the two lawyers had cordial conversations while their children learned self-defense techniques. (Smigiel’s children and McCool’s children also attended elementary, middle, and high school together in Chesapeake City.)
“Mike was a family man,” McCool said, explaining that Smigiel was involved in his children’s activities and spoke frequently about his children and his wife.
As for his skills and commitment as a lawyer and as a public servant, Smigiel was solid.
“Mike Smigiel undoubtedly left his mark. He was admired by many and feared by many,” McCool said. “He was very civic and he was a good advocate for his clients. He kicked up more dust than anyone.”
In 2002, some 13 years into his law career, Smigiel won his first of three consecutive four-year terms in the Maryland House of Delegates. Smigiel, who was a Republican, represented District 36. Appropriately, given his legal background, Smigiel served on the Judiciary Committee and was a member of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee. He also served on the Health and Government Operations Committee and, from 2003 to 2006, he served as Deputy Minority Whip.
Sen. Steven S. Hershey Jr. (R-District 36) posted this on social media after learning of Smigiel’s death: “Mike was a committed and uncompromising supporter of our Constitution. It was captivating to see him in action on the floor of the Maryland House of Delegates.Mike passionately believed that one is never a former Marine, but always a Marine.Our county, state and communities will always remain grateful and grateful for Mike’s dedicated service.
Many of the issues near and dear to Smigiel as a lawyer, including protecting citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights, were also for him as a delegate when creating legislation in his 12 years. in Annapolis.
While he was adept at separating his private and professional life as a lawyer, Smigiel did not walk on eggshells as a lawyer simply because he was also a delegate. Smigiel has filed lawsuits against the Cecil County government and other agencies during his three-decade career as a lawyer.
“Mike was someone who was always ready to stand up for ‘The Little Guy,’ the one he thought might be taken advantage of. He wasn’t afraid of controversy. He would wade straight in – even if it was against his political interests He has always put his clients before his long-term political interests.When he got involved in a cause, Mike had been 100% practicing law for over 40 years.
Kemp agreed with Whelan’s assessment, commenting, “If Mike believed in something, he didn’t care if there were potential negative consequences.”
Whelan, who along with his then-law partner Dexter M. Thompson Jr. rented a Main Street office from Smigiel early in his career, remembers Smigiel primarily as a likeable man.
“He was very social. We talked about everything,” Whelan said. “He didn’t seem to have a bad side – unless you were his opponent.”
In a handwritten note Smigiel left for loved ones, he spoke of his impending passing and made his wishes known, according to the family’s social media post.
“My family, my friends, please smile, my love. Remember me not in tears but with kind words, laughter and smiles. Swap stories and break bread, carry me a toast goodbye,” Smigiel wrote, ending his note with, “Look up and you’ll see me dancing in the stars. Semper Fi.