Monica Smith was 16 credit hours short of receiving her doctorate in clinical psychology when she dropped out, took the LSAT and enrolled in Florida Coastal School of Law.
Smith had learned much during training for family custody disputes and ways to evaluate sex offenders, but she faced tedious therapy classes to earn a degree. She shelved that, figuring her candid personality was better suited for the courtroom than in a social care setting. The move has paid off.
Since 2016, Smith has thrived as an assistant state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit.
“She believes in what she’s doing, has a great presence in the courtroom and connects with the jury,” said her supervisor, Assistant State Attorney Ashley McCarthy.
Smith started working misdemeanor cases and worked her way up to the Special Victims Unit where she currently prosecutes some of the hardest, most emotionally charged cases involving children who have been sexually assaulted.
The cases can be difficult to prosecute with victims often afraid to come forward with information about their assaults.
Smith said in the courtroom she’s their voice.
“They need someone on their side,” Smith said of victims.
She develops a rapport with the victims, helps them prepare for testimony, then sees the case to the end.
“It can be cathartic for them to testify sometimes,” Smith said of the victims.
The idea of protecting the innocent isn’t new for Smith. The Largo native grew up playing superheroes with her twin brother and an older brother 11-months her senior.
Her twin played Spider Man, while the older brother was Superman. Smith portrayed Batman, who in the comic book dedicates his life to fighting criminals.
She still likes the superhero. The walls in her office are adorned with the Caped Crusader, while a large Batman blanket is draped over her office chair.
“I like the concept of fighting for justice,” Smith said.
During the past year in the Special Victims Unit, Smith has faced tough trials. In a child pornography case, she teamed with Polk County Sheriff’s detectives to learn the intricacies of how the criminal hid certain pornographic pictures and methods he used to overwrite documents.
In that case, she gained a conviction. More recently, she prosecuted a case against a Lakeland man who sexually assaulted a child. A 6-member jury took an hour to convict the man.
Smith isn’t always working.
She paints to relax, using different mediums. Many of her oil paintings hung in the office of her late mother, who worked as a pediatrician for 35 years in Largo. She also enjoys kickboxing, soccer, softball and flag football.
But her job is her passion.
And McCarthy recognizes that.
“She has the potential to be one of the best trial attorneys in the office,” she said.