James Fitzgerald Smith was born in Chicago in 1943. He received his B.A. in English & Philosophy and B.S. in Chemistry & Biology from Marquette University in 1966. He received his J.D. degree from John Marshall Law School in 1975. He graduated from the United States Army War College in 1992. He was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1975 and the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in 1995.
He served as the Legal Director of Rockford (1975-77), Assistant Corporation Counsel of Chicago (1977-1979), and City Attorney and City Prosecutor of Des Plaines (1979-89). He was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1989 and elected in 1994. He was elected to the Appellate Court in 2002.
After 27 years of military service, he retired as a colonel from the United States Army Reserves in 1996. He and his wife, Barb, have two daughters.