J. Eric Smithburn

J. Eric Smithburn

Professor Emeritus of Law

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J. Eric Smithburn has been a member of the Notre Dame Law School faculty since 1978, first as a visiting assistant professor of law (1978-79), then as an associate professor of law (1979-82), achieving the rank of professor in 1982. Smithburn directed the Law School’s summer program in London from 1984 to 2000. He earned his B.A., M.A. and J.D. degrees from Indiana University (Bloomington) in 1966, 1970 and 1973, respectively. A member of the Indiana Bar since 1974, he engaged in private practice in Plymouth, Ind., (1974-76), served as judge in Marshall County, Ind., (1976-78), and was an adjunct assistant professor at Indiana University (Bloomington) (1974).

Smithburn’s areas of academic interest include evidence, family law, juvenile law and appellate review. He is a member of the Society of Legal Scholars (since 1986), the International Society of Family Law (since 2001), the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association (since 1987), the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple (since 1989), the Selden Society (since 1992) and the American Law Institute (2003). He also serves as a faculty member of the Indiana Judicial College (since 1976), the National Judicial College (since 1978), the National College of Juvenile & Family Justice (since 1979), the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (since 1979) and the National Association of Counsel for Children (since 1996). In 2001, Professor Smithburn was appointed by the Indiana Supreme Court as a Senior Judge, to serve by designation as a state trial court judge.

Smithburn retired from Notre Dame Law School in June 2015. He passed away June 18, 2021.

Courses Taught

  • LAW70201, Evidence
  • LAW70501, Juvenile Law
  • LAW70503, Family Law
  • LAW73312, Appellate Review of Trial Court Decisions



  • Family Law: Children in Need of Services, with Ann-Carol Nash (West Indiana Practice Series 2010).
  • Appellate Review Of Trial Court Decisions (Carolina Academic Press 2009).
  • Judicial Discretion - A Text (National Judicial College 2006).
  • Indiana Family Law, vols. 14, 15, and 15 A with Ann-Carol Nash (Thomson/West 1991, 2006).
  • Cases and Materials in Juvenile Law (LexisNexis 2002).
  • Instructor's Manual For Cases and Materials in Juvenile Law (LexisNexis 2002).
  • Family Law: Problems and Documents (Aspen 1997).
  • Instructor's Manual For Family Law: Problems and Documents (Aspen 1997).
  • Indiana Family Law, vols. 14, 15 and 15A (West Publishing Co. 1991, 2002).
  • Judicial Discretion: Successor Edition (National Judicial College 1991).
  • Judicial Discretion (National Judicial College 1980).
  • Ed., Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s, (with J. Williams and M.J. Peterson eds. (T.I.S. Publications 1980).
  • Criminal Trial Advocacy, with James H. Seckinger (National Institute for Trial Advocacy 1983; 2d ed. 1985).
  • Advanced Criminal Law Practice: Cases and Materials, with E. Gaffney (Notre Dame Law School 1981).

Book Segments

  • Pocket Supplements to Indiana Family Law, vols. 14-15 (Thomson-West) published annually since 1994.


  • The Trial Court's Gatekeeper Role Under Frye, Daubert and Kumho: A Special Look at Children's Cases, 4 Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy 3-34 (2004)
  • Removing Nonconforming Child Support Payments from the Shadow of the Rule Against Retroactive Modification: A Proposal for Judicial Discretion, 28 Journal of Family Law 43 (1989).
  • Visual Evidence, with James H. Seckinger, in Litigation, vol. 9, no. 2 33 (Winter 1983).
  • Effective Assistance of Counsel: In Quest of a Uniform Standard of Review, with T. Springmann, 17 Wake Forest Law Review 497 (1981).
  • Perceived Perjury as a Factor in Criminal Sentencing, 23 Res Gestae 424 (1979).
  • Perceived Perjury: A Proper Consideration for the Sentencing Judge? Court Review Journal of American Judges Association, vol. 17, no. 3 20 (1979).
  • Sentencing in Indiana: Appellate Review of the Trial Court's Discretion, 12 Valparaiso University Law Review 219 (1978).

Statutory Drafts

Professor Smithburn served as a member of the Indiana Supreme Court Evidence Committee, which wrote the Indiana Rules of Evidence. The rules were adopted by Indiana Supreme Court, becoming law on January 1, 1994.


Professor Smithburn served as a member of the Indiana Supreme Court's Court Improvement Project Committee, which conducted a comprehensive study of Indiana's child-welfare system and prepared a 145-page report for courts, special advocates and the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

Book Reviews

  • 28 UCLA Law Review 1120 (1981) (reviewing J. Nolan, Trial Practice: Cases and Materials (1981)).
  • 1980 Arizona State Law Journal 237 (1980) (reviewing G. Bellow and B. Moulton, The Lawyering Process: Materials for Clinical Instruction in Advocacy (1978)).

Professor Smithburn has also published several other articles and monographs in the areas of the judicial process, trial advocacy and practice, evidence, and family law, and has written numerous appellate briefs.

Areas of Expertise

  • Appellate Review
  • Children's Rights
  • Collection of Child-Payments
  • Comparative Family Law
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Judicial Process
  • Juvenile Law