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Real 'fixer' behind 'Scandal' steps into spotlight

Judy Smith, the real-life crisis consultant on whom the ABC series 'Scandal' is based, has spent her career quietly helping well-known Beltway figures and others with their troubles. Now she is touting the TV series and her book on handling crises.

April 24, 2012|By Jeanne Dorin McDowell, Special to the Los Angeles Times

"My experience at the White House was invaluable," says Smith, who helped maneuver through the Clarence Thomas proceedings, deliberations in Kuwait and the Los Angeles riots, among dozens of other issues. "When you're at the center of the universe, you have to think quickly and size up a situation instantly because whether you like it or not you're going to be on the news the next day."

Afterward, Smith worked for a few years as NBC's vice president of communications responsible for news, sports and entertainment shows. Then she opened her own firm, which handles corporate clients as well as individuals. Smith's resume attracted high-profile cases. Working with Lewinsky, whose affair with President Clinton had made her a target of national wrath, Smith orchestrated the selection of Lewinsky's legal team and created a communications strategy that was compatible with the legal strategy.

"We tried to portray her as a young woman at a certain point in her life, vulnerable and exposed to certain things. Our goal was to get an agreement and make sure she didn't have to go to jail," she says.

Underlying all of Smith's crisis management is the fundamental belief that most people deserve a second chance. "I think that we all make mistakes," she says.

While Olivia Pope's personal life has been fictionalized in Shondaland (the name of Rhimes' production company), Washington says she draws on Smith's deep compassion for people in trouble and incorporates that quality into "Scandal's" lead character. But for the record, as Smith has been repeatedly asked during her sojourn in the media spotlight, she did not — unlike her small-screen alter ego — sleep with the president.

calendar@latimes.com

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