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JACKSON – Political friends of Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith expressed their support for him just hours after his arrest by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office on charges he provided improper advice to two persons facing criminal charges.
An affidavit from the Attorney General’s office filed with Hinds County Circuit Court cites six instances in which Smith improperly provided information or spoke with defendants about charges pending against them. No hearing was set immediately for Smith to respond to the charges in circuit court, the clerk’s office said.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba, son of the late Jackson Mayor Chockwe Lumumba, termed the accusations “a last-ditch effort to commandeer the vote,” which Smith won in his second re-election contest in 2015.
“He is eagerly awaiting an opportunity” to tell his side, said Lumumba, a candidate for mayor and an attorney. Lumumba said he is not representing Smith.
Of the six counts in the affidavit, five involve Christopher Butler, who was facing charges of embezzlement and wire fraud and possession of a controlled substance. The other count involves defendant Darnell Turner, charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence.
The conversations took place at different times and places between January and June of this year, the affidavit states.
One count in the affidavit cites conversations on Jan. 14 and June 20 that Smith had with Butler’s family in which he referred to Butler as “his client,” said he would work to help him obtain a defense lawyer and worked with a lawyer to obtain Butler’s release. Court documents show that Smith had represented Butler when he was in private practice.
Butler is in the Hinds County jail. He is being held on charges of fraud, false pretense and embezzlement, according to the Hinds County jail website.
Another count mentions attorney Sanford Knott, who represented Butler, and states that Knott received a letter from Smith advising him how to attack the state’s pending case against Butler.
Knott told Mississippi Today that Smith’s arrest was “a total surprise.”
“I have not been a participant in any investigation that deals with the subject matter of the affidavit,” he said.
Knott said that while he’s had two brief conversations with state investigators about his cases, he never expected to see his own name in the affidavit charging Smith.
“I was not expecting the allegations that are contained in the affidavit today,” he said.
The affidavit also accuses Smith of unlawfully advising Turner by delivering previously sealed information about conversations by prosecutors and the court to Jackson attorney Dennis Sweet III. Sweet has not responded to requests for comment.
Lumumba was joined by spokespersons for local political groups at a news conference in the district attorney’s Office. One person read remarks prepared by Smith’s staff.
Akil Bakari, a member of the Coalition for Equal Justice, read a statement terming Smith’s arrest “improper and illegal” by certain state officials. He said the legal accusations “are false.”
They both said the charges are “politically motivated.”
Lumumba said Attorney General Jim Hood “campaigned against Robert and couldn’t take the seat from him” so Hood “designed a scheme to attack him” with legal charges.
If Smith is convicted of the charges, he could be removed as district attorney, prohibited from holding any other government position in the state and fined up to $500 per conviction.
Smith became Hinds County District Attorney in January 2008 and was re-elected in 2011 and 2015.
According to Smith’s district attorney office website, he’s a Jackson native and graduate of Forest Hill High School and Tougaloo College. He earned his law degree in 1996 from Saint Louis University School of Law in Missouri and was admitted to the Missisisppi Bar in September 1996.