Attorney for Hinds D.A. seeks hearing

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Embattled Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith wants access to a transcript of secret phone conversations and testimony from two key figures in a state investigation of him, a new court document shows.

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith

R.L. Nave, Mississippi Today

Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith

Smith on Tuesday asked the Hinds County Court to require the state attorney general’s office to produce a transcript of secretly recorded conversations he had with Ivon Johnson, a former assistant district attorney who pleaded guilty to a federal charge he took money to gain lower bail for a criminal defendant. The motion describes Johnson as a “confidential informant” for the state.

Smith also wants the state to produce Christopher Butler, a criminal defendant at the heart of charges that Smith illegally assisted Butler and one other jailed person.

Jim Waide of Tupelo, Smith’s attorney, says Butler was “threatened to give false statements against Smith” and that Johnson cannot be found for questioning.

Smith was arrested June 22 on a six-count affidavit claiming the district attorney illegally assisted criminal defendants. He termed the misdemeanor charges “false” and “designed to denigrate” his credibility.

Court documents show that Special Judge Larry E. Roberts is considering an Attorney General’s motion seeking to halt all grand jury proceedings involving Smith. Details of the motion have not been released.

Waide has asked the court for a hearing on Thursday to publicly air the legal issues against Smith. Waide wants the court to unseal documents, transcripts of closed hearings and other proceedings related to the investigation of Smith.

Waide also said the hearing Thursday would allow him to respond to the state’s motion to halt grand jury proceedings involving Smith and for him to respond to the state’s request that Waide not be allowed to represent Smith.

Attorney General Jim Hood last week asked the court to disqualify Waide from representing Smith because “Waide will be a witness in this case” and “cannot separate his role of advocate for Smith from his role as witness.”

Hood’s motion cites “evidence” that Smith had conversations with Waide about Smith’s attempts to assist.

After a March 3 hearing for Butler in Hinds County Court, Judge Melvin Priester Sr. accused Smith of “irrational, manic and virtually out of control” behavior. Those characterizations were included in a transcript of the hearing that was made part of a formal state Bar Association complaint about Smith to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

James Bell, a senior status judge, was appointed to hear the case Aug. 4 by the Mississippi Supreme Court after all Hinds’ County court judges withdrew themselves from the case.

Roberts, on senior status with the Mississippi Court of Appeals, also was appointed Aug. 4 by the Supreme Court to preside over circuit court activity in the Smith case because of recusals by the Hinds County judges.

In a related case, Butler, 39, was charged with possession of a cell phone while incarcerated. He faces up to 15 years in prison and $25,000 fine if convicted on the charge as a habitual offender, the agency’s news release states.

The new indictment alleges that Butler possessed a Tracfone while he was being held at the Jackson Detention Center.

Butler remains in custody, according to the release. Waide and Smith dispute where Butler is being held.

The case was investigated by the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office then referred to the Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. Ronnie Odom of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Division assisted with the investigation and prosecution will be handled by Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander.

Alexander unsuccessfully opposed Smith for re-election.

The Smith-Hood dispute came to light in legal filings related to a second defendant Smith is accused of helping.

In those filings were a series of emails in which Smith disputed Alexander’s efforts to go around the District Attorney’s Office and call a grand jury. Smith insisted only the district attorney can convene a grand jury and that he had planned to subpoena attorney general’s staff to testify before one.

 

  • Charles Pearce

    D.A. is an abbreviation used more often in Law Land.