JACKSON – Attorney General Jim Hood will have to secure a indictment to remove Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith from office, a court ruled Tuesday.
Hood, the state’s top law officer asked a judge to drop pending misdemeanor charges against Smith in Hinds County Court.
Smith was arrested June 22 by agents of the Attorney General’s Office on six misdemeanor counts that he illegally assisted criminal defendants. Smith denied the charges.
Judge James Bell, specially appointed to oversee the case, agreed with Smith’s claim that Hood failed to present evidence to a grand jury.
“The defendant has raised (legal questions) that he is answerable for the charges currently pending against him only by means of presentment or indictment by a grand jury,” Bell wrote in a one-page order he signed. “Without question, the circumstances presented in this case involving charges of criminal conduct against a district attorney in the exercise of his duties as district attorney present a unique situation.
“If the defendant is correct … then the state may not proceed on these charges absent … an indictment.”
Hood’s motion to drop the charges – legally termed “nolle prosequi” or nolle pros – also states that Hood “seeks to proceed with this matter … in a manner which only the circuit court, not the county court, would have jurisdiction to hear and decide.”
He also notes that if the county court were to proceed on the misdemeanor charges, that court “would not have full authority” to impose the criminal statute’s penalty if a jury were to find Smith guilty.
That penalty requires a fine, removal from office and prohibition from filling any other public office.
“Thus, for this additional reason,” Hood states, “the state moves for entry of an Order of Nolle Prosequi in this case.”
Neither Hood, District Attorney Smith nor his attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, was immediately available for comment on the decisions.