Judge Bails, Attorney Rails | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Judge Bails, Attorney Rails

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Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Tomie Green has recused herself from Mayor Frank Melton's upcoming Ridgeway Street trial, citing "recent improper and inappropriate contact with the trial judge and members of her family which makes the trial judge a potential witness in subsequent proceedings." Green did not explain what the "improper and inappropriate" contact had been. Nor did she explain why that contact might make her a witness in subsequent proceedings. The order, which was dated Nov. 20, was released to the public on Monday. Green did not answer calls for comment.

Earlier this month, Green oversaw Melton's trial for weapons violations, and she wrote in her recusal order that she will retain jurisdiction over Melton's probation, which will last one year. The Ridgeway trial, in which Melton and bodyguard/policemen Michael Recio and Marcus Wright face five felony counts each for the demolition of a duplex at 1305 Ridgeway Street on Aug. 26, was scheduled to go to trial in the spring. It is unclear whether Green's removal will delay those proceedings, but it is likely that a hearing scheduled for Nov. 30, in which Green planned to rule on numerous motions from the defense and the prosecution, will be delayed.

On Nov. 15, Melton attorney Dale Danks filed a motion with the Mississippi Supreme Court asking them to remove Green from Melton's weapons trial because, he argued, she had inappropriately limited the questions attorneys could ask of potential jurors. Only hours after Danks filed that motion, Melton pled guilty to two misdemeanors and no contest to a felony reduced to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to six months in jail, suspended sentence, and one year of probation.

On Tuesday, Judge Swan Yerger asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint a judge from outside the county, due to congestion in the Hinds County docket. The Supreme Court appointed retired Coahoma County Judge Joe Webster.

Among the motions waiting for a judge's ruling is yet another motion accusing the district attorney's office of misconduct, this one filed by Robert Smith. Smith is now the attorney for both Recio and Wright, recently replacing Omar Nelson as attorney for Recio. Nelson has left Smith's law firm, which told the JFP Tuesday that he left no forwarding phone number.

Jackson attorney Bill Kirksey says that when one attorney represents two defendants, there is always potential for conflict. "Let's assume that Faye Peterson comes to Smith and says, 'We'll cut Client A lose 100 percent if he'll cooperate against Client B.' You can't adequately represent Client A without doing detriment to Client B. That's a classic conflict situation. The only time I represent two parties indicted for the same offense is if they're a husband and wife," Kirksey said.

Smith accuses the DA of violating the gag order Green imposed on the case. The DA has accused defense lawyers of the same offense and called for sanctions. Now, Smith accuses the DA of deliberately leaking in a motion—which accused defense attorneys of violating the gag order—news that Melton had sought a plea deal before reneging. However, Smith is not Melton's attorney, and he may not have legal standing to address that issue.

The DA had included the reneging revelation in a response motion to one by Melton's attorney Dale Danks, seemingly on behalf of bodyguard Wright even though he does not represent him, complaining that Peterson was "selectively prosecuting" by telling Wright to get in touch with the FBI if he wanted to plead. Before he had obtained counsel, Wright had called Peterson on Sept. 15, the day the indictments came down, seeking a plea bargain, the DA's motion stated, adding that she told him he should get his own attorney and contact the FBI.

Smith also alleges that the DA's motion was under seal, and "therefore, this gives rise to the inference that the information was improperly leaked to the media." However, the motion in question was readily available from the clerk, as it was filed before Green ordered all motions to be filed with her office. The Jackson Free Press obtained the motion in question by simply asking the clerk for any new filings.

In his recent motion, Smith argues that these media stories about Melton seeking a plea bargain "have sparked public discourse" over what other deals may be in the works, and he asserts "that these series of public discussions regarding plea bargains is in violation of (the gag order)." Public discussions, however, do not in themselves violate a gag order, as only officers of the court are bound by it.

Smith also lists an Oct. 31 Jackson Free Press article that, he said, contained an interview with the prosecution. That is erroneous, however; the article simply quoted the motion that the JFP obtained from the clerk's office.

He concludes by calling the DA's misconduct "egregious" and writes: "It is blatantly unfair for one party to be publicly chastised regarding gag order violations, while other parties run afoul of the rules without any repercussions whatsoever."

See jacksonfreepress.com for PDFs and daily continuing coverage.

Previous Comments

ID
67122
Comment

The only time I represent two parties indicted for the same offense is if they’re a husband and wife,” Kirksey said. Well, that would explain the matching orange shirts! ;-)

Author
pikersam
Date
2006-11-29T20:14:10-06:00
ID
67123
Comment

Pike, I believe the shirts were more peach than orange. I wonder if Marcus Ward is in charge of color coordination, now that he's no longer the city's lobbyist.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-11-30T11:06:39-06:00
ID
67124
Comment

Not to change the subject but, who is the city's lobbyist, Pike? I read somewhere that we were losing millions and that Benny Thompson was basically ignored during Ward's one Washington visit.

Author
justjess
Date
2006-11-30T11:13:47-06:00
ID
67125
Comment

The city's Washington lobbyist is John Waits, once again. This was the lobbyist Melton let go in order to promote Marcus Ward. Now, Marcus Ward is chief of staff. Thus, the wardrobe portfolio.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-11-30T11:30:55-06:00
ID
67126
Comment

Well, that's one Meltonian screw-up corrected. What's going to happen with Sarah O'Reilly-Evans' contract??? The confirmation of the fire chief??? The non-existent police chief??? The shrinking loyalty in the PD and city government??? The shrinking ranks of officers??? The skyrocketing crime rate??? Sigh.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-11-30T11:33:15-06:00
ID
67127
Comment

Thank goodness, I thought that the city had left the post vacant when Ward went to the chief of staff position.

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-11-30T11:34:44-06:00
ID
67128
Comment

Imagine: We now have a Washington lobbyist ... in Washington. What a concept. The council really went deaf, dumb and stupid when Melton was elected. Now, at least some of them are waking up. Unfortunately, it seems like Allen is falling into more of a public stupor—although I 'm sure he's working behind the scenes to solve some of the problems, such as this one. He was furious about Waits being fired in the first place. It's too bad that he seems to think that he has to act like Melton's biggest supporter and buddy in order to get stuff done, though. Hey, that's his decision, but one wonders how that will serve him long term. At any rate, it's good Waits is back into place. Some of the damage control is working.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-11-30T11:37:52-06:00
ID
67129
Comment

BTW, is everyone clear on the weirdness about Robert Smith's motion above? He is complaining that the DA "leaked" a motion (presumably to us, being that he lists our article) that we actually got from the court file. Is he showing so much support for the gag order now that he doesn't believe that the parties should be able to file any motions in case they end up in the court file and the public—gasp—can actually get hold of them? It sounds a bit to me like that were caught with their pants down when the D.A. responded to their motion about Wright by saying that Melton had also sought a plea motion. They're upset that that got out—but it sounds like they made their own bed by putting out their own motions, seemingly to get them into the media. That is, they are complaining about the D.A. doing exactly what they did. The truth is, either side should be able to file any motion they feel they need to, and answer the other side. It is up to the judge to determine whether or not those motions should be public. This motion seems extremely frivolous and erroneous, especially being that their main complaint doesn't have merit, being that the D.A.'s return motion was placed into a public file. It sounds a bit like they got trumped by their own strategy, and now they're in a bad mood about it. If they didn't want to talk about people who had sought plea bargains publicly, maybe they shouldn't have made public people who had sought plea bargains. They sound like they want it both ways, when it benefits them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-11-30T11:43:42-06:00
ID
67130
Comment

You, Ms Ladd, said a mouthful-

Author
Randy Harris
Date
2006-12-01T14:18:30-06:00
ID
67131
Comment

Is that good or bad? ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-12-01T14:27:12-06:00
ID
67132
Comment

I have a correction to the story above, and this correction will also run in the next print edition. We had reports that Omar Nelson was off the case, and in the motion filed by Robert Smith, he describes himself as an attorney for both Det. Michal Recio and Marcus Wright. Now, Nelson has called us and said he is still the attorney for Recio. Apparently, the number we called trying to reach him was old. I asked him why Smith had referred to himself as attorney for both officers, and why he did not sign the motion Smith filed. Nelson said that was "probably an oversight." Nelson told me that he and Smith are jointly representing both Wright and Recio. He said he could not tell me more for fear of violating the gag order. Since this case began, attorneys for one defendant have filed motions on behalf of clients they do not represent. For instance, Dale Danks filed a motion on behalf of Marcus Wright accusing DA Faye Peterson of misconduct even though Dale Danks is not Marcus Wright's attorney. Later, Robert Smith filed a similar motion, apparently in order to address the problem. Now, Robert Smith has filed a motion (again accusing the DA's office of misconduct) on behalf of both detectives, even though Omar Nelson is Recio's attorney. If Nelson and Smith are interchangeable, it would seem to raise the same conflict problem addressed by Kirksey in the article above, namely that if prosecutors approach one client with a deal to testify against the other client, how could Smith (and Nelson) adequately represent both clients? I would certainly appreciate comment from any lawyers out there. Does it make sense for Smith and Nelson to act as a single entity? Does it make sense for Recio and Wright to act as a single defendant? Regardless, we apologize for the error, and as I said before, we will run a correction in the next print edition.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2006-12-01T18:37:05-06:00

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