Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith is petitioning the Mississippi Supreme Court to reinstate him as his legal tussle with Attorney General Jim Hood's office continues. Trip Burns/File Photo
JACKSON A Hinds County grand jury will decide whether Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith should be charged with assisting defendants.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office filed for an order of nolle prosequi in Hinds County County Court Tuesday, vacating their current charges against Smith in order to present them in front of a grand jury.
“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,” the order states, citing Smith’s application of a Mississippi statute that states that he would only be answerable to the charges after a grand jury indicts him, a point that Smith and his attorney have pointed out.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the State of Mississippi elects to seek a nolle prosequi of the charges presently pending in the County Court of Hinds County to avoid the conflict which could be presented by the County Court and the Circuit Court having jurisdiction over the same case or charges at the same time,” the state’s motion explains.
The AG’s office also points out a key difference in the two courts, which currently have Smith-related filings.
“Additionally, if the county court were to proceed on the currently pending misdemeanor charges, the county court would not have full authority to impose the penalty set forth in the criminal statute, Miss. Code Ann., § 97-11-3, which mandates a penalty of a fine, removal from office, and prohibition from thereafter filling any office of profit or honor in the state,” the AG’s motion states.
Judge James D. Bell, who was appointed as a special judge to the case after all of the county judges recused themselves over the last couple of months, approved the motion today.
Smith’s attorney, Jim Waide III, said he had dealt with this type of motion before.
“Unfortunately, it’s a way for a district attorney to stop proceedings on a case without admitting that the case has no merit and use Latin terminology so that the general public doesn’t know what’s going on,” Waide said. In this case, of course, the attorney general is the prosecuting party; normally, it would be the district attorney.
Waide said he was concerned that the grand jury might be presented information that does not include the sealed files from previous grand-jury proceedings that presumably involve Smith.
“Here’s the problem that we have: We still don’t have the transcripts of those hearings,” Waide said. “We are very concerned about anybody presenting to the grand jury without anybody showing them what’s in those hearings.”
Because grand jury proceedings are necessarily secret, there is no way to know what the State will prevent to the body.
“But as it stands now, they could very well be presenting a case to the grand jury without the grand jury ever knowing Robert’s side of the case, which is what I suspect is happening,” Waide said.
Without the sealed documents that both sides, the AG and the DA, have requested be released, it is unclear whether or not the information therein will be of assistance to Smith's case. Waide provided transcripts of a 2011 Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics raid on Christopher Butler's house and a discussion between Smith and Hinds County Judge Melvin Priester, Sr., to support his claim that Smith meant only to provide the court with information about a set-up of Butler in response to a formal Bar complaint against Smith.
Email city reporter Tim Summers Jr. at [email protected]. Read more about the controversy surrounding Hood and Smith at jfp.ms/DAFiles.