JACKSON, Miss. — A judge has dropped charges against a district attorney accused of helping criminal defendants, but the prosecutor’s attorney says he expects Mississippi’s attorney general to take the case to a grand jury.
Judge James Bell approved a request Tuesday from Attorney General Jim Hood to dismiss charges against third-term Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith, who is charged with helping criminal defendants.
“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,” wrote Bell, a retired judge who was appointed to hear the case.
Smith contends that, under the state constitution, such charges can be brought against a district attorney only by a grand jury, Bell wrote. If he’s correct, Bell wrote, the state cannot proceed without an indictment.
Defense attorney Jim Waide said he believed Hood was taking the case before a grand jury. Hood did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Smith was arrested on a six-count criminal charge in June.
He has denied wrongdoing. Smith said Hood is trying to destroy his credibility as he investigates Hood’s employees.
Both prosecutors are Democrats.
The charges are related to a dispute between Hood and Smith over Hood’s prosecutions of Hinds County residents. Smith made what Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester Sr. later called a “raucous and unprofessional” appearance in a March 3 hearing regarding January mail fraud charges against Jackson resident Christopher Butler. At that hearing, Smith told Priester that the attorney general’s office didn’t have the authority to prosecute any cases in Hinds County without his permission, unless directed by the governor, or unless there were legal findings that such intervention was needed.
Five of the counts in the charge filed by an investigator for Hood deal with Butler. They claim Smith wrote a letter to Butler’s lawyer, Sanford Knott, advising Knott how to attack the state’s case, that Smith tried to pressure a circuit judge into dismissing marijuana possession charges against Butler, that Smith twice visited Butler in jail without Knott, and that Smith referred to Butler as his “client,” and worked to obtain his release from jail, where he’s being held without bond.
The charges also accuse Smith of improperly aiding another man, Darnell Turner, who faces charges of aggravated assault. They say Smith improperly turned over emails of conversations between Circuit Judge Jeff Weill’s office, himself and the attorney general’s office. Those emails show Smith resisting Weill’s order to convene a grand jury to hear evidence on another Hinds County case Hood’s office wanted to prosecute.