JACKSON, Miss. — A judge has unsealed the court documents from a number of cases involving Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.
Judge Larry Roberts granted motions by The Clarion-Ledger to unseal the records in six court cases and Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill’s administrative file. Some records related to the dispute are in Weill’s file.
Lawyers for Attorney General Jim Hood and Smith say they agree with the decision.
The newspaper has argued that judges did not follow proper legal procedures in closing the cases, which deal with disputes over how Smith was using grand juries in Mississippi’s largest county.
“We’re happy to see Judge Larry Roberts uphold the rule of law by unsealing cases that we maintained were improperly sealed by other judges,” said Clarion-Ledger Executive Editor Sam Hall. “His rulings help ensure that the justice system in Hinds County and Mississippi remains open and fair to the citizens it serves.”
Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zach Wallace said it would be at least Tuesday before the records were made available.
Smith and Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride were indicted last week on charges of hindering prosecution of Christopher Butler, an accused drug dealer. That move came after Hood’s office dropped earlier misdemeanor charges against Smith on the same issue.
However, currently available records indicate the cases also cover other issues, such as an indictment procured by Smith against Ben Allen, who leads a downtown Jackson business group and questions about how Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green is using a private probation company to supervise pretrial detainees.
Roberts told attorneys he’s considering a Dec. 19 trial date for Smith and McBride. Smith could face five years in prison apiece on the two felony charges. A third charge is only a misdemeanor with a $500 fine, but even conviction on that would remove Smith as chief prosecutor of Mississippi’s largest county. Smith also faces complaints about his behavior from Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester Sr. and Weill. He could also lose his office if disbarred.
Hood’s office has again moved to disqualify Jim Waide, the Tupelo lawyer who is representing Smith. Assistant Attorney General Robert Anderson told Roberts Monday that Waide would be a key witness against Smith in the Butler matter. A tape made by former Assistant District Attorney Ivon Johnson, who has pleaded guilty to charges of taking bribes to reduce bail, shows Smith saying he was trying to get Waide to represent Butler.
“We can’t put this case on without putting Jim Waide on the stand,” Anderson told Roberts Monday.
Waide, though, said prosecutors could get the same evidence from Johnson or Butler. He said he’d claim attorney-client privilege, or possibly his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination if put on the stand. He accused Hood’s office of improperly seeking to disqualify him.
“This is an intimidation tactic by Jim Hood,” Waide said.
Anderson denied that, saying it was a “good-faith motion.”