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Hinds County DA asks court to overturn order banning him

Robert Shuler Smith

Robert Shuler Smith

Hinds County’s district attorney is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn an order barring him from having any contact with county grand juries or trying cases in one judge’s court.

Robert Shuler Smith filed the motion Monday with the high court, also asking that a series of sealed court hearings be opened so he can prepare his defense against six misdemeanor charges that he was illegally aiding defendants.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill barred Smith in June after he was arrested. Smith says Weill didn’t give him notice or a hearing before issuing the order, violating his due process rights under the Mississippi and U.S. constitutions.

The district attorney also says state law only provides for him to be removed from office after a conviction.

“The order removes crucial parts of a district attorney’s duties without his having been indicted or convicted,” Smith’s filing states, later adding that, “Allowing a single judge to cancel the duties of an elected district attorney diminishes the authority of voters to choose persons for public office.”

Smith says Weill has no power to ban or remove him. He argues that the order should be set aside because it’s an outgrowth of a shadowy power struggle involving Smith on one side and Weill, Attorney General Jim Hood, and Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green on the other side, saying Weill should recuse himself. An email filed in court shows Smith tried to subpoena Weill.

Previous court papers show Green ordered Smith to stop abusing the grand jury process following a secret report by Ridgeland lawyer Amy Whitten. Smith had been trying to subpoena employees of the attorney general’s office, disputing Hood’s power to legally prosecute certain Hinds County residents.

Smith claims Hood, a fellow Democrat, criminally charged him to destroy Smith’s credibility as he investigated Hood’s employees for wrongdoing. The dispute appears to center around Smith’s claims that someone had tampered with video that he says proves evidence was planted against Jackson resident Christopher Butler in a drug-dealing investigation. Five of the six charges against Smith claim he illegally aided Butler.

Hood’s office later brought mail fraud charges against Butler, prompting Smith to appear at a hearing before Hinds County Court Judge Melvin Priester Sr. on March 3. Priester later described Smith’s actions that day as “raucous and unprofessional.”

Smith has asked that transcripts of hearings held sometime in January, March 30, April 4, June 21 be unsealed. He contends that the sealing of those hearings disobeys a 1990 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling that requires 24-hour notice before a hearing on sealing a case, that the judge make findings that closing a case is justified, and that a transcript of the closure hearing be made public.

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