Legal experts react to Hinds County DA's charges - - Jackson, MS

Legal experts react to Hinds County DA's charges

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT

While the investigation surrounding Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith continues to develop, actions taken by a circuit court judge aim to protect the integrity of the DA's office.

Judge Jeff Weill signed a temporary order disqualifying Smith from trying any cases in Weill's courtroom or having any interaction -- even through his staff members -- with the Hinds County Grand Jury. All of this stems from the misdemeanor charges filed Wednesday by the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, alleging Smith was gaming the system by helping defendants against the state.

And while sources close to the investigation say more charges could come against Smith in the coming weeks, two legal experts say the evidence already presented is difficult to justify.

"I always like to try to reserve judgment until I hear both sides of a case, but it looks very damning," said Mississippi College School of Law Professor Matt Steffey.

Steffey believes the actions of now-disqualified Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith -- communication with defendants without their lawyers present and the information given to help those criminals get their cases dismissed -- are hard to explain.

"If I were trying to do something shady and have a shady conversation with the other side, I would try to explain it away as plea negotiations. But these look irregular," Steffey said.

The frequency of visits and communication, particularly with defendant Christopher Butler over the last six months, have been explained away by Smith supporters as something other district attorneys do.

But Madison and Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest disagrees with that.

"Based upon the allegations I have read, it would be very unusual for a prosecutor to meet with a defendant in jail unless it was to interview the individual to possibly testify at trial against a co-defendant," said Guest. "Even in that case, it would only be done with the knowledge of his or her defense attorney."

Steffey also takes issue with those claims as well, adding that he doesn't know district attorneys who are that cavalier in communicating with defendants.

"If this were something DAs do all the time, you would not have the Attorney General and the FBI bringing criminal charges," Steffey said.

Weill said Thursday's disqualification order was also triggered in part by something Smith released in his statement to the media Wednesday.

The judge said Smith improperly divulged the identity of a possible grand jury witness, calling it an "unlawful public disclosure."

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