Update: Judge Priester bound Butler over to the grand jury today. His bond remains at $500,000.
Complete transcript of hearing is posted below. Verrrry interesting reading.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith clashed with the Mississippi Attorney General in Judge Melvin Priester's courtroom two weeks ago over convicted drug dealer Christopher Butler. The AG is prosecuting Butler for alleged consumer fraud. However, Mr. Smith showed up unannounced and unexpected at a preliminary hearing and tried to take control of the case. It was a rather colorful hearing as Judge Priester allowed Mr. Smith to have his say and then shut him down. The District Attorney also announced that he had subpoenaed the AG's prosecutors before a grand jury over the case as well and accused Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents of doctoring videotapes and trying to frame Butler in a separate case. Mr. Smith even argued that the Attorney General can not prosecute a case for anything in Hinds County without his consent. Judge Priester postponed the preliminary hearing until today "Because of the raucous and unprofessional behavior by Mr. Smith, District Attorney.."
The Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Division is prosecuting Butler for alleged consumer fraud involving a West Jackson furniture store and Florida finance company. He was arrested for several charges of mail fraud and false pretenses. The division initiated and conducted the investigation and prosecution (this fact is important). The state's affidavit alleges Butler obtained "signed documentation from Justin Marquise Runnels at Mega Mattress Furniture Outlet in order to send a fraudulent invoice to Uown in order to obtain funds in excess of $500 obtained from Uown." Butler was arrested and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for March 3. Butler is represented by the Honorable Sanford Knott, attorney at law.
Enter the District Attorney. The District Attorney appeared in court when the hearing began. Before this story goes any further, it is necessary to remind the readers of Mr. Smith's involvement with Mr. Butler. Butler was indicted twice in 2012 for trying to sell cocaine. The two cases are assigned to Judge Jeff Weill. Smith tried to dismiss the case last year but Judge Weill denied the requests to dismiss. Judge Weill told the District Attorney to submit motions to nolle prosequi in writing and provide grounds for dismissing the two cases, as Mr. Smith had made his requests orally. The District Attorney then filed a motion to recuse, but Judge Weill denied the motion and continues to hear the two cases. Earlier post with partial copy of court file. Butler has a previous conviction for selling cocaine.
Knott tried to argue that the AG had no authority to prosecute the case, as the alleged offenses took place in Hinds County. He cited the 2013 Williams v. State of Mississippi case. The Williams case took place in Hinds County as well. The prosecution was initiated by District Attorney Faye Peterson. Mr. Smith tried to dismiss the case after he assumed office. Judge Breland Hilburn dismissed the case but tried to rescind his decision a few days later and also tried to replace the District Attorney with the Attorney General. Judge Weill later took over the case and followed in Judge Hilsburn's footsteps as he continued the efforts to have the AG prosecute the case. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a judge could not replace a prosecuting agency with another one. Keep in mind, the Williams prosecution was initiated by the Hinds County District Attorney. Mr. Knott kept asserting the Attorney General had no authority to prosecute the present case.
Judge Priester cleared the courtroom but allowed the court reporter to remain and put everything on the record. Mr. Smith jumped in after Knott and completely agreed with the defense counsel: "I do agree with counsel" (p.11). AG attorney Shaun Yurkturan said that Mr. Smith was arguing the Attorney General could not prosecute a case anywhere in Mississippi unless the District Attorney of "each corresponding district" gave permission for the AG to do. He argued the Mississippi Code gives the AG the authority to investigate and prosecute white collar crime*. He also argued the District Attorney has not objected to any AG prosecutions in Hinds County before this hearing. Then the real fun started.
Attorneys Shaun Yurkturan and Patrick Beasley represent the AG in this case and were present in this hearing. They were once employed by Mr. Smith as Assistant District Attorneys. Mr. Smith said (p.19):
On the 19th of Januaryy, Mr. Yurkturan, who is seated over here in the courtroom, and Patrick Beasley, were subpoenaed. A subpoena was issued to them by the District Attorney's office. They were supposed to show up on the 19th of January. Okay. (Yes, Mr. Smith disclosed grand jury subpoenas on the record.).Mr. Smith then claimed (p.19) the state is preventing anyone from seeing a videotape that shows "Mr. Butler was framed twice" by MBN agents. Judge Priester disagreed with the District Attorney:
(Priester) Well, I personally take issue with that in that I sat through watching that video for approximately 12-16 hours and there was nothing to show.
Smith: Well, we have an expert who corroborates the fact that it was tampered with.Mr. Smith continued to accuse the two prosecutors of avoiding his subpoenas and engaging in more unethical conduct. However, Judge Priester told him "Fine. But you know what? I don't care." He said all he cared about was adjudicating Mr. Butler's case in a preliminary hearing and that he was "not going to inject myself into the cloak and dagger issues between the DA's office and the senior circuit judge and whatever judge or whoever it was that took that case. That's way over my pay grade."
Priester: Well, that's a little different than what you said.
The District Attorney tried to rally from this admonishment and drag Williams back into the hearing. He replied to the court on a direct question that only the District Attorney could prosecute this case. Judge Priester asked him repeatedly (p.25-26) if he was prepared to present the case instead of the Attorney General. Mr. Smith avoided answering the question until he finally said "It's very clear that I'm not presenting it (the case)." Judge Priester finally told him that he had not answered the question to his satisfaction.
Judge Priester had enough and finally ended the hearing. He postponed it until today. His order states that the hearing was continued today "Because of the raucous and unprofessional behavior by Mr. Smith, District Attorney...".
Kingfish note: Out.of.control.
*Mississippi Code Section 7-5-59: