Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Clarion-Ledger stands up and fights.

The Clarion-Ledger is fighting the  sealing of several files and documents in cases involving Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.  One problem in reporting this entire saga is there is another fight going on behind closed doors that involves in varying degrees two Circuit judges, a Special Master, the District Attorney, and several Assistant Attorneys General.  They are all public officials and these documents are all public records yet the public is not able to see them nor see what their public officials are doing.  The newspaper said enough and filed several motions in court.... which of course were sealed.  Anna Wolfe and Molly Bryant reported in the Clarion-Ledger a few days ago:

The case against Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith is a puzzle — the missing pieces of which may be hidden within sealed cases and hearings in Hinds County Circuit Court and the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The Clarion-Ledger is asking the courts to unseal those records.

 Last month, the state attorney general’s office filed a six-count affidavit against Smith accusing him of aiding criminal defendants. The cases of those defendants, Christopher Butler and Darnell Turner, and other pertinent files are mostly inaccessible to the public.

The Clarion-Ledger has filed three petitions to access records the newspaper suggests were sealed improperly. One caveat is that, because the sealed cases and hearings go back months, even years, and are completely out of the public's view, determining what happened and what to ask for is like feeling around in a dark room.

The Clarion-Ledger's motions, filed Thursday, follow the courtroom battles between Smith and Hinds County Circuit Judge Jeff Weill stemming from the state attorney general’s allegations against the district attorney.

 Investigations into Smith's courtroom activities began in other cases, like the one Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green agreed to seal at the attorney general's office request just before reassigning it. In that sealed case, an FBI agent with the last name of Culpepper testified against Smith on March 30 in Weill's courtroom.

In his request for the transcripts from that hearing, Smith's attorney, Jim Waide, called the testimony "exculpatory in nature and necessary to Smith's defense."

One of The Clarion-Ledger's motions suggests the hearing should not be sealed because it does not pertain to grand jury proceedings. In fact, The Clarion-Ledger's motion is now sealed as well since the entire case in which it is filed is sealed.

After Smith's arrest in June, Weill ordered Smith to be temporarily removed from his court docket and barred from participating in all Hinds County grand jury proceedings. In response to the order, which Hinds County Circuit Clerk Zack Wallace later sealed, Smith is asking the state Supreme Court to prevent Weill’s order from being enforced.
Days later, two additional motions appeared in the case, neither of which is public. Other court records refer to these filings, which include a petition filed by the attorney general's office to prevent Smith and his assistant district attorneys from attending grand jury proceedings.

The attorney general’s office’s motion goes beyond Weill’s initial order that was limited to Smith. Weill’s order states the district attorney staff may participate in grand jury proceedings unless they act with or on behalf of Smith.

 “However, the assistant district attorneys are specifically cautioned that any grand jury action or proceeding must relate to a lawful grand jury investigation and not made to serve in retaliation, in any manner, for the district attorney’s recent criminal charges and arrest,” Weill’s order said.

Another motion filed by The Clarion-Ledger asks for these Supreme Court files.

Then there’s the administrative folder in which Weill files any orders not pertaining to a specific case with a case number. Among those filings is Weill's order temporarily removing Smith from participating on his court docket.
When Weill filed that order, the file was open. Days later, it was sealed.

“That’s my personal record keeping, and I wanted it sealed,” Wallace said, adding he sealed the records himself. “That’s what I wanted.”

This file is the subject of The Clarion-Ledger's third unsealing motion. When asked where that motion would be filed, Wallace replied, "Nowhere."

Wallace said the administrative file is open to the public, but anyone wishing to access what's inside must contact Wallace directly and ask him to unseal them. No other employees in the clerk's office have authority to unseal the records, which are public. Wallace said he took this step to prohibit attorneys from filing any motions in that folder.  Rest of article and copies of motions.

Kingfish note: Kudos to the Clarion-Ledger.   A court must provide 24-hour notice and hold a hearing under the Gannett v. Hand holding before it can seal a case.  However, there is an exception under the public records laws for investigations but that might apply to the Special Master report.  Judge Weill and Judge Green should tread very carefully and remember that they work for the public even though they are judges. 

 *Judge Weill, Judge Green, District Attorney Smith, Attorney General prosecutors, Special Master Amy Whitten


Stog said...

Enough is enough. Too many government workers, public employees, elected, at will or civil service protected, seem to think today they're empowered to control the public rather than serve the public.

Its time we all became 'watchdogs' and advocates of those we elect or otherwise permit to live from the public trough, realize the public is the 'boss', not them.

Hopefully if Trump gets elected he'll use the bully pulpit to reverse the trend of public employees, at all levels, from running roughshod over the public and return to serving. There should be NO public employee unions; no complicated structure for dismissing those that fail to live up to the proper standard and cease rewarding wrongdoers by allowing them to retire when instead they should be 'fired' and stripped of all benefits.

Anonymous said...

There is never a need for sealing anything. If they have to be sealed for any reason they should not be able to use anything in them in court.
We have too much hidden from the people already. Let it out to the public or throw it all in the trash.

Anonymous said...

Anytime a newspaper files a lawsuit an angel gets it wings.

Anonymous said...

Knee jerk reactions....and ignorant too.

As a point, issues dealing with minors needs sealing....rape information also need not be public.

In the case at hand, on going investigations may be jeopardized if the materials are let out.

There are standards which must be met to be sealed.

Your across the board disdain for public workers is unfounded and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

Stog, I agree with you about open records. I agree that the bully pulpit can be effective. Teddy Roosevelt did that well.
But, I do want someone who uses the bully pulpit to be an ethical and responsible human being who knows what the hell he is talking about. Trump lied about Cruz's father. He used his pulpit to attack a Gold Star family. Saying " maybe" or " I dunno" casually afterwards doesn't excuse the slurs on those he's attacked. And, frankly, dismissing Russia taking control of sovereign nations by saying " I heard most of the people wanted that" is reminiscent those who aided and abetted another dangerous bully in the bully pulpit who also took over countries without firing a shot! You look old enough to know who that was!

Stog said...

I give up. Let's crown Hillary since she and her husband are such fine upstanding, honest, ethical, moral leaders. I'm sure she and Bill will reduce our debt, immediately clear our graft, corruption, waste and other matters that harm our lives; that she will experience an epiphany, lay bare her sole and confess how she shamelessly condemned the many women Bill has taken advantage of and become a modern 'Joan of Arc'. Yeap, ole Donald is a 'bad person' who often puts his foot in his mouth but the fact is he has for years proved to be a businessman who gets things done.

However I can't agree that my 'disdain for public workers is unfounded and dangerous'. I spent enough years covering government from local to state that I've witnessed first hand how those public servants who are 'honest, ethical and the type person who can be a truly good steward of the public' do not 'out' those among them that do wrong, thereby like apples in a barrel, become tainted by the rotten one.

Anonymous said...

Trump will not have to worry about the election. When the time is right the truth about Hillary will be released. Then it will be too late for the democrats to decide they have made a mistake and find someone else.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS