Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith tried to throw two Attorney General prosecutors in jail after this website published a transcript of the March 3 preliminary hearing that was held for Christopher Butler.* The District Attorney accused Assistant Attorneys General Patrick Beasley and Shaun Yurtkuran of leaking the transcript of a sealed proceeding to JJ in his motion for contempt. There are just two problems: The preliminary hearing was never sealed and this correspondent purchased the transcript from the court reporter.
The motion states:
1. That on or about December 30,2015, the State of Mississippi filed a Motion to recuse and to disqualify the presiding judge, Jeff Weill on the matter of State versus Christopher Butler. Further that the District Attorney of Hinds County issued grand jury subpoenas on several matters entitled "In Re: Investigations," which includes the Butler case; (KF: Cause no. 12-0-831)
2. That Judge Jeff Weill,the presiding judge in Butler. sealed said files, sua sponte, in part, due to a grand jury subpoena that was issued on several officials (and at one time the Judge Weill was under subpoena. Also see attached order as Exhibit "A");The motion so far is discussing the indictment against Christopher Butler for possessing more than one kilo of marijuana that is prosecuted by the District Attorney. The D.A. tried to drop the case against Mr. Butler but Judge Weill refused to allow him to do so. Mr. Smith issued grand jury subpoenas to the two prosecutors in January and later claimed they were evading the two subpoenas. The D.A. then jumped over to a different case with no explanation. The motion continues:
3. That Judge Weill cautioned on the record, while taking the matter of recusal under advisement, the importance of grand jury secrecy regarding the Christopher Butler matter and all matters in the above-referenced entitled "In Re: Investigation;
Different case, different offense, different prosecutors, different judge. None of the hearings or documents in the consumer fraud case were sealed. However, the Lord Protector of Hinds County was just getting started. He also accuses the two Assistant Attorneys General of illegally providing the transcript to this correspondent. That issue will be covered later in this post. The motion continues:
4. That several officials, specifically Patrick Beasley and Shaun Yurtkuran who practice law in the State of Mississippi are bound by grand jury secrecy, especially after having been served subpoenas on the Christopher Butler matter as well as other matters;
5. That yet, after the Court has made it clear that Grand Jury secrecy is not to be breached, the attorneys from the Mississippi Attorney General's office not only evaded service of process (see Attachment as Exhibit 11811 ), but also knowingly, willingly, intentionally and with malicious intent, did publish and provide details a transcript of Christopher Butler to the owner of the gossip website while knowing that this matter was under seal (see Attachment as Exhibit "C", transcript of Christopher Butler, which also provides evidence of evading service of process and maliciously targeting and charging Christopher Butler with a subsequent crime to obstruct justice while knowing that a subject matter of In Re: investigation is includes Butler); (Cause no. 16-50 AG)
Thus the motion begins with stating a drug case, Cause no. 12-0-831, prosecuted by the District Attorney and switches over to a preliminary hearing in a consumer fraud case, Cause no. 16-50 AG, that is prosecuted by the Attorney General without tying the two cases together. Disjointed to say the least.
6. That this conduct by the Assistant Attorneys General is a blatant disregard for the rules and they in fact made a mockery out of serious investigations taking place in the Hinds County grand jury;
7. That these attorneys should be held in contempt and jailed for 6 months due to their contemptuous behavior and reckless disregard for the rules cited in U.C.C.R 7.04;
Judge Priester held a preliminary hearing in the consumer fraud case for Christopher Butler on March 3. JJ reported the hearing on March 17 and published a copy of the transcript (Earlier post):
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.."However, Judge Priester never sealed the case nor issued a protective order. Here is the docket:
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 possessing more than one kilo of marijuana. 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.
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One must also ask why the District Attorney didn't serve the two Assistant Attorneys General with his grand jury subpoenas while they were in front of him in the courtroom. Judge Tomie Green dismissed this motion on April 4 and minced no words in doing so (Her dismissal is posted below in the embedded documents):
Likewise, the Court finds that there are no issues ,or credible evidence to be resolved herein concerning Christopher Butler's preliminary hearing conducted by Hinds County Judge Melvin Priester. The Attorney General's Office attempted to provide Judge Priester with proof for the determination of probable cause regarding entirely "new" charges being prosecuted by the Attorney General's Office. The intervention by the District Attorney, Robert Shuler Smith, at the prel,minary hearing is rare and unusual. Any matters on behalf of Christopher Butler at the preliminary hearing must properly be advanced by Butler's defense attorney and not the District Attorney. The District Attorney has not shown any nexus or proof to indicate violation of this Court's February 9, 2016 order. Nor is there any evidence to suggest a breach of the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings.The District Attorney did not appeal the dismissal.
Kingfish note: The motion repeatedly refers to the Christopher Butler case that is currently before Judge Weill. This website published a transcript from a different case that was before County Court Judge Melvin Priester, Sr. However, facts apparently meant nothing in this motion. What was important was throwing two prosecutors in jail for six months.
The March 3 preliminary hearing for Christopher Butler was never sealed. There is no protective order in the docket. Judge Priester never sealed the case. It was an open preliminary hearing. Standard procedure was followed by the court in conducting the hearing.
The accusation that the two prosecutors provided a transcript of the hearing is simply not true at all for one simple reason: JJ bought a copy of the transcript from the court reporter!!! JJ has a copy of the cancelled check and receipt to prove it. Check out the receipt for yourself:
If the District Attorney had bothered to do his job properly and perform some due diligence, he would have discovered that this website purchased the transcript from the court reporter. All he had to do was ask the court reporter if she had sold any copies of the transcript but such efforts are trivial when one mistakes persecuting for prosecuting. Does the word Nifong ring a bell?
The prosecutor has an ethical duty to file honest pleadings in court. The words "due diligence" come to mind. This attempt to throw two prosecutors in jail without attempting to conduct even a nominal investigation is part of a disturbing pattern shown by the District Attorney. Mr. Smith tried to throw Chief Deputy Chris Picou and Othor Cain in jail after a list of grand jury "no bills" was given to the media two years ago. The "no bill" lists are public records and published after each grand jury term in the Circuit Clerk's office. Earlier post about contempt motion filed against HCSO employees. Mr. Smith later withdrew the motion.
This correspondent and this website did not obtain the transcript through leaks, anonymous emails, or any other means of covert delivery of the transcript. The court reporter was contacted and asked if a transcript could be purchased. This correspondent personally met Miss Sims and purchased the transcript from her. Any allegations made by the District Attorney that the transcript was obtained through other means is simply not true.
*This motion is part of Cause no. 16-26. A dispute arose over several grand jury subpoenas issued by the District Attorney. Judge Green sealed the case and appointed Amy Whitten as a special master to preside over the dispute. JJ will cover the actual case within a few days. This post is about the motion for contempt.
Note: Mr. Yurtkuran is no longer associated with the Attorney General's office.