JACKSON, Miss. — Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith was fighting multiple agencies in the months before his indictment, according to documents unsealed this week.
The documents in cases involving Smith show he repeatedly tried to call assistant attorneys general and others before a grand jury while trying to dismiss drug charges against Christopher Butler, as judges and others questioned the wisdom of that course. They also show Smith closely watching Butler’s situation, even trying to subpoena a jail warden days after a search found a contraband phone in Butler’s cell.
The Clarion-Ledger won an order from a judge to unseal those documents, arguing they had been sealed illegally without judges giving proper notice.
Smith’s September indictment came after months of closed-door maneuvering. He faces two felony counts of conspiring to prevent Butler’s prosecution and one misdemeanor count of illegally advising him. Smith has pleaded not guilty. Assistant District Attorney Jamie McBride was also indicted for hindering prosecution. He, too, has pleaded not guilty.
McBride and Smith argue that Attorney General Jim Hood has no legal authority to present a case to a grand jury or prosecute a case in Hinds County without authorization from the governor or Smith. However, state law authorizes the attorney general to proceed on his own in at least some cases.
Smith represented Butler when Smith was a defense lawyer in private practice. Authorities have not revealed any other connection between the two.
The unsealed cases show more clearly than before that the dispute stems from Smith’s attempts to dismiss 2012 marijuana charges against Butler. An unsealed transcript of a January hearing before Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill shows Smith argued that the state couldn’t prove that Butler actually possessed the marijuana. That may have been the first forum where Smith publicly alleged that videos from a home security system at Butler’s house were tampered with. The Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, which investigated the case along with the Jackson Police Department, strongly denies any tampering.
Smith tried to get Weill to remove himself from the case, and then tried to summon him before a grand jury in January. He also subpoenaed other people, including assistant attorneys general Patrick Beasley and Shawn Yurtkuran. The two later secured indictments against Butler on various fraud and embezzlement charges, claiming Butler stole or helped others steal furniture when he was an employee at a mattress store.
The original dispute was extensively aired before lawyer Amy Whitten, who was named as a special master by presiding Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green to examine the situation.
Smith continued to try to use county grand juries to develop information relating to Butler. In June, he tried to subpoena Butler and Hinds County jail official Mary Rushing after jail officials searched Butler’s cell and found a phone. Smith texted Rushing asking why Butler’s cell had been searched, and later asking why he was on lockdown.
Smith was on the verge of getting Beasley and Yurtkuran indicted before the attorney general’s office filed misdemeanor charges against Smith. The misdemeanor charges against Smith were later dropped when Smith was indicted. But the new documents show that Beasley and Yurtkuran, both former employees of Smith, had already been threatened with six months’ jail time.
In March, Smith sought contempt of court charges, alleging they evaded his subpoenas and provided a transcript of a hearing involving Butler to Jimmy Hendrix, who operates the blog Jackson Jambalaya. At the time, Smith said the two, by investigating Butler on the fraud charges, were “maliciously targeting and charging Christopher Butler with a subsequent crime to obstruct justice.”