Tuesday, October 10, 2017
JACKSON Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith was nearly seven hours late Monday to his pre-trial court date for two domestic-violence charges, an aggravated stalking charge, and a robbery charge he faces in Rankin County for allegedly attacking Christie Edwards. Smith was slated to appear at 9 a.m. in Rankin County Circuit Judge John Emfinger's courtroom, but the DA did not walk into the courtroom until minutes before 4 p.m. to appear before a visibly annoyed judge.
This is the third trial in the last year with Smith facing off against the State of Mississippi. His earlier trials—for trying to keep Christopher Butler from facing prosecution—ended first in a mistrial and then an acquittal.
The courtroom swelled with alleged criminals waiting to be called up to the podium before the judge. In circuit court, no one has a predetermined slot—everyone is told to show up at 9 a.m., and defendants wait their turn like it is a walk-in doctor's visit. But neither Smith nor his lawyer, John Reeves, was present when Judge Emfinger called Smith's case number a couple of hours before the lunch break. (No phones or watches are permitted in the courtroom except for those belonging to lawyers, so most times in this story are approximated.)
"Have you seen either of these gentlemen this morning?" Emfinger asked about Smith and Reeves to the lawyers from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office who are handling the case.
No one had an answer. Emfinger put his glasses on and rubbed his face, which tinted red in the moment. "Do you have Mr. Reeves' number?" the judge asked.
"No," Assistant Attorney General Stanley Alexander said.
Emfinger called Robert Shuler Smith's full name three times in a row, punctuated and piercing in the microphone that did not always amplify to where onlookers sat in the courtroom. Then he asked the State's attorneys to get in touch with the defense lawyer and his client if they could. Emfinger then took some more cases, mainly guilty pleas, and issued sentences for most of them, while waiting for the missing Hinds district attorney and his legal representative.
Judge Emfinger gave Alexander and his team the lunch break to try to get in touch with Smith and Reeves, and he said he would have his administrative staff do the same.
Emfinger called for "defendant Smith" soon after re-adjourning on a presumably fuller stomach, but had to move on through the court docket when it was clear the Hinds DA had not made his way across county lines yet.
As the day went on, the courtroom thinned out with defendants either going into custody or returning home, and their families and supporters exiting the courtroom often with one fewer loved one. Judge Emfinger spoke more rapidly the later it got, speeding through charges and rights, but never stumbling.
Reeves showed up in the hours between the end of the lunch recess at 1 p.m. and 3:06 p.m. He had on a blue collared shirt that was lined and checkered in a way that looked like graphing paper, a brown belt looped through aquamarine blue pants, and chestnut leather cowboy boots hued the same as the wood in the courtroom's benches and back wall. He was the only male lawyer in the courtroom Monday who did not have on a suit and tie.
Smith's attorney was in and out of the courtroom, always tapping buttons on his phone on his way out. Just before 4 p.m., he appeared with Smith and two women, one of them in a black suit with hair so freshly washed you could see the comb marks in her damp locks. Smith walked to the front of the courtroom and sat on the front bench on the left side of the courtroom, his messenger bag draped over his shoulder in a way that disheveled his suit jacket a bit.
Judge Emfinger called Smith up for the fourth and final time that afternoon, ending the goose chase. The judge verified the pre-trial checklist, set dates for evidence to be submitted into discovery, for pre-trial motions to be filed, and another date for said motions to be heard.
Reeves interjected, nearly a quarter of a day after his client had first been called before the judge, to ask for more time to submit evidence into discovery because Smith is "tied up" with Hinds County cases.
"You had ample time," Judge Emfinger replied, perhaps hinting at their tardiness that day. "See y'all next Monday."
The trial is set to begin Oct. 23 in Emfinger's courtroom.
The district attorney's office did not respond to efforts to make contact before press time.