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Fireworks erupt in Arnold Smith murder-for-hire cases

Saturday, November 16, 2013, 6:34 pm News Flash Archive

Accusations of judicial misconduct, new motions for recusal, a slap-down with sanctions by Judge Breland Hilburn, and a flurry of emergency appeals by Arnold Smith's attorney William C. Bell to the Mississippi Supreme Court have exploded in the last three weeks.

Dr. Arnold Smith is currently undergoing psychiatric evaluation at the State Mental Hospital to determine whether he is fit to stand trial in a murder for hire scheme that went wrong on April 28, 2012.

Smith is accused of paying Keaira Byrd to murder attorney Lee Abraham, but that Saturday night, Byrd and his associate Derrick Lacy were met by two agents of the Attorney General's office in the foyer of Abraham's law office on Market Street. A gunfight ensued, with Byrd shot dead, and Lacey seriously wounded.

All the local circuit judges recused themselves from hearing the criminal and civil suits that followed, so the Supreme Court appointed Breland Hilburn to hear the cases.

Smith's attorney, William C. Bell of Ridgeland, had late last year filed a motion to recuse Judge Hilburn on the grounds that Hilburn has indirect ties to Attorney General Jim Hood. That motion was rejected by Hilburn and on appeal by the Supreme Court.

But on October 25, 2013, Bell filed a second motion to recuse, citing evidence he claims proves that Judge Hilburn violated the Judicial Canon of Ethics by conducting prohibited ex parte communications with two different psychiatrists involved in Smith's mental status assessment.

Bell's motion for recusal may be seen here:Smiths' Motion to Recuse

Bell's motion describes two instances where Judge Hilburn is alleged to have contacted psychiatrists and discussed the case with them privately. He uses emails from the Judge himself as evidence of these claims. Bell therefore demanded that Judge Hilburn recuse himself from all the cases involving Dr. Smith due to judicial misconduct.

Bell also requested a hearing at which he could presumably call witnesses to prove his claims.

But instead, 5 days later, Judge Hilburn rejected Bell's motion for recusal in a one page order. It may be viewed here: Court Order refusing recusal

Judge Hilburn's order makes a manifestly false statement about the basis for Bell's recusal request and mischaracterizes what Bell claimed was the Judge's improper conduct. But then Judge Hilburn goes further to declare the motion "frivolous" and orders that Bell be sanctioned for filing it. Hilburn's order was signed October 30th, but was not filed until November 5th.

Bell responded by filing a Petition for Extraordinary Writ with the Supreme Court on November 8th. His request that the Supreme Court void Hilburn's order may be seen here: Smith Petition to the Supreme Court

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Bell points out that Hilburn ruled on his motion for recusal without holding a hearing or permitting Smith's lawyer to be heard and to put on proof for the need for recusal.

In addition, Bell complains that Judge Hilburn gave no prior notice of possible sanctions and did not permit Bell the opportunity to respond or defend himself, which are essential for proper due process of law.

Bell therefore asks the Supreme Court to hold Judge Hilburn's order void and issue a writ vacating Hilburn's sanctions order.

In addition, on November 14, Smith appealed Hilburn's denial of his motions for recusal and has asked the Supreme Court to remove Hilburn due to his alleged improper communications with the experts involved in Smith's mental evaluation.

John Pittman Hey
The Taxpayers Channel

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