The attorney general’s office today entered the controversy engendered by Circuit Judge L.T. Simes‘ extraordinary decision to deny an effort by Prosecuting Attorney Fletcher Long of Forrest City not to prosecute a murder case and to order instead a special prosecutor handle the matter.
The Circuit Court has absolutely no authority to disqualify a prosecuting attorney or appoint a special prosecutor simply because the circuit court disagrees with the incumbent prosecutor’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The circuit court’s order constitutes a gross abuse of discretion and there is no adequate remedy for the petitioner (or to prosecutor Long) especially given the fact that the CircuitCcourt has set trial to begin next week.
This action was a certainty from the outset of Simes’ decision to take over the case. I haven’t found a lawyer then or since who believed Simes could do what he’s done. Simes, of course, is a frequent subject of judicial disciplinary proceedings. The disciplinary committee has twice tried to remove him, but the Supreme Court hasn’t gone farther than a suspension. It will get another chance on a hurryup basis to consider his work in this case.
As I have written before, the case is partially about the intense rivalries and politics in the Delta, roiling now because of a long-running Delta Blues federal investigation of drug dealing that has produced a string of convictions of drug runners and some cops, but no charges against anyone higher up in the justice system. Accusations and innuendo have flown, including from Simes when he refused to accept Long’s decision in this case not to prosecute Tony Bernard Smith on a Phillips County charge. Long said he lacked sufficient evidence. Since that decision, the sheriff and Long have blasted Simes for releasing another man who’d pleaded guilty to manslaughter before sentencing. He promptly absconded, but has since been recaptured.
The attorney general’s filing was in response to the defendant’s motion to prohibit the judge from ordering a special prosecutor to take the case. It was requested to enter the case by the state prosecutor coordinator’s office, which supplies special prosecutors when they are needed. The defendant, too, argues the judge has abused his discretion. The attorney general said the law was clear that a judge may appoint a special prosecutor only when the regular prosecutor has been disqualified.