I thought Phillip Thomas at Mississippi Litigation Review nailed one of the more recent developments in the State Auditor’s Office public records contempt hearing being heard before Judge Schloegel in Gulfport. The point is short n’ sweet and dead on accurate:
State Auditor Stacey Pickering is asking the U.S. District Court to bail him out of a mess of his own creation.
And this gets us to today’s comprehensive update by Karen Nelson and Justin Mitchell for the Sun Herald on yesterday’s Chancery Court proceedings before Judge Schloegel that ties in with that:
Schloegel stopped the civil contempt hearing, in its second day Friday, so all parties could participate in a conference call with Hattiesburg U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett, who is assigned the federal case.
Also participating in the call were attorneys for indicted former DMR Director Bill Walker and his son, Scott Walker, and other DMR managers indicted in the federal investigation of the DMR.
During the call, Starrett said he had concerns about how it would fit into the investigation if his office found the records are public. Those concerns included the defendants’ right to a fair trial, if there are any grand jury secrets in the documents, and how disclosure might affect any other “targets” of the grand jury investigation.
Early on, when the first indications surfaced that former Assistant US Attorney Sal Perricone engaged in certain extracurricular no-no’s with respect to the massive corruption investigation then underway in Metro New Orleans, certain sage observers predicted the criminal defense attorneys would use it to the benefit of their clients and it worked out exactly that way. I mention this because although we have a far different fact set in play here, if you take what the Sun Herald put out on the social media real time during the two days of hearings at face value, my spidey senses tell me the spectacle is helping rather than hurting the five former DMR employees charged with state crimes that resulted from the year long investigation conducted by the State Auditor’s office. The concerns Judge Starrett expressed were not from any first hand knowledge of the contents of the records at question but from experience IMHO.
Here is the text of the minute entry from PACER on the call:
Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Keith Starrett:Telephone Conference as to William W. Walker, Scott J. Walker, Joseph C. Zeigler, Jr, Sheila Tina Shumate held on 12/6/2013 regarding Expedited Petition to Authorize Release of Records and for Direction . The Court informed counsel of guidelines for their responses to the Petition. All responses are due by December 18, 2013. Participants: Jerry Rushing, John Dowdy, Harold Britain, William Kirksey, Arthur Madden, Corban Gunn, Joe Sam Owen, Tim C. Holleman, John Corlew, Henry Laird, Harold Pizzetta, Douglas Miracle, Melissa Patterson, David Huggins, Joseph Runnels, Sandra Chesnut; Court Reporter/Transcriber Fred Jeske
Next up we need to jump back a few weeks and solve a minor mystery of the Federal case against the Walkers, Joe Ziegler and Tina Shumate. Warren Kulo’s story from last month on the gang’s first court appearance for the Mississippi Press sets it up:
One point of interest, during the hearing four of the defendants sat together in the left side of the courtroom, but Shumate sat in the right rear corner — the furthest point away from the others.
I think Tina Shutmate’s Motion for Severance solves the mystery:
Defendant, SHEILA TINA SHUMATE, fully cooperated with State and Federal investigators on the issues which are the subject of Counts 1 and 2 of the Indictment.
And her Memo in Support of the Motion explains things:
Counts 1 and 2 essentially allege from April, 2011 to July, 2011, this Defendant, SHEILA TINA SHUMATE, William W. Walker and his son, Scott J. Walker, conspired to transfer and embezzled funds from accounts of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain to purchase real property in which the defendants William W. Walker And Scott J. Walker had a financial and ownership interest; and, that a false invoice was submitted to the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area (although it is not disclosed what was “false,” if anything, about the invoice). The Indictment alleges the Walkers’ did so “to gain personal enrichment”. The Indictment does not allege this Defendant gained “personal enrichment” or gained anything as a result of any alleged conspiracy.
Shumate’s pleading is fraught with implications. It provides clues to the reasons Shumate evidently cooperated with the FBI and why she sat as far away from the Walkers as she could during their first court appearance. The Motion, Memo in Support and Shumate’s actions in the courtroom strongly implies she tried to cut a plea deal before the indictments were unsealed. It is very possible plea negotiations could resume at any time. How about some lovely music:
The environment is prime for all manner of twists, turns and back stabbing potential. This much is clear, there was some serious criminal defense talent taking part in that conference call with Judge Starrett and it would not surprise me one bit to see their interest aligned with the public’s right to know with respect to the DMR records Team Pickering withheld from Judge Schloegel and the Sun Herald. Crazier things have happened.