COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The state of Georgia and an attorney for suspended Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones sparred for more than two hours Thursday afternoon in front of Houston County Superior Court Judge Kathrine Lumsden.
It was high-stakes legal maneuvering that could end up with Jones’ criminal defense attorney, Chris Breault, being removed from the case because the state says he’s a probable witness in the public corruption case set for trial Nov. 8, 2021.
The state argued that Breault acted in conjunction with Jones to try and represent a witness in a murder trial that ended in a hung jury earlier this year. And the state maintains the Facebook messages between Breault and that witness should be admitted into evidence to show that Jones would go to any lengths to obtain a murder conviction.
One of the charges against Jones in the nine-count indictment alleges that he asked Columbus Police Cpl. Sherman Hayes to lie under oath. The state claims Jones wanted Hayes to testify falsely about a defendant’s motive in an involuntary manslaughter case that the state says video evidence will show Jones wanted to be upgraded to murder.
Breault says the state just wants him off the case because he was successful in Jones’ defense of unrelated felony charges involving alleged criminal property damage. That case was declared a mistrial after witness misconduct. The state later announced it was dropping the charges.
“They don’t want me in court arguing for Mark Jones,” Breault said. “That’s the last thing they want.”
Lumsden told the attorneys a decision on that and the other motions she heard Thursday would likely be entered into the court record Friday, or Monday at the latest.
Breault was pushing to have witness testimony and show the 10-minute video of the conversation between Jones and Hayes outside of a downtown Columbus nightclub at about 1 a.m. Hayes was in uniform and working an off-duty security assignment. Assistant Attorney General John Fowler told the court that Jones “was not sober.” Hayes recorded the exchange on his body camera.
Lumsden admonished Breault for playing to the press and said, “The only reason to play that video is so they can play it on the nightly news.” Lumsden then did not allow it to be played in court, despite Breault bringing a television for that purpose.
Breault wanted to call four witnesses for the hearing, including Hayes, but Fowler shut that down when he moved that the subpoenas were not filed in a timely manner. Lumsden agreed.
Breault and Lumsden also had a testy exchange over one of the charges against Jones. It is alleged that Jones offered Chief Assistant DA Sheneka Terry a $1,000 bonus to obtain a murder conviction.
Breault: “So, he has the authority to distribute a significant amount of money to his employees and for other things as part of the discretionary funds. So, if he wants to incentivize the results, and he was to incentivize the work for the ADAs, where’s the law that says you can’t do that?”
Lumsden: “It is in the statute.”
Breault: “Where is it, though?”
Lumsden: “The oath of office says I will not take any public money. And forfeiture funds and other funds have very specific rules about what you spend it on. And specifically prohibits you from paying staff with it. I don’t know what the number is, but you can look it up.’
Breault: “I have looked it up and that’s not true.”
Lumsden: “Ok, Mr. Breault, I will look it up and send it to you.”
Breault: “Thank you, …”
Lumsden: “You can not pay your employees by conviction. The law is very clear.’
Breault: “Where is that, though?”
Lumsden: “You can see the problem with that, certainly. Because then the prosecutor’s duty to seek justice and the truth would arguably be overwrought by your financial incentive. … “
Breault: “They get paid to work, period.”
Lumsden: “Yeah, and they don’t get a thousand-dollar bonus when they win at any cost.”
Breault: “They do if the DA says so.”
At one point during the hearing, Lumsden admonished Breault.
“You are getting periously close to being disrespectful,” the judge said.
There was a salacious accusation of Jones allegedly trying to acquire cocaine one night this summer. The prosecution withdrew that motion to present it into evidence.
Despite withdrawing this motion Fowler told the court it was not because he couldn’t prove it, but it was because he didn’t believe the court would admit it as evidence.