COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A Houston County Superior Court judge denied a request Tuesday morning from suspended Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones to recuse herself before next week’s public corruption trial begins.
In a motion filed just before close of business on Oct. 25, Jones’ attorney, Chris Breault, filed a motion to have Judge Katherine K. Lumsden removed from the case for bias based on statements she made during an Oct. 21 pretrial hearing.
Earlier in the day on Oct. 25, Lumsden had ruled that Breault was dismissed from the case and could no longer serve in as the DA’s lawyers because Breault, a close friend of Jones’, would be a potential witness in the case.
“Thus, since he had already been disqualified, he was prohibited from filing motions on defendant Jones’ behalf,” Lumsden wrote in an order filed Tuesday morning in the Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk’s Office. “As a third-party, he has no standing to submit such a motion.”
Breault said the judge, who is handling the case because all of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit judges recused themselves, said he will continue to represent Jones despite the ruling.
“I do represent him and I am firm on that,” he said. “I don’t care what she says, I am the lawyer until trial.”
Breault cites a Georgia Bar rule that he says allows a disqualified attorney to remain in the case until the trial begins.
Jones was indicted on Sept. 7 by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office following a GBI investigation. The indictment alleges nine counts of criminal misconduct, including asking a Columbus police office to lie under oath to upgrade involuntary manslaughter charges to murder.
News 3 reached out to Jones after Lumsden’s ruling. Jones answered the phone call, but hung up when a News 3 reporter started to ask questions about the order.
In addition to denying the motion, Lumsden, in what she called the interest of judicial economy, ruled on it in case Jones wanted to take up the motion as his own.
Jones was acting as his own counsel until Breault entered the case on Oct. 12. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Nov. 8th.
She denied the motion to have her recuse herself.
“The facts alleged do not stem from an extrajudicial source and are simply speculations of bias.”
Breault claims that because Lumsden is married to a sergeant in the Georgia State Patrol and this exchange with Lumsden in court on Oct. 21 prove she is biased against the embattled DA.
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.”