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In Extortion of Fire Victims Case Smith Mulled Pro Se But Reverses Course So August 14 Trial

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Maxwell book

SDNY COURTHOUSE, May 1 –  The lead defendant in a criminal case alleging gang extortion in the field of clean-up services to properties damaged by fire asserted his Speedy Trial Act rights. 

 On September 9, 2022, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff held an in-person arraignment and detention or bond proceeding, with the defendant's family and supporters filling half of the courtroom gallery. Inner City Press was there.

  On the request to move up the scheduled May 2023 trial to October, Judge Rakoff said he will speak with Judge Analisa Torres about changing the schedule of her US v. Tim Shea (We Build the Wall) trial. We'll see.

  On detention or release, the Assistant US Attorney recited from audio recordings of threatens, saying "N-word, I'm gonna kill you."  

 The defense lawyer, retained from Staten Island, pointed to those in the gallery and called the threats hyperbole. Judge Rakoff said the defendant clearly had supporters, but was a danger to the community. He was ordered detained.  

Afterward by the elevators, supporters said of the prosecutors after they left in a separate elevator, "They lie."

Jump cut to March 27, 2023, when Judge Rakoff convened a Curcio hearing on the lead defendant. In short order he ruled, there is no conflict, and adjourned the proceeding. Ten days prior, Judge Rakoff had denied this request to suppress the forensic copy of his phone, taken after he was denied entry into Jamaica and was found with $10,000 upon his return.

Back on September 13, Judge Rakoff held a proceeding with co-defendants. The lead defendant Jatiek Smith applied to move his trial from October 17 to November 28 was granted, and three co-defendants were allowed to join him for trial beginning that date, one with a new lawyer. The others remain for trial on "5-1-22," which we take to mean May 1, 2023.

On April 27, Jatiek Smith appeared before Judge Rakoff, seeking to go pro se. His CJA lawyer, it was said on the record, collapsed in the subway; Inner City Press is voluntarily not report further medical details.

  Jatiek Smith said he is tired of waiting for lawyers; he said, "You view me as an animal, so I'll just do it myself."

Judge Rakoff pointed out that the first CJA counsel's sickness was not his fault.

  Then Jatiek Smith asked for the courtroom to be cleared to speak about his experience with his lawyers. Inner City Press did not contest the sealing; it stood by the elevators with six AUSAs and, separately, supporters of Smith. When summoned back in, it was put on the record that Smith will communicate by 5 pm on May 1 if he wants to go pro se - in which case trial would start May 8 or 15 -- or continue with another CJA lawyer, or two, on August 14, moved up in the sealed session from September 19.

It emerged that 3500 material and other discovery cannot be shared with Smith on the same timeline as other defendants, which would impact his ability - and Constitutional right - to represent himself. It was unclear how or if this was addressed in the sealed session.

Thing became clearer on May 1, when the trial date (and representation) were set: "ORDER as to (22-Cr-352-1) Jatiek Smith. On 4/27/23, the Court held an in-person conference with Jatiek Smith, his then-primary counsel Thomas Nooter and co-counsel Jill Shellow, and prospective counsel Andrew Patel, as well as counsel for the Government. See 4/27/23 Hr'g Tr. As discussed further on the record during that proceeding, severe and unexpected medical setbacks that had very recently arisen affecting Mr. Nooter's health meant that Mr. Nooter was no longer able to try this case (previously firmly set to begin on 5/1/23) in the foreseeable future. And the Court agreed with Ms. Shellow's representation that, given this case's substantial complexity (involving, inter alia, gigabytes of discovery, numerous fact witnesses, multiple months of wiretap recordings, and more) and her prior expectation that she would be proceeding only as co-counsel assisting Mr. Nooter, ensuring effective representation for Mr. Smith required delaying trial long enough to enable Ms. Shellow to adequately serve as primary counsel and for prospective co-counsel to get up to speed on the case. Ms. Shellow, after reaching out to several potential co-counsel who were unavailable, identified highly qualified co-counsel, Andrew Patel, who was willing to step in. However, Mr. Patel's other commitments coupled with the need to get up to speed on this case did not allow him (and Ms. Shellow) to be ready to try this case until August 14, 2023 (the very earliest date available to both counsel and the Court). Nonetheless, at the hearing, Mr. Smith initially expressed reluctance to delay trial and a preference to instead proceed with trial as previously scheduled representing himself pro se, and the Court informed Mr. Smith it would appoint Ms. Shellow as stand-by counsel to assist him if he wished to proceed prose for a trial in May. However, following an on-the-record (but sealed) colloquy regarding the risks of going prose, Mr. Smith asked for some time to further consider the issue. He has since written the Court (in a letter that has been docketed separately, see dkt. 211) stating his preference to remain represented by Ms. Shellow (as primary counsel) and Mr. Patel (as co-counsel) and proceed with an August 14 trial date." Watch this site.

  The overall case is US v. Smith, et al., 22-cr-352 (Rakoff)


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