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Capital murder defendant accused of acting as 'jailhouse lawyer,' misuse of county property

James Calvert is escorted into court by bailiffs Thursday as he slumps in a wheelchair. (Source: KLTV) James Calvert is escorted into court by bailiffs Thursday as he slumps in a wheelchair. (Source: KLTV)
James Calvert is accused of killing his ex-wife and kidnapping their son. (Source: KLTV staff) James Calvert is accused of killing his ex-wife and kidnapping their son. (Source: KLTV staff)

James Calvert, a Smith County capital murder defendant on trial in the death of his estranged wife and abduction of their child, has been acting as a jailhouse lawyer and misusing county property while behind bars, according to a search warrant.

The warrant from an investigator in the Smith County District Attorney's Office alleges ‘theft' for the misuse of county-provided property for use in his upcoming trial and ‘falsely holding oneself out as a lawyer.' According to the investigator, Calvert has been “producing, creating, editing legal documents and providing legal advice to other inmates incarcerated in the Smith County Jail.”

Calvert is representing himself in his capital murder trial in the 241st District Court. During numerous pre-trial hearings, Calvert argued he needed legal supplies, including a computer, printer and law materials, to prepare for the trial.

In April 2014, investigators monitored a telephone call between Calvert and Cecelia Bush, a woman who testified in a prior pretrial hearing and collapsed on the stand. According to the conversation, Calvert said he was trying to get a neighboring inmate before a judge and said he was “doing some… trying to do some stuff.” Calvert requests Bush help in some research on the Smith County judicial records website. He also asked for her help in looking up information on another inmate, charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

In another phone conversation with Calvert and his mother, it is brought up that Calvert sent questionnaires around the jail. The district attorney's office asked jail staff about Calvert's requests to the law library and jail Lieutenant Larry Wiginton mentioned his requests were normal, but said there were frequent requests from Calvert and inmate Danny Varner,  who is held in the jail on a federal detainer.

Varner and his attorney met with DA investigators in early August. He said inmates in the ‘3K' area of the jail, where he is housed, told him about Calvert's  supposed ability to provide legal assistance.

According to the search warrant, the four inmates described by Varner were receiving legal help from Calvert at the time.

Varner described how he communicated with Calvert via mail and spoke to him in passing. He said Calvert was helping him draft motions for a pending case in New Mexico. Varner said that jail staff would pass paperwork back and forth between him and Calvert, who is kept in an isolation cell. The documents stated Calvert would disguise some mail communications by listing an inmate's family member in the return address area.

According to investigators, Calvert wrote letters offering his assistance to other inmates:

“Laptop has – printer/scanner – word, excel, powerpoint, and rest of Office suite – they supply all ink and paper – no internet.”

“If you need anything typed, lemme know”

“I see they moved you. Try to get someone to come up here to get your stuff – I got a big stack of it now. If you need anything coped or typed I will do my best.”

“I will draft a motion and send to you for citing and such review and editing.”

“Additionally – I get laptop (4 hours M-F) with printer/copier so I can make copies (limited) for your cause.”

The four hours of laptop use was set by 241st District Court Judge Jack Skeen Jr. after Calvert said in a pre-trial hearing that the previous three-hour time period was not sufficient to help him prepare for trial.

Investigators also point to Calvert's extreme use of supplies provided by the county.

Documents state since August 14, a total of $471.28 was spent from the county's capital murder funds to provide Calvert two boxes of computer paper (each containing 5,000 pages) and fourteen ink cartridges. The supplies were purchased only for Calvert's use for preparing for the upcoming 241st District Court trial.

Instead, investigators said Calvert used the ink cartridges and 5,000 sheets of computer paper since March 6. According to the District Attorney's Office, 402 documents were filed in the 241st District Court related to his case and 201 documents were filed in the 321st District Court for his case relating to a family law matter. The investigator said he believed the documents filed by Calvert in his family law case were created using the equipment for his capital murder trial without the county's permission. Investigators also said the numbers do not add up to show Calvert used the rest of the paper provided by the county, since only 603 documents could be located in court filings.

One of Calvert's "legal clients" is expected to testify in Calvert's next pretrial hearing, slated for Friday, August 29.

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