Judge declares mistrial, recuses himself in tampering case against former Smith Co. district court coordinator

Former court coordinator accused of tampering with court records
Judge declares mistrial, recuses himself in tampering case against former Smith Co. district court coordinator
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 11:41 AM CDT|Updated: May. 11, 2023 at 10:05 PM CDT
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A judge declared a mistrial and recused himself Thursday in the case against a former Smith County court coordinator.

Toni Patterson White, a former court coordinator for the 7th District Court, is accused of intentionally concealing or removing approximately 4,532 governmental records from the 7th District Court’s online system with the intent to harm or defraud District Judge Kerry Russell, according to an April 2022 indictment. White is accused of removing the documents without legal authorization.

Toni White's mugshot from May 9, 2022.
Toni White's mugshot from May 9, 2022.(Smith County Jail)

On Thursday, trial continued outside the presence of the jury in the 114th District Court with Judge Austin Reeve Jackson presiding. Citing newly obtained email correspondences, defense attorney Thad Davidson accused Judge Kerry Russell, the defendant’s former boss, of trying to obstruct justice and steer the outcome of the case against White. Davidson said there are approximately 200 emails between Russell and the special prosecutor.

“Those emails, in our opinion, change the tenor of the case in favor of the defense,” said Davidson in an interview with KLTV. “I can’t go into much more than that.”

In court, special prosecutor Elizabeth Severn stood up and said she has a right to talk with victims or witnesses about the case and what will be offered.

“I have a right to discuss plea agreements with victims,” said Severn. “They don’t have a right to control it, but they all have, and have for the last 30 years, been informed about what the negotiation offers are.”

Davidson responded, “I’m not attacking the prosecutor, I’m attacking Judge Russell.”

Judge Jackson said while he could appreciate the defense’s frustration, he believes there’s no misconduct when a witness talks with the state about what will be offered. Judge Jackson sided with prosecutors and said there was no evidence to support the allegations of misconduct.

The defense later said they were filing a motion for mistrial, saying they believe Judge Russell attempted to deny the defendant’s right to a fair trial and due process rights. The judge denied the motion on that basis.

Davidson later addressed the court about emails that were requested by the defense, but not received until after trial started on Wednesday. Judge Jackson responded saying he believed the emails would have been relevant as impeachment evidence during trial testimony on Wednesday. While he didn’t suspect any misconduct, he granted the defense’s motion for mistrial without prejudice. A protective order was then issued for the emails, which are not to be released publicly.

The prosecution then requested a new trial date, but Judge Jackson didn’t want to set a date that may or may not be workable with attorney, court, and witness schedules.

Davidson told the court he was aware that everyone involved had a “mountain load” of violent crime cases, to which Severn said, “I have sex victims who had to wait for this trial.”

Judge Jackson broke through the back-and-forth saying, “I’m going to make it easy on you. I’m going to notify Judge (Alfonso) Charles that I am voluntarily recusing myself, so I can’t set a trial date anyhow. We’ll get y’all a new judge and a new opportunity to go forward.”

While the prosecutor declined comment, Davidson spoke with KLTV outside the courtroom.

“Because we didn’t get it (emails) until the middle of trial, from a strictly legal point of view, I think Judge Jackson was absolutely right and frankly had no choice but to grant the mistrial,” Davidson told KLTV.

White was employed by Smith County from May 2011 to April 2021, according to the county’s human resources department.