Rev. Gaston Smith Scores Victory Over Richard Scruggs

Late Friday, at 9:05 p.m., Miami-Dade Judge Beatrice Butchko dealt a serious blow to state prosecutors' case against a popular pastor in Miami's black community.

Butchko ruled Assistant State Attorney Richard Scruggs cannot use digital recordings of two interviews with Rev. Gaston Smith. They were made months before the clergyman was indicted for stealing more than $10,000 in county grant money. 

The reason: Smith, his lawyer, and Scruggs did not know the cop who sat in for both interviews was recording them. 

"That is inexcusable," Butchko said. "It cannot happen ever. So those tapes are gone."

Although a well-placed source in the state attorney's office says the judge's

ruling is moot because if you read Scruggs' motion, he was not going to

use recordings because Smith had immunity when the interviews took place.

Jury selection in Smith's trial begins tomorrow morning.

The judge reserved her harshest comments for Scruggs, a veteran prosecutor who cut his teeth in Miami's U.S. Attorney's Office sending some of the worst criminals in Miami-Dade County history to prison

She chastized Scruggs for not immediately notifying Smith's lawyer and State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle about the recordings. 

"The way you handled this disclosure was very unprofessional," Butchko railed. "As soon as you found this out, not only did you need to call them, you needed to draft a letter explaining exactly what happened and the purpose of the tape and the meaning of it, to avoid an appearance of impropriety... That didn't happen."

Butchko even scolded Scruggs for his dealings with Miami New Times staff writer Gus Garcia-Roberts. "I couldn't believe," Butchko said, "you testified in court that you intentionally tried to get around complying with a lawful public records request because you don't like the practice. You can't do that."

Apparently, Scruggs had Smith's entire case file on a CD. He could have easily made a copy for Garcia-Roberts. But instead, the prosecutor had the reporter unnecessarily sift through boxes of documents.

More from Butchko:

You testified that you had this face-to-face meeting with the reporter to avoid, you know, a full disclosure of your boxes, and you directed him as to, I believe, what you thought was relevant. You wanted [Garcia-Roberts] in and out of there as quickly as possible, in my opinion.

Read the final minutes of Friday's court hearing below:

Smith Hearing

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.