Stung by a judge’s rejection of their no-prison plea deal offer to accused lawbreaker ex-Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, federal prosecutors now are moving forward with their legal guns blazing.
Prosecutors have filed a motion seeking to force a reluctant witness, John Tate, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department attorney under Metts while he was sheriff, to testify at Metts’ trial in January.
“It has come to the government’s attention that Tate may have information related to the criminal acts committed by the defendant (Metts),” said the motion, submitted by assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May on Friday.
Tate left the department in June, the day after Metts was indicted, although no one will say whether he quit or was pushed out.
Prosecutors say it will take a judge’s order to get Tate to be interviewed by federal agents.
“Tate’s personal attorney has represented that Tate will not submit to any interviews or testify without a decision from this Court addressing any possible attorney-client privilege,” May’s motion said.
Current Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty signed a document Sept. 28 that “waived any privilege that could be asserted for Tate’s work as general counsel of Lexington County Sheriff’s Department as to investigations by the Department of Justice, the S.C. Attorney General’s office or SLED,” the motion said.
But Tate still would not talk to investigators.
May argued that “any privilege for a government attorney – such as Tate – does not extend to protect against disclosure in a criminal context.”
“As general counsel for Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, Tate was a governmental attorney. Thus, neither Tate nor the defendant may attempt to shield evidence of the defendant’s crimes behind an attorney paid for by the taxpayers,” May’s motion said.
“The duty of the governmental attorney is to the public, not to the official who seeks to use his position to further greed and corruption.”
Tate could not be reached for comment. He was general counsel for Metts from 1997 to June 18 of this year, according to state and county records. In his full-time position, he made $84,020.
The day before Tate left his job, Metts was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple counts related to taking bribes to let illegal aliens out of the jail he supervised. That same day, Gov. Nikki Haley suspended Metts from office.
The sheriff’s department on Friday declined to specify the circumstances under which Tate left.
“Sheriff Lewis McCarty as a matter of policy does not discuss personnel actions that are taken in regard to employees or former employees,” department spokesman Maj. John Allard said.
Sherri Lydon, Metts’ attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Lydon and attorney Scott Schools are Metts’ current lawyers. May’s motion said that at one time, Metts was represented by his “personal criminal defense lawyer, (Vinton) D. Lide,” who was present when the FBI interviewed Metts at an unspecified date.
Metts, 68, sheriff for nearly 42 years, has pleaded innocent to the charges against him.
Earlier this week, Metts formally quit the post he had been suspended from, saying he was taking retirement.
On Wednesday, U.S. Judge Terry Wooten nixed the no-prison plea deal put together by prosecution and defense lawyers.
Wooten basically said such a deal would be special treatment for a public official and would violate federal sentencing guidelines because the charge Metts wanted to plead guilty to, conspiracy to harbor aliens, carried a minimum sentence of 10 months in prison.
Wooten’s kibosh not only means that Metts will go to trial Jan. 12, but that the lawyers in the case – all who have top reputations – will have to spend the holidays preparing for what will be a grueling trial expected to last two weeks.
Attorneys for Tate and Metts have until Dec. 29 to respond to the prosecution’s motion to get Tate to divulge any information he might have.