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January 15, 2014

Bashara won’t get laptop but might get new attorney

Citing insufficient preparedness, progress, judge to consider reassigning case

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

DETROIT — Robert “Bob” Bashara — the man accused of orchestrating the January 2012 murder of his wife, Jane Bashara — will not be given a laptop computer in jail to prepare for his upcoming trial.

However, he might be getting another new attorney.

During a pretrial hearing Jan. 9 in front of 3rd Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans, the judge denied a request to give Bashara a laptop computer so that he could review the large amount of evidence in the case against him. She noted that budget cutbacks in Wayne County have effectively dismantled the county’s Internet crime division, meaning that there would be no one available to monitor Bashara’s computer use or check out the computer he might be given to make sure it didn’t have Internet access.

While the hearing was to address the jailhouse laptop question, it became more about whether Bashara is getting adequate legal representation from his defense team, as Evans voiced concerns about what she felt was an insufficient amount of time being spent by Bashara’s attorneys on the case.

Bashara and his defense attorneys made the laptop request Dec. 10, citing the voluminous amount of discovery materials and Bashara’s macular degeneration as reasons for the laptop. Mark Procida, one of Bashara’s attorneys, noted that it would be impossible for his client to review all of the materials the defense team has on a hard drive during the attorney’s jailhouse visits.

Prosecutors strongly objected to the request. Robert Moran, one of the Wayne County prosecutors handling the case, noted that Bashara faces charges including witness intimidation and said they feared giving him a computer would “give him access to witnesses.” Moran called Bashara “a computer-savvy person” and said that since the shutdown of the county’s Internet crime unit, there was no way to ensure Bashara didn’t somehow gain Internet access.

“There is simply no reason the defendant cannot be treated like every other defendant,” said Moran, suggesting that Bashara be given reading glasses in prison.

Lisa Lindsey, another of the Wayne County prosecutors on the Bashara case, said that office supply stores sell full-page magnifying glasses, suggesting that Bashara could use one. Moran agreed.

“All they have to do is print the materials,” Moran said of the evidence Bashara hopes to look at. “He can take (the documents) to his cell and review them all day long. … He can use a magnifying glass if he has macular degeneration.”

But Procida said not all of the evidence is on paper.

“There are numerous audio files contained in the discovery,” he said, adding that the “hours and hours” of audio files include jailhouse interviews.

Lindsey acknowledged that there are “more than 100 hours” of audio recordings among the discovery materials, but she said much of that is from Bashara’s own statements.

“He’s quite loquacious. … He talks and talks and talks,” Lindsey said, adding that Bashara “should know the contents of his own conversations.”

She said the defense was given these materials “months ago” but added that the prosecutors could probably provide the defense with a list of phone calls they should focus on within the next two weeks.

“That certainly would be helpful,” Procida said.

If he couldn’t get a computer, Bashara asked the judge if he could get pens or other “proper writing materials,” complaining that the small pencils distributed to prisoners are inadequate. Evans asked Bashara to give her a list of the supplies he might be seeking for the court’s consideration.

The judge was alarmed by what she felt was the lack of time Bashara’s attorneys have spent with him recently, by the failure to get materials to Bashara for review expeditiously, and by the apparent loss of one of the defense attorneys, Rene Cooper. Bashara is still being represented by Procida and Nancy Shell. All of the attorneys are members of the Legal Aid and Defender Association.

“I’m just now finding out that Mr. Cooper may not be on this case anymore, and that greatly concerns me,” Bashara told the judge.

She concurred.

“I do believe Mr. Cooper not being on that team is a significant blow,” Evans said. She said she would talk to jail officials about trying to adjust the hours an attorney can meet with his client so that Procida can spend more time with Bashara as the March trial approaches. Evans also asked Procida to prepare and provide her with his schedule with regard to this case.

Bashara said he had seen Procida once for about 20-30 minutes after the last court date Dec. 10, and that he had been reviewing court transcripts since that time.

Evans wanted to know why Bashara had only gotten the transcripts after Dec. 10 when they had been ready for the defense weeks earlier. Evans’ clerk confirmed that some transcripts had been ready as early as Oct. 15.

“I’m concerned about the level of preparedness,” Evans told Procida. “What I’m hearing is excuses. … This is Mr. Bashara’s life, and he needs someone to represent him who can give him the consideration (he needs).”

Evans accused the State Defender Office of not doing its job adequately. The judge said she understands that Procida no longer has the legal team he expected to have for the case, and that he’s still handling a number of other cases with the State Defender Office.

“It’s unacceptable. … I’m not satisfied that we’re moving ahead sufficiently,” Evans said.

Don Johnson, chief defender with the State Defender Office, confirmed that Cooper was no longer on the case.

“He’s one of our supervising attorneys, and he had to resume his supervisory role,” Johnson said. He said Cooper was only put on the case to help organize materials in the complex case, which has thousands of pages worth of evidence and other documents.

“Mark Procida has always been the lead lawyer (in the Bashara case), and Nancy Shell has always been there to assist,” Johnson continued. “They’re both very qualified, and I have complete confidence in both of them.”

Although she didn’t say how it might be paid for, Evans said she might need to assign Bashara’s case to another attorney. Bashara is now being represented by a public defender because he has told the court he can no longer afford to pay for private legal representation, given that the state is using his remaining assets to cover the cost of his incarceration for pleading guilty to trying to have handyman Joseph Gentz killed in jail.

“He has to have the level of representation that is afforded to him under the constitution,” Evans said of Bashara. “If that means I have to look outside Wayne County (for an attorney) … that’s what I’m willing to do.”

Evans said Procida only seeing Bashara once between the Dec. 10 and Jan. 9 hearings “is insufficient.”

“We’re going to have to move this case along, because at the rate we’re moving, we’re going to have this case done in 2016, and that’s not acceptable,” Evans said. The judge said this case is unique and does have “significant discovery,” but said federal cases also have large amounts of discovery materials.

She and Bashara both expressed confidence in Procida, with the judge saying, “I know that his skill level is above-average.” But she added, “We’re going to have to put something in place that’s (a bit) extraordinary,” suggesting possibly finding a way to give Bashara more time with his attorneys, or putting another attorney on the case altogether.

“It is a very big case,” said Evans, noting the high level of media interest.

Procida mentioned some trouble his office was having with a hard drive containing discovery materials. He expressed willingness to provide the judge with a schedule.

Lindsey said she believed the State Defender Office could still handle the case.

“It’s going to take anyone else the court assigns months (to get up to speed),” she said.

Procida is Bashara’s third attorney, following David Griem and Mark Kriger, both of whom were privately retained by Bashara. Bashara said he understood prosecutors had spent “hundreds of thousands, if not $1 million,” on his case but, he said, “I don’t have the same luxury” since “the prosecution, through the state, has taken all of my resources.”

Lindsey vigorously denied Bashara’s allegations, saying that it’s the state — not the Prosecutor’s Office — that takes assets to pay for a prisoner’s incarceration.

“The Prosecutor’s Office has not spent $1 million on this case,” she said. “We wish we had $1 million.”

Evans asked Bashara for a list of potential defense attorneys he might want to represent him.

Bashara mentioned that he had contacted Detroit-based criminal defense attorney David R. Cripps, but the money Bashara was able to put together wasn’t enough to retain him.

Whether Cripps might take part in the case, either as a lead attorney or someone assisting Procida, was unclear at press time. Cripps could not be reached before press time for comment.

Both sides will be back in court at 11 a.m. Jan. 23 for another pretrial hearing.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.