Bob Bashara in Wayne County Circuit Court last week with attorney Mark Procida. photo by Kathy Ryan.
January 16, 2014DETROIT — There were more questions than answers following Bob Bashara's latest court appearance Thursday, Jan. 9, in Wayne County Circuit Court.
The hearing was set for Judge Vonda Evans to rule on Bashara's request for a laptop computer in order to review discovery documents related to his upcoming trial on the charge that he murdered his wife, Jane, in January 2012.
But even before Evans ruled on the computer issue, she questioned Bashara's court appointed attorney, Mark Procida, as to why Bashara has not had access to several discovery documents, and expressed concern that a second attorney assigned to the case appears to have been removed.
"This is Mr. Bashara's life," Evans said. "And he needs somebody to represent him that will be able to give the time and dedication, and I don't know if the defender's office is in position to do that."
Evans said she was concerned Procida and Bashara met just once since a December court appearance. With a jury trial date set for March 3 on seven counts related to his wife's death, including first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, she questioned whether Bashara was receiving adequate legal counsel.
She said if Bashara is convicted on the murder charge, he could appeal on grounds of "ineffective assistance of counsel."
Evans noted when Bashara's case was first turned over to the defender's office, three attorneys were assigned to the case. Now only Procida is on the case.
"That's unacceptable," Evans said. "I'm concerned with the lack of preparation. I'm considering removing you from the case. All I hear is excuses, excuses, excuses."
Noting she was "not happy," Evans told Procida, "This is a very big case. Either you're going to do it efficiently, or you're not going to do it."
"There are several issues at stake," Bashara told Evans. "The Prosecutor's Office has spent close to a million dollars on this case and the point is that I don't have that same luxury.
That comment brought a challenge by Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey.
"I'd like to correct that statement," Lindsey said. "We have not spent a million dollars. We wish we had a million dollars. We don't."
Lindsay questioned if a new attorney was brought into the case if they would be ready to go to trial March 3.
Evans asked Bashara to give her a list of attorneys he would like to see represent him, and she would consider the possibility of assigning a new attorney.
Bashara responded he had already been in contact with a new attorney, David Cripps.
"I have paid Mr. Cripps $15,000, but he wants six times that amount to represent me," Bashara told Evans. "I can't afford that because the prosecution through the State has taken all my resources. I had the money, but it's been taken."
Lindsay said her office has not seized any of Bashara's assets, but rather the State of Michigan has a statute that allows assets to be taken by the state to pay the cost of a prisoner's incarceration.
Bashara suggested to Evans that Cripps be added to his defense team to "assist" Procida, but Lindsey questioned if Cripps would have the time to devote to the case.
"He has a very busy trial schedule. Would he even be ready?" she asked Evans.
And while the attorney issue remained unsettled, so too did the question of whether Bashara would be given a laptop computer to review documents.
Bashara, citing macular degeneration brought on by his diabetes, requested the computer at a hearing before Evans in December. He said his eye condition made it difficult for him to read paper documents.
Prosecutors objected, citing rules banning computers in jail and also noted that with computer access, it would be possible for Bashara to contact witnesses in the case under the guise of trial preparation.
"This defendant should be treated like every other prisoner," Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor John Moran told the court. "Reading glasses are cheaper than computers."
He also noted Wayne County has closed its Internet Crime unit, and the officer who had been assigned to the unit is now doing cafeteria duty.
"There would be no one to monitor the defendant's use," he said.
The Prosecutor's Office suggested Bashara be given a magnifying glass or a special reading screen that would make paper documents easier to read.
But Bashara said the problem is just not the paper documents.
"The issue is I have pencils this big," he said, holding two fingers about four inches apart, "and I have to handwrite my notes. If I had a computer I could type my notes. Without a computer, I need pens and proper writing materials."
Procida pointed out Bashara could only review documents using a computer when his attorney was present and visiting hours were limited.
Evans told Bashara she would meet with the jail commander to see what could be provided to him and to see if visiting hours could be adjusted to allow his attorney to meet with him more often.
Several times during the hearing Evans admonished Bashara for his behavior, including telling him he was rude when he spoke to Procida while the prosecutor was talking and once when he placed his hand on his hip.
"Take your hand off your hip," she told him.
But even with the admonitions, Bashara remained upbeat, wishing the judge "Blessings and a happy new year, your honor."
Jane Bashara was found dead in her SUV in January 2012. Bashara has been charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, solicitation to commit murder, suborning perjury during a capital trial, witness intimidation, obstruction of justice and felony firearm. He is in prison after admitting he attempted to hire a hit man to kill Joe Gentz. Gentz admitted to killing Jane Bashara, but said he did it at the forced behest of Bob Bashara.
Evans set a new hearing for 11 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 23.