The long-awaited murder conspiracy trial against Mehrdad Fotoohighiam has again been postponed.
Special Judge Steven Ohmer announced at a status hearing on Thursday morning that Fotoohighiam’s trial, previously scheduled for May 17, will be postponed until Fotoohighiam can find a lawyer to represent him. His former attorney, Scott Rosemblum, withdrew from the case in March, saying his client refused to follow his advice and engaged in behavior that undermined his defense.
The case was to be tried for the first time more than two years ago.
Fotoohighiam could not find a new lawyer because the representation could not be paid. Columbia attorney Greg Smith had considered intervening but told Ohmer Thursday morning that he would not do so.
Fotoohighiam is charged with conspiracy to first degree murder, first degree assault, manipulation of a witness, and conspiracy to manipulate a witness. A 2017 probable cause statement alleged that Fotoohighiam, while awaiting trial of separate arson in Boone County Jail, offered to pay two fellow inmates to kill a district court judge who was in the statement was identified only as “JH” and was intended to preside over the arson case and someone named “HF” in the statement
Jeff Harris is the only judge in Boone County with the initials JH, and Fotoohighiam’s ex-wife is Hediah Fotoohighiam.
Mehrdad Fotoohighiam called the charges “100% unfounded, false and frivolous” on Thursday.
Fotoohighiam was acquitted of the first degree arson in 2019. He had been accused of hiring a man to burn down Marcia Green’s trailer house.
However, Green prevailed in a personal injury lawsuit against Fotoohighiam, in which a jury awarded her $ 2.75 million in damages in 2018 plus legal fees. That award, and financial obligations to his ex-wife following their divorce in 2016, complicate Fotoohighiam’s ability to pay a lawyer.
Fotoohighiam persuaded Ohmer to release him from the county jail, where he has been held since September 2015, on a $ 350,000 bond. Ohmer issued 21 conditions on April 6 for Fotoohighiam’s release. This included asking Fotoohighiam to pay the bail, stay under house arrest with GPS tracking, and hand in his passports. They forbade him from contact with anyone directly related to his case, but did not allow him to leave his home for more than three hours at a time to meet with potential lawyers.
Fotoohighiam attempted to deposit the $ 350,000 bond, but Green’s attorneys sought and promptly won a garnishment that paid that money, as well as another $ 83,870 Fotoohighiam attempted to pay another attorney to Green.
Ohmer said Thursday morning that he was disappointed that special judge Robert Koffman, the judge in a personal injury suit, had allowed these attachments.
“They basically bankrupted you,” said Ohmer, adding, “It’s just not right.”
According to court records, Fotoohighiam still owes $ 3.1 million to Green when the interest on the damage is factored in.
Ohmer said he would order the Missouri Public Defender’s Office to interview Fotoohighiam again to see if he was a candidate for his representation. Court records show the public defender’s office found he was not in need on March 23.
Fotoohighiam asked Ohmer about the possibility of attracting a public defender from outside Boone County, citing the publicity that his case has attracted and the “negative atmosphere” that surrounds him.
He has also inquired whether it is feasible to represent yourself. Ohmer called the idea “ridiculous” on Thursday and Special Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe said “would be a train wreck”.
The next hearing on this case is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. next Thursday.