The long-anticipated murder conspiracy trial for Mehrdad Fotoohighiam has been postponed again.
Special Judge Steven Ohmer announced at a status hearing Thursday morning that Fotoohighiam’s trial, previously scheduled for May 17, will be delayed until Fotoohighiam can find an attorney to represent him. His previous attorney, Scott Rosemblum, withdrew from the case in March, saying his client had refused to follow his advice and engaged in behavior that undermined his defense.
The case was first scheduled to go to trial more than two years ago.
Fotoohighiam has been unable to find a new attorney because of an inability to pay for representation. Columbia attorney Greg Smith had considered stepping in but told Ohmer on Thursday morning that he would not.
Fotoohighiam is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, first-degree assault, tampering with a witness and conspiracy to tamper with a witness. A 2017 probable cause statement alleges that Fotoohighiam, while in the Boone County Jail awaiting trial on a separate arson charge, offered to pay two fellow inmates to kill a circuit court judge identified in the statement only as “J.H.,” who was set to preside over the arson case, as well as someone the statement calls “H.F.”
Jeff Harris is the only Boone County circuit judge with the initials J.H., and Fotoohighiam’s ex-wife is Hediah Fotoohighiam.
Mehrdad Fotoohighiam on Thursday called the charges “100% baseless, bogus and frivolous.”
Fotoohighiam was acquitted of the first-degree arson charge in 2019. He had been accused of hiring a man to burn down the trailer home of Marcia Green.
Green, however, prevailed in a personal injury lawsuit against Fotoohighiam in which a jury in 2018 awarded her $2.75 million in damages plus attorney’s fees. That award, and the financial obligations to his ex-wife after their 2016 divorce, is complicating Fotoohighiam’s ability to pay an attorney.
Fotoohighiam had persuaded Ohmer to release him from the county jail, where he has been held since September 2015, on $350,000 bond. Ohmer on April 6 issued 21 conditions upon which Fotoohighiam could be released. Those included requiring Fotoohighiam to pay the cash bond, to remain on house arrest with GPS tracking and to surrender his passports. They prohibited him from having any contact with people directly related to his case but allowed him to leave his house for no more than three hours at a time to meet with prospective attorneys.
Fotoohighiam attempted to post the $350,000 cash bond, but attorneys for Green promptly sought and won a garnishment that paid that money, as well as another $83,870 Fotoohighiam had tried to pay another lawyer, to Green.
Ohmer on Thursday morning said he was disappointed that Special Judge Robert Koffman, the judge in the personal injury suit, had allowed those garnishments.
“They basically have bankrupted you,” Ohmer said, adding that “it’s just not right.”
Court records indicate Fotoohighiam still owes Green $3.1 million when interest on the damages is factored in.
Ohmer said he would order the Missouri Public Defender’s Office to once again interview Fotoohighiam to determine if he is eligible for its representation. Court records show the Public Defender’s Office on March 23 found him to be non-indigent.
Fotoohighiam inquired with Ohmer about the possibility of getting a public defender from outside Boone County, citing the publicity his case has attracted and the “negative atmosphere” surrounding it.
He also has inquired about the feasibility of representing himself. Ohmer on Thursday called that idea “ludicrous,” and Special Prosecutor Philip Groenweghe said that “would be a train wreck.”
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 9 a.m. next Thursday.