One of the five defendants set to stand trial in May on charges of supporting ISIL has been denied a request to switch attorneys, after the presiding federal judge raised questions about the lawyer’s track record and intentions.
Hamza Ahmed, whose charges include conspiracy to murder abroad and providing material support to a terror group, asked U.S. District Judge Michael Davis last week for permission to substitute attorney Mitchell Robinson for his current lawyer, JaneAnne Murray. In a written opinion this week, Davis said the swap would “delay the trial or other progress of the case.”
Davis noted that Robinson has been reprimanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court and did not disclose it to Ahmed or his family.
And in a drug case in Texas, Davis concluded, Robinson’s client served nine years in federal prison before a judge granted a new trial, citing Robinson’s lack of preparation and failure to present exculpatory evidence. A judge wound up vacating the client’s sentence.
At a hearing Friday in Minneapolis, Davis questioned Ahmed about his reasons and queried Robinson about his preparation for the terror-recruitment trial.
Ahmed told Davis that he had no irreconcilable conflicts or breakdown of communications with Murray, his lawyer since February 2015.
When asked by Davis if he had reviewed the discovery in the case — which includes roughly 28,000 pages of documents and more than 700 video files — Robinson only said “he believed the facts were straightforward and that he didn’t see it as an extraordinarily complicated case.”
Davis questioned whether Robinson even planned to try Ahmed’s case, citing a retainer agreement that did not include trial fees.
Davis wrote Monday that he hoped his order would shed light on the issue of defendants repeatedly “retaining private attorneys that charge high fees and who have little or no experience, or have been disciplined by the court.”
Robinson told reporters Friday that Ahmed’s family sought his representation because they weren’t eager to go to trial and hoped he would negotiate a deal. In the Texas case that resulted in a reprimand, Robinson admitted that he didn’t think he needed to conduct any pretrial investigation because he thought the government was not going to proceed with trial.
Ahmed and his co-defendants — brothers Adnan and Mohamed Farah, Abdirahman Daud and Guled Omar — will next appear in court for a pretrial hearing April 26 before their May 9 trial date.
Three other defendants — Abdirizak Warsame, Zacharia Abdurahman and Hanad Musse — have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL. Another, Abdullahi Yusuf, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in February 2015 and agreed to testify for the government. Meanwhile, Abdi Nur, charged with Yusuf, successfully traveled to Syria in 2014.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755