Defense counsel Mark Procida, left, confers with defendant Bob Bashara in the courtroom of Judge Kenneth King at Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit on Sept. 9, 2013. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
Detroit — A judge will decide next month whether to spend $200,000 in taxpayer money to augment accused murderer Robert Bashara’s defense team.
During a contentious hearing Thursday, Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans expressed concern Bashara’s attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office are overwhelmed with the case that involves at least 10,000 pages of documents and 178 potential witnesses.
Toward the end of the proceedings, Bashara, who is accused of hiring his handyman to kill his wife, Jane, thanked the judge for mentioning that Friday is the two-year anniversary of the slaying.
“She was a wonderful gal,” Bashara said, his voice cracking.
The judge said she was considering appointing a new attorney, but noted it would draw out the proceedings. When she asked Bashara if he wanted to waive his right to a speedy trial, he said he was happy with his attorney, Mark Procida, but added: “I’m concerned about getting a fair trial.”
Procida said he’s reached out to “benefactor firms” to provide attorneys or clerks to help sift through the mountain of evidence. “I feel our office can provide Mr. Bashara with an excellent defense,” he said.
Evans said her desire to either appoint new counsel or bring in others to help out at $180 an hour isn’t a reflection on Procida as an attorney.
“My concern is: Is there support from your organization that will allow you to do your job?” she said, adding that she’s allowed to spend as much as $200,000 in county funds to ensure an adequate defense.
The judge will announce her decision during a Feb. 18 hearing.
In a separate hearing, Evans said she was furious because prosecutors didn’t ask her to sign a warrant to search the home office of Bashara’s former attorney and friend Dean Valente, who helped manage some of Bashara’s rental properties.
Instead, Wayne Circuit Judge Michael Hathaway signed the warrant, which Evans said made it appear prosecutors were “forum shopping” for a judge to grant their request.
The discussion was marked by a contentious exchange between the judge and Assistant Prosecutor Lisa Lindsey, during which Evans screamed at her several times.
“You don’t have to yell,” Lindsey said at one point, to which Evans replied: “If you don’t like what I do, there’s the Judicial Tenure Commission or the Court of Appeals. I’m the presiding judge in this matter, and (requests for search warrants) will go through me.”
During the raid in question, on Oct. 29, Grosse Pointe Park police and Wayne County investigators raided Valente’s Grosse Pointe Park home office, seizing three boxes of files.
Prosecutors said they sought the files after hearing Bashara say during jailhouse telephone conversations that he wanted his friend and business associate Richard Falcinelli to move them to an undisclosed location.
Falcinelli, who testified during Bashara’s September preliminary examination, also knows the defendant through the BDSM (bondage discipline sadomasochism) scene, where he’s known as “Sir Rick” or “Midnight Rider.” He was in the courtroom Thursday, although Evans had him removed because he could potentially be a witness during a future hearing about the raid.
Valente’s attorney Henry Scharg requested the return of some of the papers taken during the raid. Evans set a hearing Feb. 18 to decide if matters surrounding the raid were handled properly.
It was also revealed during Thursday’s hearing that Bashara’s mistress, Rachel Gillett, borrowed money from Bashara’s mother, but that she didn’t pay her back; and that the defendant had eye surgery Monday. “I haven’t been able to read,” Bashara said.
Bashara also complained about the small pencil he was allowed to write with in the Wayne County Jail. Evans agreed it was “inadequate,” although Lindsey pointed out inmates aren’t allowed pens because they can be fashioned as weapons.
Bashara had asked for access to a laptop, but Evans denied the request because she said there aren't enough resources to accommodate him.
Jane Bashara was beaten and strangled at the couple’s Grosse Pointe Park home in January 2012. Her body was found in her vehicle, which was abandoned in Detroit.
Gentz is in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree murder. He has said Robert Bashara threatened to kill him unless he followed orders and killed Jane Bashara.
Robert Bashara in media interviews repeatedly has denied any role. His trial is scheduled for March.
Bashara pleaded guilty in 2012 to trying to have Gentz killed in jail. Prosecutors say he was afraid Gentz would tell police that Bashara had paid him to kill Jane Bashara.