Constitutional Law

Federal judge nixes new counsel in ISIS case, points to lawyer's preparation and discipline record

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A federal judge has denied permission for a private attorney to substitute as counsel for a young Minnesota man charged along with others in a claimed murder conspiracy linked to ISIS.

After questioning defendant Hamza Ahmed, who said he was not unhappy with his current counsel, court-appointed public defender JaneAnne Murray, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis last week nixed the substitution of attorney Mitchell Robinson, MPR News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune report.

“I normally wouldn’t be doing this, sir, but you stepped your foot into one of the most complicated cases, at a period that’s very short before the trial, where the defendant could end up in prison for the rest of his life,” Davis told Robinson at a Friday hearing in the Minneapolis case. “This is a death sentence for him.”

In addition to suggesting that the switch could delay a trial scheduled to begin in May, the judge asked Robinson if he had reviewed any of the 28,000 pages of discovery in the case and questioned whether he intended to try it, since his retainer agreement does not include trial fees.

In response, Robinson described the facts of the case as “straightforward” and said “he didn’t see it as an extraordinarily complicated case,” the Star Tribune reports, apparently quoting from the judge’s Monday order.

The judge also noted that Robinson had been reprimanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court over his handling of a drug-trafficking case in Texas. Robinson’s client in that case served nine years before he was granted a new trial, due to ineffective assistance of counsel, the articles report.

In his order, Davis said he hoped his ruling would highlight the issue of “retaining private attorneys that charge high fees and who have little or no experience, or have been disciplined by the court.”

Related coverage:

Pioneer Press: “Minneapolis lawyer mishandled California woman’s drug case, judge finds”

Jamal Abdulahi blog: “Meet the attorneys representing Somali-American terror suspects”

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