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Amr Mohsen, founder of a Silicon Valley high-tech firm charged with seeking to hire a hit man to kill a U.S. district judge, is keeping the courts busy. Mohsen’s third set of lawyers want off the case and he’s filed for bankruptcy to save his $8 million mansion, complicating the ability to pay counsel or get him declared indigent. The case has taken on added seriousness with the Chicago murder earlier this month of the mother and husband of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, as well as the shooting death of a judge in Atlanta on Friday. Mohsen fought a losing patent battle in 2000 because he allegedly doctored his inventor’s notebooks to claim credit for someone else’s creation. Then federal prosecutors charged him with fraud. Thinking that the federal judge was all that stood between him and freedom, Mohsen used a jailhouse telephone in 2004 allegedly to hire a hit man in a failed attempt to kill District Judge William Alsup, going so far as to haggle over the $25,000 price tag, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Harris. Mohsen is charged in a 23-count indictment with, among other things, solicitation to murder. Under conflict rules, all 18 judges and another nine magistrates on the San Francisco-based Northern District of California bench refused to touch the case. LAWYERS SEARCH FOR AN EXIT Now, with Mohsen’s trial looming just five months away, his third set of lawyers want out. Mark Rosenbush and John Grele, both San Francisco solo practitioners, asked U.S. District Judge William Shubb of Sacramento, who was specially assigned to Mohsen’s case, to excuse them from the matter because they haven’t been paid. Mohsen, owner of an $8 million mansion, put a $200,000 retainer in the lawyers’ trust account. He filed for bankruptcy last month to prevent foreclosure on the house. But the bankruptcy filing also locked up the trust funds that were to pay for his defense. The ticklish problem for Shubb and the lawyers: Mohsen insists he wants to keep the current legal team and he refuses to declare himself indigent. Dan Blank, a federal public defender whom Shubb asked to stand by in reserve, told the judge he couldn’t be appointed unless Mohsen is indigent. Grele said, “I see no reason you can’t hire the public defender. We are not claiming [Mohsen] is indigent but we do not think he can pay us.” “You’re playing games with the court,” snapped Shubb. Mohsen, the former head of Aptix Corp. in San Jose, patented software that allowed engineers to emulate the effects of circuit boards, thereby saving them the expense and trouble of building actual models. During a 2000 patent trial before Alsup it became clear that Mohsen’s original notebooks were fabricated. Ultimately, he refused to testify in defense of his own patent suit, claiming Fifth Amendment privilege. Alsup invalidated the patent and referred the case for criminal investigation. He was later assigned to preside in the criminal case, U.S. v. Mohsen, CR03-0095WBS. During a recent hearing, Shubb pushed the lawyers to finish a partially prepared motion to suppress some of the government evidence against Mohsen. But Grele insisted that they couldn’t finish without $5,000 to hire an investigator. Tempers continued to flare. “If you’d just focus,” Shubb said. “You’re spending more time arguing to be paid than on the motion to suppress.” The judge said the lawyers were “acting like it was my fault. You’ll get to the [Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals] and say it was my fault.” “Well, it’s not our fault,” Rosenbush responded. “So to hell with Mr. Mohsen?” demanded Shubb. The judge, who is 67, said that when he started practicing, there were no public defenders. Judges drafted local lawyers to help indigent defendants. “I have done my share of pro bono and panel cases,” retorted Rosenbush. “But this is not one of them,” said Shubb, both their voices booming in the cavernous courtroom. Shubb refused to let the two lawyers off the hook for now. He sent them to bankruptcy court to see if the judge there would free funds to pay the defense bills. “If I try to appoint them, they will find a way to get out of it,” Shubb told prosecutor Harris. And he told Blank, the federal defender, to keep his calendar open. Pamela A. MacLean is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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