Man accused of having his wife killed fires lawyers, plans to represent himself in court
BATON ROUGE - A former Baton Rouge entrepreneur accused in the 2015 murder of his ex-wife is planning to represent himself in court.
Hamid Ghassemi, the 69-year-old former automobile dealership owner accused of hiring hitmen to kill is ex-wife, has fired his attorneys and taken steps to file a lawsuit against them.
Attorneys, Tommy Damico and Brent Stockstill have represented the 69-year-old since December of 2015. But on Friday (June 12) Ghassmi told a judge he's unhappy with their work on his behalf and wants monetary compensation from the lawyers for fraud, lost wages, emotional distress, and subjection to "euthanasia" due to the presence of the novel coronavirus in jail.
In addition to seeking specific amounts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from both lawyers, Ghassemi also wants each of them to pay him $10,000 an hour from December 2015 to April of this year for lost wages, unsold vehicles and lost profits; $250,000 a day from 2018 to this year for "mental pains, psychological tortures and mental distresses"; $275,000 a day from February "to the end of this action" for having to deal with the stress of possibly dying from the coronavirus; and $200,000 a day from February until the end of the pandemic "for subjecting him to euthanasia, as a sick, old man with diabetes and suffering psychological torture."
Damico said after appearing in court that the amount of money Ghassemi is seeking stands at more than $742 million.
Damico and Stockstill filed a response in the past week asking state District Judge Janice Clark to dismiss the suit.
Meanwhile, District Judge Tarvald Smith took Ghassemi's request to discharge the lawyers under advisement, keeping Ghassemi's Sept. 14 trial date on a first-degree murder charge in place for now but indicating it may have to be pushed back.
Friday's hearing began with Ghassemi telling the judge he no longer wants Damico and Stockstill defending him.
"The money I paid to Mr. Damico, I want that money back," Ghassemi said.
He has stated in a previous court filing that he paid Damico and Stockstill $100,000 to represent him in the criminal case and $15,000 to defend him against a lawsuit his son filed over the death of his mother, Taherah Ghassemi.
Judge Smith told Ghassemi he doesn't have the authority to order any legal fees returned to him.
"That is a matter a civil judge has to determine," Smith said.
When the judge asked Ghassemi if he has the financial resources to hire a new lawyer if he chooses to do so, Ghassemi said he has $90,000 in an escrow account but his son has frozen that account.
If the account is unfrozen, Ghassemi said, "I reserve my rights to go from there."
Smith told Ghassemi he has an absolute right to represent himself, but if he is unable to afford a new lawyer the court would appoint the local public defender's office to represent him.
"If he wants us off the case he has that right," Damico told the judge.
Damico said after court that the civil suit Ghassemi filed against him and Stockstill "creates an unavoidable conflict" and leaves the judge no other choice but to relieve them of their obligation to represent him.
As for the money Ghassemi wants refunded, Damico said, "We have a contractual agreement. We have met every contractual obligation."
Smith stressed that "this is a very complex case."
According to court documents, Tyler Ashpaugh and Daniel Richter were two of three men contracted to kill Ghassemi's ex-wife, Taherah Ghassemi.
Taherah was shot in the head on April 11, 2015 and buried in a remote part of St. Helena Parish.
Ashpaugh and Richter told authorities Hamid Ghassemi also planned for the hitmen to kill his son, Hamed.
The killing was allegedly to take place on the same night but did not occur because Hamed didn't go straight home after work that night.
Ashpaugh and Richter also claimed the third accused hitman, Skyler Williams, was previously hired to attack Hamed Ghassemi a little more than a month before the killing.
Both Ashpaugh and Richter were convicted through plea deals in 2018.