Attorney for indicted real estate guru seeks recusal of all U.S. judges in Utah

Rick Koerber’s former and now new attorney, Marcus Mumford, cites public acrimony with prosecutors, federal bench just weeks before trial is set to start. <br>

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Real estate investment guru Rick Koerber arrives with his family to Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City for his initial appearance on a new indictment for allegedly operating a $100 million Ponzi scheme, Thursday, February 16, 2017.

The former attorney for indicted real estate investment guru Rick Koerber went to bat for him again on Friday, this time facing off against every federal judge on the bench in Utah.

Criminal defense attorney Marcus Mumford, who managed to get a first criminal case against Koerber tossed out three years ago, is again part of Koerber’s legal team as he faces a second case, set to go to trial in less than three weeks on 18 charges.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby was scheduled to hold a final pretrial hearing on Friday. But Mumford, in quick succession beginning just before midnight on Thursday, filed a notice of his appearance as an attorney for Koerber, a motion to disqualify U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner from the case, a motion to disqualify Shelby, a motion to disqualify all federal judges in Utah and a motion to continue the trial set to begin on Aug. 21.

Shelby, who had recently turned back Mumford’s request to be appointed as Koerber’s publicly paid attorney, said a federal judge from outside Utah would be brought in to hear the motions to disqualify all federal judges in Utah. But he also required Mumford to state he would be ready for trial on Aug. 21 and to file a statement with the court saying whether he was taking on Koerber’s latest case for free or was being paid.

Koerber’s defense team includes attorneys Rebecca and Greg Skordas, who Warner appointed as Koerber’s public defenders.

Three years ago this month, Mumford convinced U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups to dismiss the first case against Koerber, who was accused in that case and in the current one of operating a Ponzi scheme that took in about $100 million from investors and used about half that money to pay back other investors to make his real estate operation appear profitable.

Koerber’s businesses were never profitable and he also used some of the investor money for luxury cars, buying restaurants and other personal expenses, the indictments allege.

Waddoups’ dismissal meant the case couldn’t be refiled but that part of his ruling was sent back by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. After Waddoups recused himself, another district judge, Jill Parrish, ruled last year that the case could be refiled and a grand jury indicted Koerber again in January.

Mumford’s request to disqualify all federal judges cites ”an acrimonious, growing and ongoing public conflict between prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office, the federal bench for the District of Utah, and Mr. Koerber and his attorney Marcus Mumford.” 

One part of the motion says that Chief Judge David Nuffer has filed a formal  complaint against Mumford over alleged unethical or unprofessional conduct. Nuffer in part cited the collaboration of Koerber and Mumford in the criminal case that resulted in the acquittal of Ammon Bundy for his actions at the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, according to the defense motion. Nuffer’s specific allegations have not been publicly disclosed.

Eleven district and magistrate judges have presided in the Koerber cases. Judges who already have recused themselves from the case include Waddoups, Parrish, Ted Stewart, Tena Campbell, Dee Benson and David Sam.

In seeking Shelby’s rescusal, Mumford pointed to Shelby’s former law firm, Snow, Christensen & Martineau, which represented Koerber during the federal and state investigation into his operations.

In a separate motion, Mumford wrote that Warner had shown bias against Koerber, citing a hearing when he accused Koerber, who was representing himself at the time, of having his filings “ghostwritten” by Mumford, which Koerber said was not true.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz told Shelby that allowing Mumford to represent Koerber could present problems for the trial. When Koerber originally hired Mumford, he had given the attorney an Iceberg drive-in restaurant that Mumford subsequently sold to cover his fees.

Walz said Koerber had at least in part bought the restaurant with investor funds, and that could make Mumford a witness in the case. Mumford in turn called that a “wild accusation.”