SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- What was supposed to be a basic trial date setting court appearance turned into much more Thursday in the Bob Lee stabbing case. Nima Momeni's attorneys want a change of venue and are calling for an investigation following the release of photos of Momeni in jail.
The pictures were taken by a freelance photographer in August who was working on a different story for the LA Times and recognized Momeni. He then sold the photos to the San Francisco Standard. The judge in the case says the sheriff's office is now looking into all of it.
Nima Momeni's attorneys calling for a change of venue in the Bob Lee murder trial.
"Obviously the media publicity, the reputation of the defendant, the reputation of the victim, whether or not a person can get a fair and impartial jury," said Saam Zangeneh, Nima Momeni's attorney.
Adding fuel to their argument is a San Francisco Standard article published on Nov. 28 which included four photos of Momeni in his jail cell.
"Is so inappropriate and next level ugly - is the best term that I can use, that we felt compelled that we had to kind of expedite our motion to change venue," said Zangeneh.
In an emailed statement, the San Francisco Standard's editor-in-chief writes, "A freelance photographer had permission to take photos inside the jail and Nima Momeni gave the photographer permission to have his photo taken. We contacted Momeni's legal team prior to publication and they did not raise objections or concerns about the publication of the images. The Standard believes the images were entirely newsworthy."
"Nima didn't agree to have his photograph taken, we didn't agree to have his photograph taken, this was a hit job and there's going to be ramifications," said Zangeneh.
"It looks like he's smiling in some of the photos and almost posing," asked I-Team reporter Melanie Woodrow.
"That's just happenstance," said Zangeneh.
"What they did made this not a fair and impartial system. What they did was disgusting, what they did was illegal, what they did was civilly irresponsible and someone is going to be held responsible. There will be a reckoning for what happened in that article," said Bradford Cohen, Nima Momeni's attorney.
The ex-wife of late tech executive Bob Lee, Momeni's alleged victim, spoke with us after learning of the motion.
"At first it was a little shocking and confusing but at the same time, you know, if you look at the case as a whole I don't think it matters where they judge it at he, he murdered a man in cold blood," said Lee.
That though is something that a jury would likely decide on during a trial.
"I think the defense they're just fishing for things now at this point," continued Lee.
Legal analyst Steven Clark says a motion like this is a longshot here because we have seen both Nima Momeni and Bob Lee's image attacked.
"Certainly Mr. Lee's drug use was trumpeted by the defense in this case and his reputation has been diminished because of that, and now the defense is saying Mr. Momeni is being targeted because of these jail photos. It's just interesting that the defense comes out and complains about pretrial publicity, at the same time they're holding press conferences after every court appearance," says Clark who believes the judge is likely to strike down the motion when it is ruled on in Jan.
"What I want to see here, I don't care where they do the venue at - I want to see justice for Bob. Our family has been through enough at this point. My children, myself, my father-in-law, my brother. We've been traumatized by all of this. Every delay that we do is - forgive me, another knife in the heart," said Lee.
In an emailed statement, the San Francisco Sheriff's Office writes:
"In August of 2023, the San Francisco Sheriff's Office (SFSO) granted jail access to a Los Angeles Times reporter and photographer for a story on administrative separation cells, in accordance with our commitment to transparency and openness with the media. The SFSO maintains clear rules for journalists covering our operations, which were communicated to the LA Times, including its photo editor, both in written and verbal forms. Regrettably, the LA Times photographer violated our established media rules, thereby unethically violating the conditions imposed, which were put in place to protect the security and privacy of those incarcerated. While the LA Times did not publish any unauthorized photos, its photographer proceeded to monetize the unauthorized photographs with other media outlets, resulting in a further violation of our media rules and a blatant disregard for the agreed upon conditions. The SFSO condemns such actions unequivocally, as they compromise the mutual trust between law enforcement agencies and the media, compromising the well-being of incarcerated individuals, and the integrity of information shared with the public."
Momeni's attorneys also filed a motion for a rule to show cause related to Momeni's vehicle, which was supposed to be released from a lot with no fees.
"They've refused to do so," said Zangeneh.
Those motions will be heard in January, with a tentative trial date set for March.
Nima's sister Khazar Momeni was arrested on DUI and hit-and-run charges in San Francisco Monday.
The night of Lee's murder, Khazar texted Lee "Just wanted to make sure your (SIC) doing ok. Cause I know Nima came wayyyyyy down hard on you..."
Her mother had no comment about her arrest.
"How is Khazar doing following Monday's arrest?" asked Woodrow.
"She's not going to answer any questions right now," said Zangeneh.
And neither did his attorneys.
"We're not going to answer anything," said Zangeneh.
"From an optics standpoint though," Woodrow asked.
"From an optics standpoint, you look terrific today," Zangeneh responded.
Khazar Momeni was not in court. At times, she has been there to support her brother. Also interesting in this motion to change venue is alleged hostility from prior members of Momeni's defense team including Paula Canny. Momeni's attorneys allege Canny, his former defense attorney, gave Khazar's cell phone to the lead investigator on the case without a warrant or court order. By text Canny told Woodrow, "None of that is true."
If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live