Kyle Rittenhouse has been accused of shooting dead two Black Lives Matter protesters and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25
A California attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen accused of fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin and wounding a third, filed a motion to withdraw from the case just hours after prosecutors raised ethical concerns about him.
Los Angeles civil lawyer John Pierce has been the public face of the 17-year-old’s defense against a murder charge and other counts in the three months since the August 25 shootings in Kenosha Pierce has also worked to help secure the $2 million bail for Rittenhouse, who was bound over Thursday for trial.
Prosecutors have, however, become increasingly critical of Pierce’s frequent out-of-court statements and fundraising efforts, which have been geared towards the political right.
In a motion filed Thursday, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger alleged that Pierce has ‘significant personal financial difficulties’ and should not be allowed to represent Rittenhouse because ‘money that should be held in trust for the defendant may instead be used to repay attorney Pierce´s numerous creditors.’
The motion claims that Pierce filed court records last year that indicated he had no income, monthly expenses of nearly $50,000 and owed $1.2 million in various debts. He was also sued in July over allegations he breached a rental agreement on a $1.3 million home in California.
‘Attorney Pierce´s personal financial difficulties raise significant ethical concerns, especially when he has close ties to a substantial yet unregulated and unreported “slush fund” that is intended solely for the benefit of the defendant,’ Binger wrote in reference to the fundraising foundation Pierce co-founded, #FightBack.
Los Angeles civil lawyer John Pierce has been the public face of the 17-year-old’s defense against a murder charge and other counts in the three months since the shootings during summer protests in Kenosha
The shootings happened on August 25 during a night of unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a local Black man who suffered paralyzing injuries
Hours after the motion was filed Thursday, Pierce tweeted that he would take over all civil matters for Rittenhouse and would continue to raise funds for his defense
Binger argues that donations for Rittenhouse’s legal defense should be held in trust, as is required of Wisconsin attorneys taking retainers to represent clients.
Adding to their objections over Pierce representing Rittenhouse, prosecutors also affirm that the embattled attorney hasn’t followed Wisconsin state’s rules regarding what a lawyer can and can’t say ahead of a trial.
In another recent filing, prosecutors asked for an order barring Rittenhouse’s team from issuing statements outside of court that might sway future potential jurors. The prosecution also complained about Pierce publicly attacking District Attorney Michael Gravely.
Prosecutors also sought to disqualify Pierce’s colleague, Andrew Calderon, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Hours after the motion was filed Thursday, Pierce tweeted that he would take over all civil matters for Rittenhouse and would continue to raise funds for his defense. He said that Wisconsin attorney Mark Richards will handle the criminal case.
‘So that it does not take Kyle’s supporters by surprise, effective immediately I am taking over all civil matters for Kyle including his future defamation claims,’ he wrote. ‘I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards will proceed in Wisconsin.’
Richards told the Tribune that Pierce’s withdrawal came as a joint decision between him and the attorney. ‘I will be counsel for Kyle in the criminal matters,’ he wrote. ‘[Pierce and Calderon] won’t be.’
Rittenhouse shown in the above image attending his extradition hearing in Lake County in Waukegan, Illinois, on October 30, 2020
Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of two protesters: Joseph Rosenbaum (left) and Anthony Huber (right)
Video shows that Rittenhouse tripped in the street before 26-year-old Anthony Huber hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle away. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber
Rittenhouse then shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, who was holding a handgun at the time, as he approached the teenager
Pierce and other conservatives have portrayed Rittenhouse as a patriot and urged supporters to donate to #FightBack Foundation to bolster his legal defense.
Pierce helped start the foundation a few weeks before the Kenosha shootings, but he has told the Tribune he stepped away from its board to avoid any conflicts related to his involvement in the Rittenhouse case.
In their filing, the prosecution referenced Pierce’s calls for donations to the fun and argued that the fundraising ‘creates a potential conflict of interest’ for him.
‘Given his own substantial personal debts, his involvement with an unregulated and opaque “slush fund” provides ample opportunity for self-dealing and fraud,’ prosecutors wrote. ‘The more that the Foundation raises in donations, the more he may personally benefit. Money that should be held in trust for the defendant may instead be used to repay attorney Pierce’s numerous creditors.’
The #FightBack foundation is led by another lawyer connected to Rittenhouse’s defense team, L. Lin Wood of Georgia.
He tweeted last week that the foundation ‘successfully raised $2M cash bail for Kyle Rittenhouse & funded over $300K for his attorney’s fees & expenses. The foundation used approx. $400K of its general funds for Kyle.’
In his own filing asking the court to withdraw Thursday, Pierce said ‘that since Nov. 23, ‘the legal team representing Kyle Rittenhouse in his various legal matters has been restructured.’
Pierce said he and his colleague Andrew Calderon ‘have elected to continue representation of Kyle Rittenhouse in the capacity of civil legal counsel only.’
With support of the teen’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, Pierce also renewed fundraising efforts and launched a new website to collect donations that pledges to ensure ‘Kyle has the resources to win at trial.’
‘Now that we have successfully gotten Kyle bailed out and have built an amazing criminal defense team in Wisconsin, I am turning my attention to the massive tasks of preparing Kyle’s defamation and other civil claims, as well as orchestrating our new fundraising efforts to ensure we have the resources to get through trial,’ Pierce said in an email to Kenosha News. ‘This was always the plan.’
With support of the teen’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, Pierce also renewed fundraising efforts and launched a new website to collect donations that pledges to ensure ‘Kyle has the resources to win at trial’
Amid the controversy over Rittenhouse’s legal representation, the case against the teen is moving forward. A Kenosha County court commissioner on Thursday found probable cause to proceed with the case and rejected a defense motion to dismiss a reckless endangerment and gun charge against Rittenhouse.
He’s also charged with homicide and attempted homicide for fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz with an AR-15 style rifle on August 25.
The shootings happened during a night of unrest in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a local Black man who suffered paralyzing injuries.
Rittenhouse’s legal team have argued he shot each of them men in self-defense.
Prosecutors have also charged Rittenhouse’s friend Dominick Black with illegally providing the teen with a rifle.