Can Kyle Rittenhouse Get A Fair Trial?

This is going to be catch up Friday. I am going to try to finish two or three of the drafts that I have sitting out here. This is actually the newest (started 11/30/2020) but also one of the most active issues at the moment.

In case you aren’t familiar with the case, Kyle Rittenhouse is the 17 year old boy who while in possession of an AR-15 long rifle, shot and killed two people and seriously wounded a third during the protests in Kenosha Wisconsin back on August 25, 2020. He has been accused of two counts of homicide in addition to other charges. He fought extradition from his home state of Illinois but was finally sent to Kenosha to stand trial. He has since been released on a $2 million bond (which we’ll get to later) and is awaiting trial.

Now, when I ask if he can get a fair trial, I am not suggesting that I don’t have confidence in our courts or legal system. They have learned how to manage high profile cases and protect the rights of the individual. In this case the issue is Master Rittenhouse’s actual attorneys and the current political environment of the nation. This is likely to become a circus that will make the OJ Simpson trial look like traffic court.

I am going to be pulling some details from a number or JSOnline (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) articles but their most recent article on the subject has a brief synopsis if you are so inclined to follow up.

But let’s go back to September, when supposed high powered attorneys from outside of Wisconsin step up and step into it and start putting up the circus tent (this is behind a firewall so the link may not work for you):

High-profile conservative lawyers from Atlanta and Los Angeles finally have added a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney to Kyle Rittenhouse’s legal team after weeks of promoting their case as a cause célèbre.

Mark Richards of Racine confirmed Monday that over the weekend he agreed to represent the 17-year-old Antioch, Ill., resident. The addition of Richards was key because neither L. Lin Wood, a libel and defamation lawyer from Atlanta, nor John Pierce, a Los Angeles-based civil litigator, are licensed to practice in Wisconsin.

The case has all the makings of a legal circus…

Wood and Pierce have mounted a virtual conservative media crusade on behalf of Rittenhouse. On TV, Pierce gave a long interview to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, calling the teenager a patriot who acted in self-defense and encouraging donors to send money for his defense to a Texas nonprofit foundation.

He also played a phone call with Rittenhouse in which the teen thanked supporters.

“A plea negotiation is often in the best interest of the client,” Cayo (Richard Cayo, a Milwaukee lawyer ) said. But in Rittenhouse’s case, it may be anathema to people with a political agenda who could be controlling the length of the case and the finances dedicated to it.

“A plea negotiation is often in the best interest of the client,” Cayo said. But in Rittenhouse’s case, it may be anathema to people with a political agenda who could be controlling the length of the case and the finances dedicated to it.

emphasis mine

It seems to me that appearing on television or radio shows or broadcasting phone calls aren’t a good idea to protect the rights of a defendant in a high profile criminal case. It may create a number of hostile environments and I think we’ve already seen some of that. It may in fact make it difficult to find an unbiased jury. And it obviously continues to draw scrutiny from the courts and self aggrandizing celebrities, lawyers and otherwise. Fortunately the current news cycle around the Trump campaign election lawsuits and news developments around vaccines for the coronavirus are keeping a lot of this news off the front pages.

For grins, you may want to Google Mr. Wood and Mr. Pierce.

And the finances dedicated to it…this relates to monies being raised from the the general public for Master Rittenhouse’s bail and defense. And there seems to be some controversies around both of those items. And it gets pretty murky. But first, Master Rittenhouse was in fact bailed out @ $2 million.

Kyle Rittenhouse was released Friday afternoon from the Kenosha County Jail after his attorney posted the $2 million bail, sheriff’s officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Rittenhouse’s lawyer, John Pierce of Los Angeles, and his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, have recently been making news media appearances to seek donations for bail, on top of the approximately $2 million already raised from nationwide supporters starting two days after charges were filed in August.

Another member of the defense team, L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, later tweeted a photo of Pierce, Rittenhouse and actor Ricky Schroder.

screen shot from JSOnline reprint of Lin Wood’s original tweet.

By the way, Black Rifle Coffee Company denies any relationship with or support for Master Rittenhouse, et al.

CEO Even Hafer, caught in the social media crossfire, put out a video of Twitter explaining that Black Rifle did not sponsor Rittenhouse, and in no way tried to or will profit from the “American tragedy,” and doesn’t want to leave any impression it might.

“We have zero interest in collecting one dollar from any of this,” Hafer said.

So an actor and My Pillow contributed significant sums to the bail fund…but, but, but:

Less than 48 hours after the 17-year-old was charged with fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during demonstrations in Kenosha in August, Atlanta defamation lawyer Lin Wood announced via Twitter that he was representing Kyle and his family, and that his client — facing homicide charges — was acting in lawful self-defense.

On Saturday, Wood tweeted that — with the public’s and two TV celebrities’ help — his nonprofit #FightBack Foundation had raised Rittenhouse’s $2 millions bail and “funded over $300,000 for his attorney’s fees & expenses” and used about $400,000 of the foundation’s general funds.

Wood also tweeted, that “Going forward, anyone who wishes to make donations for Kyle should contact his criminal defense attorney, John Pierce,” and that #FightBack would be focusing on litigation aimed at invalidating the Georgia election results.

He (Mr. Pierce) and Wood, along with other supporters, helped raise around $2 million for Rittenhouse’s legal defense in the first few weeks after he was charged. But after he was transferred to Kenosha County Jail, Pierce and his client’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, did a series of interviews on more mainstream media, soliciting more money for bail.

They posted it Nov. 20, and thanked actor Ricky Schroder and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell for about $200,000 of that.

emphasis mine

But the My Pillow guy seems a little confused:

Days later, Lindell clarified to the Minnesota Reformer that he thought he was making a $50,000 contribution to the #FightBack Foundation to fund election litigation, and other things, but not specifically for Rittenhouse’s bail.

shrug…but there is certainly some issues around Mr. Pierce…including some questionable financial dealings. Mr. Pierce is not licensed to practice in Wisconsin and needs permission to take on Master Rittenhouse’s case…permission that he apparently was granted yesterday. But prior to that the prosecution had some issues with granting him that permission:

A California lawyer for Kyle Rittenhouse should not be granted permission to practice in Wisconsin because of several ethical concerns, Kenosha prosecutors say.

In a brief, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger has sharpened his office’s objections to John Pierce — a civil litigator from Los Angeles who has been directing a media blitz for Rittenhouse — being part of the criminal defense team on the teen’s homicides case.

Just two weeks before Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and wounded a third during civil unrest Aug. 25 in Kenosha, Wood and Pierce had formed a Texas nonprofit called the #FightBack Foundation. Its website said it was meant to litigate against the left-leaning media.

But as soon as Wood had signed up Rittenhouse, he and Pierce and other conservatives who rushed to portray Rittenhouse as a patriot were urging followers to donate to #FightBack to bolster his legal defense.

Binger’s brief says Pierce has too much ethical baggage to earn that right (to work on the Rittenhouse case in Wisconsin).

“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 #FightBack Foundation.

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. It’s a bigger concern for conflict of interest, Binger notes, because of Pierce’s well-publicized personal and professional financial struggles.

As to his financial struggles…they go back to his law firm but caused him to step back from #Fightback. Considering #Fightback is pretty much out there and probably has little care about propriety…it must be fairly serious.

In September, Pierce announced he was stepping down from the board of directors of FightBack after reports of financial troubles involving him and his former law firm. Wood, who remains CEO of the foundation, tweeted he would monitor payments from the donated funds to Pierce and his team.

Then, in early September, Pierce announced he was stepping down from the board of directors of #FightBack after reports surfaced about Pierce and his former law firm’s financial troubles. Wood, who remains CEO of the foundation, tweeted he would monitor payments from the donated funds to Pierce and his team.

“As you’ve seen, I have some controversy in my past,” Pierce said in a Journal Sentinel interview last week. “Most of the reports are 97% fake.

You might want to follow the links in the above quotes.

Now, one of the interesting take aways from the original extradition hearings in Illinois was Mr. Pierce’s and other comments around the trial:

He has called the case against Rittenhouse a political prosecution, promoted a recall of DA Michael Graveley, portrayed his client as a service-oriented patriot, denigrated his victims, and suggested that extraditing him to Wisconsin would be like ‘turning him over to the mob.

emphasis mine

How favorably do you think any court, judge, or prosecutor will look at the Rittenhouse trial if the lead attorney is denigrating the judicial process?? He’s not making friends here.

And again, the prosecution thinks:

Such remarks violate Wisconsin lawyers’ rules of professional conduct, Binger says, and risk prejudicing potential jurors.

So, can Kyle Rittenhouse get a fair trial? I certainly hope so. He is certainly going to plead self-defense and I hope calmer heads prevail at his table in the courtroom. Maybe as all the hoopla dies down and the actual trial commences, the out of town egos might just slink away into the night…and Mark Richards can hopefully, properly defend the teenager.

But if Mr. Pierce prevails or Mr. Wood returns from his anarchy crusade, it may not bode well for ‘their defendant’.

P.S. Master Rittenhouse was in court yesterday and will stand trial on all six counts against himdespite the defense asking for two counts to be thrown out…the two counts with the fewest consequences and one of the counts is the most easily proven.

Ahead of the hearing, his attorney, Mark Richards of Racine, filed a motion that says the complaint does not support two of the charges: recklessly endangering the safety of Richard McGinnis, and possessing a dangerous weapon while under age 18, a misdemeanor.

There is no doubt that a 17 year old toting a weapon he isn’t allowed to have is a prosecutable charge. See the link for the McGinnis charge…not as clear cut.

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