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.
Meanwhile, Pierce announced Thursday that he has taken over all civil representation of Rittenhouse, including potential defamation actions, as well as the efforts to raise more money for his defense, and apparently abdicating any role at the criminal trial in Kenosha.
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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday that Lin Wood, the Atlanta defamation lawyer who first secured representation of Rittenhouse and his mother Wendy and announced Pierce would spearhead the defense, has apparently separated from the case. Wood is now involved in several lawsuits challenging the presidential election results in several states.
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.
Reportedly, more than $2 million poured in during the first month. But after a failed attempt to block Rittenhouse’s extradition to Wisconsin from his home state of Illinois, where he had surrendered to police, Pierce and Wendy Rittenhouse scrambled to raise Kyle’s $2 million bail, finally reaching that figure with major donations from actor Ricky Schroder and the CEO of My Pillow Inc.
Pierce and Wood brought Racine criminal defense attorney Mark Richards into the case in September. Richards last month filed motions asking that a judge admit Pierce and his associate to practice in Wisconsin just on Rittenhouse’s case.
Known as admission pro hac vice, the courtesy is usually granted for attorneys licensed in good standing in other jurisdictions and who will work with a Wisconsin attorney on the case.
Binger’s brief says Pierce has too much ethical baggage to earn that right.
“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.
“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,” Binger writes.
“The reason that Wisconsin attorneys are required to hold their client’s money in Trust is to prevent exactly this type of situation.”
Binger also mentions concerns he brought up in an earlier motion for a protective order, essentially asking the court to warn Pierce about some of his inflammatory statements regarding the case on conservative and social media, and even in other courts.
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.”
Such remarks violate Wisconsin lawyers’ rules of professional conduct, Binger says, and risk prejudicing potential jurors.
After Richards moved to admit Pierce for the case, prosecutors asked for a hearing. But Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder granted the admission soon after, saying any objections should be brought up in a different manner.
The new brief was mentioned at Rittenhouse’s preliminary hearing Thursday but was not for the court commissioner to consider. No date has been set for a hearing of further briefing on the issue of Pierce’s admission to practice law in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse’s next scheduled hearing is a pretrial conference on Jan. 5.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Controversial Rittenhouse lawyer may not join trial defense in Wisconsin