Los Angeles lawyers seek OK to be part of Rittenhouse defense in Kenosha court; prosecutors want a hearing – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ahead of Kyle Rittenhouse’s next court hearing, his defense attorney has asked the Kenosha County judge on the case to grant Wisconsin practice rights to the California lawyer who has been promoting Rittenhouse in the media.

John Pierce, of Los Angeles, is not licensed to practice in Wisconsin and would need what’s called admission pro hac vice in order to join local counsel Mark Richards of Racine at the defense table for Rittenhouse hearings. 

Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Jason Zapf has asked that Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder hold a hearing on that request “to address several issues.”  None had been announced as of Friday afternoon.

Zapf did not respond to an email about the matter.

Rittenhouse, 17, of Illinois, is charged with two homicides, an attempted homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment and illegal possession of a gun in the Aug. 25 shootings during demonstrations in Kenosha. His lawyers posted his $2 million bail Friday afternoon and he was released.

His attorneys and supporters say Rittenhouse acted in clear self-defense, and Pierce has called the case a political prosecution.

Antioch police photographed Kyle Rittenhouse after the 17-year-old turned himself in after shooting three people, killing two, during unrest in Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020.

While Pierce has no real criminal defense experience, he has taken the lead in trying to shape views of his client in the court of public opinion, calling him a patriot whose shots will be remembered as the start of another revolution. He has also worked to solicit donations for Rittenhouse’s defense costs.

While the initial forays were on social media and conservative outlets like Fox News, Pierce has recently expanded to more mainstream media.

In an undated interview with the Washington Post that Pierce approved while Rittenhouse was jailed in Illinois, but published this week, the teen said he does not regret taking a rifle to downtown that night. 

“I felt I had to protect myself, ” he told the Post. “I would have died that night if I didn’t.”

Defense attorneys question tactics

Such tactics make many criminal defense attorneys very uneasy.

One consistent critic of Pierce’s role is Michael E. Barnes, a fellow Los Angeles attorney, licensed in Wisconsin, who has handled high-profile political matters as well as criminal defense.

“Kyle should not be talking at all at this stage,” Barnes said. “That’s insane.” 

He called the Pierce team’s earlier handling of the extradition a disaster and wondered why Rittenhouse was in jail so long when supporters reportedly had donated more than enough for his bail weeks ago.

“They appear to be focused on their own fame and money,” Barnes said of Pierce and L. Lin Wood, who brought him into the case.

Wood is a well-known Atlanta defamation lawyer. Within 48 hours of Rittenhouse being charged, Wood announced Pierce was leading the defense team. 

Just weeks before the events in Kenosha, Wood and Pierce formed the nonprofit FightBack Foundation in Texas. It was originally aimed at crowdsourcing money to sue the “fake news media” and “check the lies of the left.” After taking the case, they encouraged followers to donate to the foundation to help Rittenhouse.

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.

More recently, Pierce and Wood threatened to sue President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign over an ad they say implied Rittenhouse is a white supremacist. His mother told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, “I will take him down,” referring to Biden.

Kyle Rittenhouse's mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, attends an extradition hearing for her son in Lake County, Illinois court Oct. 30. Rittenhouse is accused of killing two protesters days after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis. He is now being held in the Kenosha County Jail, his bail set at $2 million.

Wood is facing a lawsuit by his former partners that describes him as erratic, incoherent and threatening. In recent weeks, he’s been active on Twitter commenting on the presidential election, which he believes was the subject of massive fraud.

Pierce and his associate, Andrew Calderon, were granted temporary admission in Illinois to fight Rittenhouse’s extradition to Wisconsin.

There, Pierce had indicated in court pleadings that he planned to call expert witnesses and Wendy Rittenhouse at a hearing but then announced that day that the defense had shifted strategies and would merely argue a single point, and presented none of the witnesses.

In June, Pierce sought pro hac vice admission in New York, a state where he had been licensed before. Lawyers on the other side objected, citing Pierce’s debts and other distractions. Pierce later withdrew his request, but the lawyer who was vouching for him said it was because a different firm agreed to take on the role Pierce would have, not because of the objection. 

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or bvielmetti@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.

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