Who is John Pierce? Attorney withdraws from Kyle Rittenhouse's defense team as prosecutors raise ethical concerns
Prosecutors have increasingly become critical of Pierce’s frequent out-of-court testimonials and fundraising efforts
Lawyer John Pierce, who was fighting 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.
Since the August 25 shootings in Kenosha, according to Daily Mail, the attorney has been the public face of the 17-year-old’s defense against an alleged murder charge and other counts. As per the report, Pierce has even worked to help secure the $2 million bail for Rittenhouse. However, prosecutors have increasingly become critical of Pierce’s frequent out-of-court testimonials and fundraising efforts.
In a motion filed, 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 also alleged that Pierce filed court records last year that pointed out he had no income, monthly expenses of nearly $50,000 and owed $1.2 million in various debts. According to the report, he was also sued in July over allegations that 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, referring to the fundraising foundation Pierce co-founded, #FightBack. In September, as reported by MEAWW, Pierce had announced that he would resign from the #FightBack Foundation board that had raised around $700,000 for the Kenosha shooter's legal defense. This comes after reports that Pierce's law firm has allegedly "defaulted on millions in debt." Pierce's firm that is working in defense of Rittenhouse has access to some of the funds raised according to Daily Mail but Pierce has said that he wanted to "avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest." With reports that Pierce's firm has struggled when it comes to paying off its debts, the attorney apparently debunked the allegations stating that his firm "has zero debt."
Apart from the objections to letting Pierce represent Rittenhouse, prosecutors have also alleged that he has ignored Wisconsin’s rules about what lawyers can say about cases before trial. In another recent court filing, prosecutors requested for an order barring Rittenhouse’s lawyers from making out-of-court statements that might affect future potential jurors and criticized about Pierce publicly attacking District Attorney Michael Graveley. A judge has yet to rule. Prosecutors also wanted to disqualify Pierce’s colleague, Andrew Calderon.
Hours after the motion was filed, Pierce tweeted: “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. I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards will proceed in Wisconsin.” Richards told Chicago Tribune in an email, “I will be counsel for Kyle in the criminal matters. (Pierce and Calderon) won’t be.”
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. I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards will proceed in Wisconsin.— John Pierce (@CaliKidJMP) December 3, 2020
The Daily Mail reports that in his own filing asking the court to withdraw, Pierce said “that since Nov. 23, 'the legal team representing Kyle Rittenhouse in his various legal matters has been restructured.” Pierce stated he and his colleague Andrew Calderon “have elected to continue representation of Kyle Rittenhouse in the capacity of civil legal counsel only.”
A few days back, he had tweeted, “Kyle’s new fundraising website is live. Please support Kyle and the right of self-defense by visiting and donating now. Net donations go solely to Kyle’s defense fees and costs. Disbursement controlled by Kyle’s mom and any excess amounts go to charity. http://FreeKyleUSA.com”
Kyle’s new fundraising website is live. Please support Kyle and the right of self-defense by visiting and donating now. Net donations go solely to Kyle’s defense fees and costs. Disbursement controlled by Kyle’s mom and any excess amounts go to charity. https://t.co/K2lStR1xGc— John Pierce (@CaliKidJMP) December 5, 2020
According to Daily Beast, Pierce founded Pierce Bainbridge as a boutique litigation firm in January 2017. As per the report, Pierce funded at least some part of the firm’s expansion with millions of dollars from Pravati Capital, a niche lender that offers startup funding for law firms. The firm also represented Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and several high profile people like Rudy Giuliani and former Trump adviser Carter Page.
In May 2019, Don Lewis, a former partner and Harvard Law classmate of Pierce, filed a lawsuit alleging that Pierce Bainbridge overstated the value of its lawsuit returns to get money from lenders. Lewis alleges, for example, that Pierce Bainbridge stated internally that the Gears of War lawsuit was worth $1 billion. Instead, the Gears of War case was dismissed.
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