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A high-profile attorney moved to withdraw from the legal defense team representing Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who will stand trial on six counts related to a fatal shooting at a protest over the state border in Wisconsin in August.
Local prosecutors raised ethical concerns about John Pierce and his handling of millions of dollars in donations meant to benefit his client.
KYLE RITTENHOUSE TO STAND TRIAL ON ALL 6 COUNTS RELATED TO FATAL KENOSHA PROTEST SHOOTING
Pierce, an attorney based in Los Angeles, announced Thursday that he would be taking over all civil matters in connection to Rittenhouse’s future defamation lawsuits. He said that he would leave attorney Mark Richards to take over the teen’s legal defense as the case was cleared for trial in Wisconsin.
In a motion filed Thursday, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger cited public records and news reports alleging 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.”
Shortly after Rittenhouse’s arrest, Pierce stepped in to represent the 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill., and made several television appearances and spoke on Twitter about the teen, painting him as a patriot defending businesses during a night of civil unrest that broke out in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a local Black man who suffered paralyzing injuries.
In this screengrab from live-stream video, Kyle Rittenhouse, left, appears with his attorney, Mark Richards, during a hearing at Kenosha County Court in Kenosha, Wis., on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Kenosha County Court via AP)
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Pierce also unsuccessfully worked to block the teen’s extradition from Illinois to Wisconsin, but he did ensure Rittenhouse was released on a $2 million bond. Most of the funds were raised through #FightBack Foundation, which collected money from donors supporting Pierce’s argument that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense when he fired at the protest.
“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 foundation, arguing that donations for Rittenhouse’s legal defense should be held in trust, as is required of Wisconsin attorneys taking retainers to represent clients.
This Oct. 30, 2020, photo provided by the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department shows Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis. Rittenhouse is accused of killing two protesters days after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., earlier this year.<br>
(Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department via AP)
In asking the court to withdraw, Pierce said in his own filing Thursday that since Nov. 23, “the legal team representing Kyle Rittenhouse in his various legal matters has been restructured,” Kenosha News reported. 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 from the teen’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, Pierce on Thursday also renewed fundraising efforts and launched a new website to collect donations aimed at ensuring “Kyle has the resources to win at trial” and battle defamation and other civil suits likely to be filed “upon his acquittal.”
“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.”
Neither Pierce nor Binger immediately returned a Fox News request for comment Sunday.
As his legal representation shifts, the case against Rittenhouse is moving forward.
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Kenosha County Court Commissioner Loren Keating on Thursday rejected a defense motion to dismiss a reckless endangerment and gun charge against Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse will stand trial on all six counts filed against him, including homicide and attempted homicide for fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz on Aug. 25.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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