By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday denied Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes’ request to postpone his upcoming Jan. 6 Capitol riot trial, and ruled he cannot fire his lawyers and replace them just three weeks before the case is set to begin.
Rhodes and eight other co-defendants are accused of plotting to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power in a failed bid to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes is due to go to trial in Washington, D.C. with four other defendants on Sept. 27 for seditious conspiracy, a rarely prosecuted criminal charge. A second set of four defendants head to trial on Nov. 29.
“The idea that at the 11th hour, Mr. Rhodes wants to bring in new counsel three weeks before this trial is set to begin, months and months after trial preparation,” said U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, at times sounding exasperated. “Here’s the thing: I’m not going to do it.”
Rhodes, one of the most high-profile defendants of the more than 860 people charged over the Capitol riot, informed the court in a Tuesday filing that he had “a complete, or near-complete breakdown” in communication with his two original attorneys, James Bright and Phillip Linder.
His new lawyer, Edward Tarpley, told Mehta he needs at least 90 additional days to get up to speed on the case, address motions Rhodes wanted filed and collect additional potentially exculpatory evidence.
The list of to-do items Tarpley cited should be done included deposing witnesses whose names have not been mentioned in any pre-trial motions or hearings, such as Cassidy Hutchinson, the former aide to former President Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.
Tarpley also said the government dealt a blow to Rhodes’ defense plans when it charged Oath Keeper attorney and Rhodes’ former girlfriend Kellye SoRelle earlier this month in connection with the Capitol attack.
During a sometimes contentious virtual hearing on Wednesday, Rhodes’ original attorneys expressed exasperation with their client, saying some of his claims about their performance were untrue.
“I’ve given 7 months of my life to Mr. Rhodes…I’ve missed sporting events for my children. I’ve missed time with my family for a man I don’t know,” Bright told the court.
Mehta ruled the trial will continue as scheduled.
“If Mr. Rhodes wants you in this case? That’s fine,” Mehta told Tarpley. “Mr. Linder and Mr. Bright are going to be at that table, representing Mr. Rhodes in this trial starting September 27. Period. Full stop. End of story.”