A judge ripped the far-right Oath Keepers founder over 'bewildering' arguments for delaying a Capitol riot trial
- A judge refused to delay the upcoming trial of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes.
- Judge Amit Mehta said arguments for the delay were "incorrect" and "bewildering."
From the outset of a court hearing Wednesday, Judge Amit Mehta made himself clear: He was not amused with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes' request to fire his defense team and delay his upcoming trial on charges related to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
In a nearly 15-minute diatribe, Mehta denounced Rhodes over "incorrect and, frankly, bewildering" claims the far-right group's former leader made a day earlier in a request to replace his defense lawyers and push back his trial — currently set to start on September 26 — by three months. Mehta, an Obama appointee confirmed in 2014, flatly rejected those requests following an extended rebuke of Rhodes' suggestion that he could not receive a fair trial.
"The very first allegation is that somehow Mr. Rhodes is not receiving a fair trial, and that is unequivocally false," Mehta said.
Mehta convened the hearing a day after Rhodes, in a 20-page court filing a day earlier, asked to replace his Dallas-based defense team with a new lawyer, Ed Tarpley. Rhodes is set to stand trial alongside four other members of the Oath Keepers accused of plotting to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results.
Rhodes cited a "breakdown" in communication with the attorneys who have represented him since his January incident on a seditious conspiracy charge and other allegations tied to the Capitol attack. Through Tarpley, Rhodes argued he has still yet to receive most of the discovery — or relevant evidence — from the Justice Department.
But Mehta said that, until Tuesday's filing, he had not heard a "peep" from Rhodes about any "disenchantment" with his defense team. The judge said Rhodes' defense lawyers for the past nine months, James Lee Bright and Phillip Linder, have displayed not only competence but also leadership in helping other Oath Keepers and their lawyers ahead of the trial, which is expected to last several weeks.
"Not once has he complained one iota about his lawyers," Mehta said.
"Mr. Linder and Mr. Bright are going to be at that table representing Mr. Rhodes at trial in three weeks," he added. "Period. Full stop. End of story."
Mehta suggested that Rhodes would have more easily communicated with lawyers based in the Washington, DC, area, where he has been detained since January but instead hired the Texas-based duo of Bright and Linder.
"That was his choice," Mehta said.
Mehta similarly dismissed Rhodes' claims that he lacked access to crucial evidence in his case. Rhodes, he said, has received "every dispensation," including biweekly sessions in which he is allowed to review evidence at the courthouse for hours.
"No other defendant is getting that kind of accommodation. No one," Mehta said, adding that federal prosecutors have "bent over backwards, as far as I'm concerned," to provide Rhodes with discovery to which he's entitled.
Mehta's ruling thrust Linder and Bright into the awkward position of continuing to represent Rhodes after he, with Tarpley, publicly criticized their work in a court filing. Bright appeared particularly concerned about the future of the engagement, saying the Tuesday filing suggested a "lack of trust."
"Perhaps it is a broken relationship, your honor," Bright said.
"I truly wish him the best," he added. "I've given seven months of my life to Mr. Rhodes. I've missed sporting events. I've missed time with my family for a man I don't know. I'm prepared to come to DC for six weeks away from my children."
At one point, Bright said he didn't want to work alongside Tarpley. But Mehta said he would allow Tarpley to take part in the case so long as Rhodes and the other lawyers agreed.
"We can make room," Mehta said. "We have enough tables."
Prosecutors opposed Rhodes' request for a delay and to face charges apart from four other members of the Oath Keepers. At Wednesday's hearing, prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler said the Justice Department purposefully grouped Rhodes with the four others, in part, because they were his "top lieutenants" in the far-right group.
The hearing drew interest from top officials in the federal prosecutor's office in Washington, DC. Among the officials observing the proceeding was John Crabb, a top prosecutor in the US attorney's office overseeing the more than 850 cases linked to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Mehta on Wednesday said he would not allow Rhodes to wreak "havoc" in the case or his calendar as he and other judges in Washington, DC, confront a flood of prosecutions stemming from the Capitol attack. If he granted a delay, Mehta said, his schedule would not open for Rhodes' trial until next summer.
"January 6 has created a massive traffic jam of cases," Mehta said. "That is just the reality of it."