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At least 17 Capitol riot defendants now 'effectively without counsel' with high-profile attorney John Pierce in hospital

Attorney John Pierce, of Pierce Bainbridge, is reportedly in the hospital with COVID-19 and may be on a ventilator, according to an associate.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department warned judges Monday that at least 17 Capitol riot defendants may be “effectively without counsel” after the prominent right-wing attorney who represents them was reportedly hospitalized in potentially serious condition.

In a filing Monday, the DOJ said attorney John Pierce, of the California-based firm Pierce Bainbridge, had been out of contact and had missed multiple court hearings since August 23. An associate, Ryan Marshall, who has been appearing in Pierce’s place told a judge last week he believed Pierce was “ill with COVID-19, on a ventilator, and unresponsive,” according to the DOJ. The agency notes another of Pierce’s associates allegedly told NPR he was not on a ventilator, however, and claimed he was suffering from dehydration and exhaustion.

Pierce, a civil attorney who specializes in commercial litigation, previously represented accused Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse before being let go earlier this year. He is currently listed as counsel for at least 17 and as many as 19 defendants charged in the January 6 Capitol riot, including Proud Boy William Pepe and alleged Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson. On Monday, paperwork was filed in D.C. District Court to enter Pierce as counsel for another defendant, Texas resident Shane Jenkins.

Compounding the issue, the DOJ says, is the fact that Marshall – who has been appearing in Pierce’s stead and even attended an evidentiary meeting with prosecutors – is not a licensed attorney. He’s also facing felony charges in two separate cases in Pennsylvania, including one case involving his “alleged participation in a conspiracy to commit fraud while clerking for a judge on the Pennsylvania Court of Common Please, according to the DOJ.

“Because Mr. Pierce is unavailable and Mr. Marshall cannot ethically or legally represent Mr. Pierce’s clients, the government is making the Court aware of Mr. Pierce’s reported illness so that it can take any steps it believes necessary to ensure the defendant’s rights are adequately protected while Mr. Pierce remains hospitalized,” the DOJ wrote in its filing Monday.

Pierce’s absence leaves the cases “effectively at a standstill,” the DOJ said, as the government doesn’t feel it’s appropriate to continue communicating with Marshall in Pierce’s absence. It was not clear whether Pierce had a succession plan – which would include case information and instructions for another attorney or attorneys to take over for his clients – and no one other than Marshall has appeared on his behalf in the past week.

Two of Pierce’s clients, Peter Schwartz and his newest, Jenkins, were scheduled to appear in court for status hearings on Thursday. Last week, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta ordered Marshall to provide an update on Pierce’s status when he appeared in Schwartz's case.

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