The controversial lawyer who has been promoting Kyle Rittenhouse’s case in the media and soliciting money for his defense has parted ways with the young homicide defendant, according to court records and Twitter.
Freekyleusa.com tweeted that it has a new lawyer and new trust set up to handle donations for Rittenhouse’s benefit.
John Pierce, who had been Rittenhouse’s lawyer, did not reply to a direct message on Twitter earlier, but did tweet late Thursday:
Pierce, a Los Angles litigator, was the first name announced by Lin Wood, a high-profile Atlanta attorney who was later caught up in challenging the presidential election, as leading Rittenhouse’s defense.
Pierce did appear at a couple of extradition hearings in Illinois, but withdrew his request to be admitted to practice in Wisconsin for Rittenhouse’s homicide case in Kenosha County, where he is charged with killing two people and wounding a third during protests in August over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Pierce did, however, promote Rittenhouse’s innocence, his self-defense argument and his character extensively in interviews with conservative news outlets and on social media.
Pierce’s personal and business debts related to his law firm Pierce Bainbridge and its predecessors began to dog his role in the case almost immediately. He announced he was stepping down from the board of #FightBack Foundation, the Texas nonprofit he and Wood had formed, and to which they were directing thousands of supporters to send donations for Rittenhouse’s legal defense.
As more than $2 million rolled in, questions began to arise about its accounting and control. Pierce spent some to hire local Illinois counsel for help on the extradition fight and to hire a veteran criminal defense attorney, Mark Richards, in Wisconsin.
Other commentators — including fellow Los Angeles lawyer Robert Barnes — called for Rittenhouse’s mother to hire a different lawyer and establish a trust that would assure the thousand of donations would be strictly used for her son’s benefit, advice she has now apparently taken.
Barnes confirmed in an email and on Twitter late Thursday that he has taken over Pierce’s role as counsel to Rittenhouse and has set up the trust that his family will control.
Barnes, who does also do criminal defense and is licensed in Wisconsin (he graduated from University of Wisconsin Law School) did not say if he plans any role in the criminal case.
Those were among the reasons, along with Pierce’s frequent public commentary about the merits of the case, like calling it a political prosecution and calling for Kenosha’s DA to resign or be recalled, that led prosecutors to oppose Pierce’s courtesy admission to practice in Wisconsin on the case.
He withdrew his request for such admission before the judge in the case could consider or rule on it.
In December, after Wood officially withdrew from the Rittenhouse case, Pierce began promoting a new website, freekyleusa.com as the main fundraising arm, and began trying to sell branded merchandise. He said another $2.5 million was needed to defend the case and cover Rittenhouse’s family living expenses.
But the site kept being de-platformed, and Pierce’s tweets began to focus more on the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, suggesting he was eager to represent those charged in the attack, and about the effort to recall California’s governor.
The newly announced parting of ways with Pierce comes just as prosecutors seek Rittenhouse’s arrest for not listing the address of the “safe house” where Pierce often said his client’s family was staying while out on bail.
As part of Richards’ response, he included an affidavit from Pierce, signed in California, describing how he got cooperation from a Kenosha police captain to sneak his client out of jail and avoid media and confrontations after posting the $2 million bail in November.
The Kenosha Police Department issued a statement Thursday that the captain Pierce recalled speaking with is a lieutenant and was not working that day. A different Kenosha police captain did speak briefly with Pierce about security, but not about how to fill out paperwork, according to the department’s news release.
In his affidavit, Pierce said the police captain told him not to list the address of the safe house, but to just use Rittenhouse’s prior address in Antioch, Illinois.
This week, prosecutors filed court papers saying the failure to ever update the address is a violation of the conditions of Rittenhouse’s bail, and that he should be arrested and post another $200,000 to remain out of custody.
In that same affidavit, Pierce notes that he “currently has no professional relationship in any capacity with Kyle Rittenhouse, his defense team or any pending action against him.”