John Pierce Claims Jacob Chansley Hired Him for Possible Appeal
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Jacob Chansley’s Longtime Counsel Disputes Claims That Kyle Rittenhouse’s Ex-Lawyer Retained His Client for Possible Appeal

In a wild post-sentencing legal drama, two lawyers claiming to represent Jacob Chansley have been vying for the title as counsel of record for the Viking helmet and coyote fur-headdress bedecked rioter turned “flagbearer” of Jan. 6 widely known as the “QAnon Shaman.”

John Pierce, a lawyer fired by Kyle Rittenhouse, asserts that Chansley retained him to explore a possible appeal of his recent sentence of more than three years in federal prison.

“Mr. Chansley will be pursuing all remedies available to him under the Constitution and federal statutory law with respect to the outcome of the criminal prosecution of him by the United States Department of Justice,” Pierce and his purported co-counsel William Shipley wrote in a press release announcing his alleged representation. “This includes a possible direct appeal of his conviction and sentence to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, as well as claims of ‘Ineffective Assistance of Counsel’ in the appropriate venue.”

Pierce entered a notice of appearance in federal court on Monday.

Chansley’s longtime lawyer Albert Watson insists that he spoke to Chansley himself—and it isn’t so.

“Upon noting today’s entry of appearance of John M. Pierce, Esq. in Mr. Chansley’s J6 case, Watkins personally spoke with Mr. Chansley who confirmed he did not personally authorize Mr. Pierce to represent him and confirmed Watkins’ continuing representation of the man who has become universally known as ‘The Shaman,'” his press release states.

“Watkins issued a letter to Mr. Pierce confirming he had not received any contact from Mr. Pierce and requesting the prompt withdrawal of his entry of appearance,” it continues. “No response from Pierce has been forthcoming.”

After pleading guilty to obstructing a congressional proceeding (a charge some judges have questioned), Chansley received a 41-month sentence from Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee who called him the “very image” of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“What you did was terrible,” Lamberth told Chansley before pronouncing his sentence, which fell toward the lower end of the federal guidelines. “You made yourself the epitome of the riot.”

Under the terms of his plea deal, Chansley expressly waived most of his appellate rights, but a subclause of the agreement appears to contemplate the type of challenge Chansley is considering.

“Notwithstanding the above agreement to waive the right to appeal the conviction and sentence, your client retains the right to appeal on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel, but not to raise on appeal other issues regarding the conviction or sentence,” the plea agreement states.

Chansley’s former attorney Albert Watkins, who described his ex-client and Jan. 6 suspects more generally as “fucking short bus people,” was previously dressed down by Judge Lamberth for arranging a “media publicity stunt” interview with 60 Minutes+, which the court found harmed their defense. Watkins had his client agree to the serious obstruction of an official proceeding charge early, even as an increasing number of federal judges have questioned the statute’s use in Jan. 6 cases. Watkins’s client, however, ultimately received a sentence at the bottom of the sentencing guidelines range, far lower than the 51 months imprisonment sought by prosecutors.

Watkins did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s email requesting comment.

Like Watkins, Pierce has sparked controversy in connection with Jan. 6 and other cases. At a time when he represented some 17 Capitol breach defendants, Pierce was reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 after rejecting broad scientific consensus about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Pierce recovered and denied reports of being on a ventilator, but in the interim, prosecutors said, the person appearing in his stead was “not a licensed attorney.”

Legal experts questioned Pierce’s floated appellate plans.

“Appealing directly on the grounds of ineffective assistance is an uphill battle because you’re limited to the record below and can’t supplement with evidence of why you think the representation was ineffective,” defense attorney Ken White, better known by his Twitter nom de plume “Popehat,” tweeted. “So you’re left to argue ‘you can tell the attorney was ineffective just from the cold record.’ Far better way is a 2255 motion (federal equivalent of a habeas corpus) in which you can introduce new evidence.”

Mitch Epner, a former federal prosecutor who is now of counsel with Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC, agreed that the odds of any hypothetical appeal are long.

“Ordinarily, [defense] can’t raise ‘ineffective assistance of counsel’ on direct appeal, but only in collateral attack under Sec. 2255,” Epner tweeted. “To win, [defense] would have to prove both prejudice (deficient counsel) & harm (outcome would have been different). Next to impossible after guilty plea.”

Before being fired from Kyle Rittenhouse’s legal team in February, Pierce supported the teen through the #FightBack Foundation, a 501(c)4 organization founded by lawyer Lin Wood.

Though the group raised millions for Rittenhouse’s bail, Rittenhouse’s mother Wendy Rittenhouse says it never provided an accounting of the money, which her son’s prosecutors described in a legal filing as a “slush fund.” In an exclusive interview with Law&Crime, Wendy Rittenhouse painted Wood and Pierce as politically motivated self-promoters.

Pierce has defended fundraising on Rittenhouse’s behalf, characterizing criticism by the family and lawyers as “manufactured controversy.” He noted that he had filed an interpleader action disavowing any claim to Rittenhouse’s $2 million bail money in federal district court in Texas.

Update—Nov. 22 at 6:11 p.m. Eastern Time: This story has been updated, and its headline has been changed, to include Albert Watkins’ denial of John Pierce’s claim to have retained his client to mull a possible appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.

(Photo of Jacob Chansley via Brent Stirton/Getty Images; screenshot of John Pierce from interview with Tucker Carlson)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.