- "QAnon shaman" Jacob Chansley, the most notorious of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants, has hired a new lawyer and may launch a long-shot bid to get his recent guilty plea and 41-month prison sentence tossed out.
- Chansley, also may pursue a claim that his other attorney, Albert Watkins, provided ineffective assistance during the criminal case, according to a press release from a legal non-profit group founded by John Pierce, the lawyer who says he now represents Chansley.
- But Watkins quickly fired back and said "has been and remains counsel of record for Mr. Chansley."
- Pierce has represented up to 17 other Capitol riot defendants, among them members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups.
- Pierce also once represented Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted last week on charges of for fatally shooting two people and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
"QAnon shaman" Jacob Chansley, the most notorious of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants, has hired a new lawyer and may launch a long-shot bid to get his recent guilty plea and 41-month prison sentence tossed out, according to a court filing and press release Monday.
Chansley, 34, also may pursue a claim that his other attorney, Albert Watkins, provided ineffective assistance during the criminal case, according to a press release from a legal non-profit group founded by John Pierce, the lawyer who says he now represents Chansley.
But Watkins quickly fired back and said "has been and remains counsel of record for Mr. Chansley."
"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,' " Watkins said in an email to CNBC.
"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," Watkins said in his email. "No response from Pierce has been forthcoming."
Pierce declined to respond to Watkins' claims.
Even if a defendant changes lawyers willingly, it is extremely difficult to get a guilty plea and subsequent sentence in federal court reversed on appeal. However, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel is one potential way to win reversal of a guilty plea.
And Chansley's diagnosed mental illness may make it easier for Pierce to argue that his plea was not fully informed.
During plea hearings, judges remind defendants that they are waiving their rights of appeal when they admit guilt, and specifically ask them if they understand that fact.
Pierce has represented more than 20 other Capitol riot defendants, among them members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers groups.
Pierce also represented Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old Illinois man who had been charged with reckless homicide and other charges for fatally shooting two people and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020 during a civil disturbance.
Rittenhouse, who fired Pierce in February, was acquitted of all charges on Friday after a trial.
The abrupt filing by Pierce came less than a week after Chansley emotionally took responsibility for invading the Capitol complex — shirtless, wielding a spear, wearing face paint and a fur hat with horns — with hundreds of other Trump supporters.
The riot disrupted the ongoing confirmation by joint session of Congress of President Joe Biden's defeat of then-President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.
"I was wrong for entering the Capitol. I have no excuse. No excuse whatsoever," Chansley told Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington federal court on Wednesday when he was sentenced for obstructing a proceeding of Congress.
"The behavior is indefensible."
"I broke the law, and if I believe in freedom, and if I believe in law and order, and I believe in responsibility, then I should do what Gandhi would do, and take responsibility," said Chansley, whose prison term was on the low end of what was recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
The Phoenix, Arizona, resident, had been represented in that proceeding, as well as in his September guilty plea and in the prior months since his arrest in January by Watkins.
On Monday, Pierce filed a notice of appearance on Chansley's behalf in court, indicating he would be representing Chansley.
Watkins has not filed any paperwork indicating that he is withdrawing from the case. Such paperwork is required for an attorney to cease representing a party in a case.
In a press release, the National Constitutional Law Union, which Pierce founded, said, "Mr. Chansley is no longer represented, for any purpose, by attorney Albert Watkins."
"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," the press release went on to say.
"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."
In August, federal prosecutors warned a Washington judge in another Capitol riot case that Pierce had gone missing from court appearances amid conflicting excuses that included a claim that he was hospitalized with Covid and on a ventilator.
Prosecutors also noted in a filing that Pierce associate Ryan Marshall — who had been appearing in Pierce's absence — "is not a licensed attorney." Marshall also faced two separate felony criminal cases pending against him in Pennsylvania, the prosecutors said.
Pierce soon after re-emerged, and has continued representing riot defendants.