Kyle Rittenhouse Attorney Steps Away From Criminal Case After Prosecutors Raise Concern Over Finances

A man (R) was shot in the chest as clashes between protesters and armed civilians who protect the streets of Kenosha
Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

John Pierce, the attorney representing Illinois teen Kyle Rittenhouse, has withdrawn from his the teen's criminal case just hours after prosecutors argued in court that the lawyer's alleged financial problems raised a conflict of interest, according to reports. The Los Angeles-based civil lawyer became the public voice for the 17-year-old who faces a murder charge and other counts after the teen allegedly shot and killed two men and injured a third during the Kenosha protests this summer, charges to which Rittenhouse plans to plead not guilty. Pierce said he will now be handling Rittenhouse's civil matters, including defamation cases against the teen, ABC News reported.

Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger filed a motion Thursday alleging Pierce should not be able to represent Rittenhouse due to his "significant personal financial difficulties," ABC reported. Prosecutors have reportedly become increasingly skeptical of Pierce's fundraising efforts, which over time have targeted the political right, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“Money that should be held in trust for the defendant may instead be used to repay attorney Pierce’s numerous creditors," Binger wrote, citing what he alleges are examples of Pierce's troubled financial past.

Hours after this filing, Pierce announced that he will be stepping away from the teenager's criminal case and taking over all civil matters regarding the teen's future defamation lawsuits.

"So that it does not take Kyle's supporters by surprise, effective immediately I am taking over all civil matters for Kyle including his future defamation claims," Pierce announced on Twitter. "I will also be orchestrating all fundraising for defense costs. The terrific Mark Richards [a local criminal defense attorney] will proceed in Wisconsin."

Prosecutors raised criticism over how money donated to #FightBack Foundation, the fundraiser in question, was being handled. The funds allocated to #FightBack contributed to the $2 million bail that was set for Rittenhouse, who spent two-and-a-half months in custody, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Prosecutors claim Pierce's involvement with and close ties to the fundraising efforts could lead to the opportunity for "self-dealing and fraud," the Chicago Tribune reported. Binger asserts that this could lead to Pierce "personally benefitting" from the foundation.

Pierce already stepped down from the foundation board in September after concerns over his financial history and to avoid any "appearance of conflict," USA Today reported. However, Binger says in the court filing that Pierce has continued to encourage his Twitter followers to send donations to Rittenhouse through the #FightBack foundation, ABC reported.

Binger claimed the foundation was an "unregulated and unreported slush fund."

Binger claims that Pierce's personal history, including the alleged collapse of his law firm and other lawsuits against him alleging he defaulted on hundreds of thousands of dollars in businesses and personal loans, should disqualify him from representing Rittenhouse, ABC reported.

According to the prosecution motion, Pierce filed court records last year that shows he has no income, monthly expenses of $49,581, and owes about $1.2 million in debts, the Tribune reported. Pierce was also sued in July over allegations of breaching a rental agreement on a $1.3 million home in California, according to the motion.

In an email to Inside Edition Digital, Pierce wrote, "it is not possible" to prepare the number of civil cases Rittenhouse has, plus orchestrate the fundraising effort while litigating the criminal case simultaneously.

"Kyle is in terrific hands with the extraordinarily capable and experienced Wisconsin criminal defense team I have constructed for him over the past three months," he wrote.

Pierce added that the allegations made against him are "ludicrous" and that "any personal issues of mine are totally irrelevant to the current fundraising efforts." 

He continued, "The funds are held in a trust account and will be dispursed only upon express approval of Kyle’s mother, and only for purposes of defense-related fees and costs, including security costs necessary because of constant death threats."

Pierce appeared on NewsMaxTV last Friday, alongside Rittenhouse's mother Wendy, announcing a new fundraising site. He vowed to pursue "a lot" of civil cases against media organizations and politicians he believes have defamed Rittenhouse, ABC reported.

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