A disciplinary panel of the Montana Supreme Court last week recommended that Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, be disbarred for violating his attorney oath.
Rhodes founded the Oath Keepers, a loosely organized group of current and former law enforcement and military officials, in 2009. The group pledges to defy any government mandate they view as unconstitutional. But Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate, has apparently shirked his responsibilities as an attorney as he’s helped the Oath Keepers raise their national profile in recent years.
A panel of the Montana Supreme Court’s Commission on Practice recommended that Rhodes be disbarred in an Oct. 26 filing. The panel cited two ethics complaints filed against Rhodes, as well as his repeated failure to appear before the panel or respond to its communications, as evidence of “a knowing and intentional disregard of his obligations as an attorney, to the profession and to the public.”
Rhodes did not respond to a request for comment by TPM on Thursday. It was also unclear what the next step is for Rhodes. No one answered the phone Thursday at the state bar.
The ethics complaints cited in the filing stemmed from Rhodes’ and the Oath Keepers’ involvement in a 2011 dispute in Quartzsite, Arizona. The Oath Keepers descended on the town to support then-Mayor Ed Foster, who believed the town council and police chief had joined forces to run the town under martial law. Foster and the Oath Keepers viewed the arrests of two residents, Michael Roth and Jennifer “Jade” Jones, at town hall meetings as evidence of police reprisal.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2012 that a disciplinary panel of the Arizona Supreme Court had reprimanded Rhodes and fined him $600 for representing Roth and Jones without being licensed to practice law in the state. According to the filing, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell filed an ethics complaint with the Montana Supreme Court in April 2014 alleging that Rhodes improperly filed an appearance in his Arizona court without a license.
Roth also filed an ethics complaint against Rhodes in May 2014 alleging he “provided incompetent representation and abandoned Roth’s cases in Arizona’s federal court,” according to the filing.
Forbes pointed out that in a third, related case not cited in the filing, a judge eventually discharged Rhodes. Court records for Jennifer Jones’ case show that after he did not respond to orders to withdraw from the case, Rhodes was ordered to show cause why he should not be discharged by April 18, 2014—the height of the Bundy Ranch standoff. Rhodes and the Oath Keepers were on hand in Bunkerville, Nevada to support rancher Cliven Bundy in his cattle grazing dispute with the Bureau of Land Management.
Since then the Oath Keepers have offered their protection everywhere from protests in Ferguson, Missouri to gold mines in Oregon and Montana. And at least one person has refused their protection: defiant Kentucky clerk Kim Davis.