A lawyer’s profanity-laden statement to TPM about alleged Capitol attack defendants being “short-bus people” has irredeemably biased the case against a co-defendant of the attorney’s clients, that co-defendant’s attorney told a judge this week.
The attorney asked a federal judge to “sever” her client’s case from the vulgar lawyer’s “in order to preserve his trial rights.”
Albert Watkins, who represents Jacob Chansley, otherwise known as the “QAnon Shaman,” told TPM in an interview published this week that “a lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all fucking short-bus people.”
“These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum,” Watkins said of the Jan. 6 defendants.
In an email to TPM Friday, Watkins said of his earlier comments, “A lot does not mean all.”
The comments were widely criticized as insensitive and misleading: The vast majority of people with mental health conditions — including those on the autism spectrum, as Watkins described Chansley — live their entire lives without engaging in an attempt to lay siege to the U.S. Congress.
Now, Watkins’ comments have cropped up in a federal court case, as well: In addition to defending Chansley, Watkins also represents Felicia Konold and Cory Konold, siblings who face conspiracy charges for their actions on Jan. 6, among other offenses. They’ve pleaded not guilty.
Christopher Kuehne, a co-defendant in the case against the Konolds, no longer wants to be associated with them or their attorney.
In a filing Tuesday flagged by Law & Crime, Kuehne’s attorney Marina Medvin wrote “Mr. Kuehne’s trial rights are prejudiced by the joinder of his case with codefendants who are represented by a counselor who has made highly inappropriate and prejudicial statements that were disseminated by means of public communication, which directly impact and prejudice Mr. Kuehne’s right to a fair trial.”
In a memo explaining her request, Medvin noted a tweet I sent flagging Watkins’ comments, explaining that it “went viral within hours” and received significant media attention.
I spoke to the "QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley's attorney, Albert Watkins, for this story. Here's what he had to say… https://t.co/6gZ2jzPvSh pic.twitter.com/b4w62dYvLN
— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) May 18, 2021
“Mr. Watkins’ highly inflammatory and derogatory language directly impacts and prejudices Mr. Kuehne, rendering a trial with his codefendants inherently unfair,” she wrote.
Watkins has maintained that his offensive language was a purposeful attempt to draw attention to the mental state of Capitol defendants, which, he said, would be a factor in Chansley’s case.
But Medvin wrote that the Konolds were represented “by a counselor who publicly demeans him,” referring to Kuehne.
“In this case, a joint trial with co-defendants represented by an attorney who publicly referred to Mr. Kuehne and others arrested for their participation in the January 6 incident as ‘fucking short-bus,’ ‘fucking retarded,’ and ‘on the goddamn spectrum,’ poses a serious risk of compromising Mr. Kuehne’s constitutional right to a fair trial by an impartial jury,” she added later.
“Unlike his codefendants, Mr. Kuehne’s defense strategy does not include self-degradation, nor an insanity plea.”
A joint trial, she wrote, would be “inherently unfair.”
Medvin also alleged that Watkins’ comments violated the local rules of the federal district court in Washington, D.C., which state that it is lawyers’ duty not to release communications that may interfere with a fair trial or otherwise prejudice “the due administration of justice.”
“While the Konolds are entitled to their choice of counsel under the Sixth Amendment, Mr. Kuehne is entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury under the same,” she wrote, adding: “Mr. Kuehne cannot be asked to undergo an insulting and prejudicial trial with his co-defendants and his counsel, as that is a direct violation of his Sixth Amendment right.”