After a week of confusion over which attorney was representing the high-profile Jan. 6 defendant known as the “QAnon Shaman,” the judge in the case approved a change in lawyers for Jacob Chansley.
The change came in a hearing in federal court in Washington, D.C. that was briefly closed to the public so U.S. District Judge Royce could hear from Chansley and each of the two lawyers claiming to represent him.
Later, in open court, Chansley confirmed to Lamberth that he wanted Albert Watkins replaced by John Pierce, a former attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse who’s taken on more than a dozen clients in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack case.
During the hearing, Watkins publicly relented. “After having met with Mr. Chansley, I am requesting, at the request of the defendant, that I cease as counsel of record for the defendant,” Watkins told the court.
That capped a mysterious, week-long squabble in which Watkins claimed he was being replaced without Chansley’s permission by Pierce, who’d hinted at making an “ineffective counsel” argument.
With Watkins as his lawyer, Chansley pleaded guilty in September to obstruction of an official proceeding, a felony, and was subsequently sentenced to a lengthy 41 months in prison, with credit for time served.
But in a statement last week, Pierce said Chansley would pursue “all remedies available to him” with respect to the outcome of his case — including a potential appeal of his conviction and a claim of “ineffective assistance of counsel.”
Soon after that press release, Watkins claimed to TPM and other outlets that the switch had been made without Chansley’s approval, writing in his own statement that Chansley “confirmed he did not personally authorize Mr. Pierce to represent him and confirmed Watkins’ continuing representation.”
Watkins told TPM in an email, “It appears a third-party named under a power-of-attorney for financial matters for Mr. Chansley may have attempted to use the power-of-attorney to serve as authority to engage Mr. Pierce.”
But Watkins made no mention of these supposed machinations at Monday’s hearing, which was over in a couple minutes.
“I sincerely wish Mr. Chansley all the best,” he told TPM later, in an email. “He is a bright and gentle young man.”
The brief hearing included a bit of dialogue between Chansley and his new legal team.
“From here on out Jake, it’ll be Bill and John,” attorney William Shipley told Chansley in the minutes preceding the hearing, over a public conference call line. (Shipley is Pierce’s co-counsel, but he needs Lamberth’s approval to officially join the case because he is not a member of the Washington, D.C. Bar. Lamberth said Monday that he would rule on that motion separately.)
“Thank you for being here, gentleman,” Chansley told the lawyers.
Part of the friction over Chansley’s legal representation may stem from comments Watkins made to TPM over the summer, when he referred to Jan. 6 defendants as “short-bus people.”
“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” Watkins told TPM. “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”
The outrage that followed led one co-defendant of another Watkins client to argue that the comments made a fair trial impossible.
Pierce has his own odd history in the mammoth Jan. 6 case. After taking on a long list of Capitol attack clients, he essentially disappeared without a trace for a week — only to explain away the absence as a hospital stay for an undisclosed malady.
This post has been updated.