By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN Associated Press
A federal magistrate judge agreed Monday to let an attorney withdraw from representing white nationalist leader Richard Spencer in a lawsuit over violence that erupted at a rally in Virginia nearly three years ago.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe’s order leaves Spencer to defend himself against the lawsuit, which names him as one of the organizers of the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017.
Spencer said in a text message Monday that he must prepare to represent himself at a trial scheduled to start in October but is “exploring other options.”
John DiNucci, the lawyer who had been representing Spencer since May 2018, said earlier this month that Spencer owes him a significant amount of money in legal fees and hasn’t been cooperating adequately.
During a June 11 hearing, Spencer asked for one week to develop a plan to pay his attorney. He said his notoriety has made it difficult for him to raise money for his defense against the “financially crippling” lawsuit.
On June 18, however, DiNucci informed the court that he stood by his request to withdraw from the case. The magistrate said DiNucci “has shown good cause” for his request.
“I understood John DiNucci’s position,” Spencer texted Monday. “He’s been professional throughout.”
Hoppe said he wouldn’t postpone the trial date or any deadline due to DiNucci’s withdrawal from the case.
Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. On the eve of the Charlottesville rally, Spencer and others marched through the University of Virginia’s campus, shouting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.
Violent street clashes broke out in Charlottesville on Aug 12, 2017, before a man fascinated with Adolf Hitler plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman. Lawyers for victims of the Charlottesville violence sued several far-right extremist groups and individuals who participated in the event, which was organized in part to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Spencer faces other legal troubles. In Montana, a judge told Spencer that he faces two weeks in a county jail if he doesn’t reach a plan to pay off a legal debt stemming from his divorce case, according to court records.
The state judge presiding over Spencer’s divorce case found him in contempt of court last month over his failure to pay more than $60,000 in fees owed to Joyce Funda, the court-appointed “guardian ad litem” who represented the interests of Spencer’s two children. Judge Heidi Ulbricht said Spencer can “purge that contempt” and avoid a $500 fine and 14 days in jail if he reached an agreement with Funda for a payment plan, according to a transcript of a May 19 hearing.
Spencer has disputed the amount of money he owes Funda in the divorce case and expressed confidence last week that he can avoid any jail time.
The lawsuit, backed by civil rights group Integrity First for America, seeks unspecified damages and a judgment that the defendants violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. It is one of several suits filed on behalf of victims of the violence in Charlottesville.