A federal deposition of James Alex Fields Jr. has been canceled after his counsel claimed his mental health has dramatically worsened.
Fields is one of around two dozen defendants in the federal Sines v. Kessler lawsuit filed on behalf of various area residents that targets key organizers and participants from the deadly Unite the Right rally. Fields is currently serving multiple life sentences for a car attack on the day of the rally, Aug. 12, 2017, that left anti-racist protester Heather Heyer dead and dozens injured.
According to recent motions filed in the case by his counsel, Fields’ mental health has declined and he “does not appear competent to understand directions from counsel” that would be necessary to prepare him for deposition. Additionally, the motions claim that Fields has been acting bizarrely and does not believe his attorneys are who they say they are.
“Fields believed the date was March 11 and became agitated when told that was not the date,” the motion reads. “Fields reported numerous scenarios regarding his current circumstances that were, at the least, implausible, if not impossible, including that a doctor treating him at the facility participated in his sentencing hearing and was awarded restitution in his criminal trial.”
Fields said he planned to refuse to testify via a video deposition because of a “concern that software will be used to manipulate his testimony making his face on the video appear to say things that he is not saying.”
Fields’ counsel requested to stay the discovery deposition and appoint a guardian to facilitate an evaluation of Fields’ mental capacity.
In a response to the motion, the plaintiffs’ counsel wrote that they would be suspending Fields’ deposition based on his counsel’s representation in order “to avoid unnecessary cost and inconvenience to many parties.” However, according to the motion, they would not be waiving the right to seek appropriate sanctions.
“Plainly, there is no point in proceeding with the deposition at the scheduled date and time, and plaintiffs are taking steps to cancel arrangements for the deposition to avoid needless expense,” the response reads.
Because Fields has made it clear he will refuse to be deposed, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that there is no need for a court-ordered stay of deposition.
However, the plaintiffs’ counsel disagreed with the need to appoint a guardian, arguing that it would be inappropriate because Fields is already represented by counsel.
Citing both federal and state cases, counsel for the plaintiffs argued that the precedent and guiding law only provides for the appointment of a guardian in cases where a defendant is unrepresented.
“David Campbell first appeared as counsel for defendant Fields in this matter on November 9, 2017, and he has continued to represent Fields in this matter since then,” the response reads. “As discussed above, both the federal rule and Virginia case law contemplate that the appointment of a guardian ad litem should be limited to circumstances where a legally incapacitated person is unrepresented.”
Though a judge has yet to rule on Fields’ motion, the deposition, which was set for Thursday, did not happen, according to court records.
The Sines case is currently set to begin a multi-week trial in October, though judges for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia previously have cautioned that COVID-19 could further delay the trial.