With mere weeks to go until trial, defendant Chris Cantwell, the so-called “Crying Nazi”, continues to file a flurry of sporadic motions against the Sines v. Kessler plaintiffs, complicating the legal process.
Filed on behalf of various Charlottesville-area residents in the wake of the deadly Aug. 12, 2017 Unite the Right rally, the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit targets more than a dozen key participants and organizers. The suit accuses the defendants of conspiring to plan racially motivated violence at the rally, as well as the torch rally on University of Virginia grounds the night before.
The lawsuit has faced a variety of logistical issues over the course of the last four years, issues compounded by uncooperative defendants and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the defendants causing difficulties is Chris Cantwell, also dubbed the “Crying Nazi” after his tearful media appearances following the rallies.
Cantwell is currently serving a nearly three-and-a-half year sentence in federal prison in Illinois for threatening to rape the wife of a man who was part of a separate racist group. The conviction is unrelated to the Charlottesville rallies.
In recent weeks Cantwell has filed a series of motions, seeking to sanction the plaintiffs, exclude dozens of witnesses and subpoena a slew of others, among other things. This has drawn the ire of the plaintiffs’ counsel, who filed a response on Monday seeking to bar some of these attempts.
Cantwell has argued that 47 witnesses were not properly disclosed to him and thus, according to federal rule 37©(1), a “party is not allowed to use [improperly disclosed] information or witness[es] to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial.”
However, according to the plaintiffs’ counsel, this sanction is inapplicable where “the failure [to disclose] was substantially justified or is harmless.” According to the plaintiffs’ response, most of the disclosure issues were caused by Cantwell’s incarceration and an improper email address.
Once plaintiffs’ counsel became aware of the “administrative error” in March 2021, Cantwell was re-served the legal filings at his place of incarceration. Cantwell later moved for sanctions against the plaintiffs based on this error, but his motion was denied by the court.
“Cantwell maintains that plaintiffs’ inadvertent and ‘occasional failure to properly serve him with documents [while] . . . he has been incarcerated’ entitles him the most draconian of remedies: preclusion of the vast majority of plaintiffs’ case,” the plaintiffs’ response reads. “Cantwell was not entitled to sanctions then, and he is not entitled to sanctions now.”
Of the various witnesses Cantwell seeks to exclude, 36 of them have been properly disclosed through a variety of methods, the response argues, leaving only 10 that Cantwell has uncontested argument against. However, the plaintiffs’ counsel write that six of these witnesses will be withdrawn and three of the remaining four will be available for depositions. The last of these defendants will merely be used to authenticate photographs produced to defendants, the response claims, and thus earlier disclosure was not required.
These more recent motions centered around the witnesses follow nearly two dozen motions filed by Cantwell in September which the plaintiffs also asked the court to dismiss, describing them as “untimely, disingenuous and/or frivolous.”
These motions seek to change a variety of trial issues and include: a request for sanctions against the plaintiffs for improper disclosures; a request to continue the trial to a later date; and the a request to exclude all evidence of “defendants’ perceived biases against those who identify as Jews,” among other things.
“Plaintiffs do not believe that any of the above described filings warrant the time and expense of a further response by plaintiffs, especially at this late stage in the proceedings when preparation for trial is well underway,” the Sept. 23 response reads. “Plaintiffs thus respectfully request the court’s guidance on whether plaintiffs should provide a more detailed response to any of the above-mentioned filings; of course, we would be happy to respond to any or all at greater length if Your Honor believes that would be of assistance to the court.”
The plaintiffs’ response also claims that Cantwell, who has been representing himself, may be using another inmate, William A. White, to participate in this litigation and “ghost-write” his recent filings.
The court has yet to rule on any of Cantwell’s motions and filings, though he has been directed to appear at a virtual motion hearing at 9 a.m. Friday.
The Sines v. Kessler trial is still on track to begin on Oct. 25 in Charlottesville’s federal court and could last as long as four weeks.