Richard Spencer has been unable to pay his attorney for months, according to testimony from a hearing in a prolific lawsuit related to the Aug. 12, 2017, Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
Sines v. Kessler, filed on behalf of a number of Charlottesville-area residents, names more than a dozen defendants who helped to organize the white supremacist rally.
The lawsuit continues to hit snags as it heads toward a three-week trial in October, scheduling for which has not yet been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spencer, a white supremacist and University of Virginia alum who led torch rallies in Charlottesville during 2017, is among the defendants. John DiNucci, Spencer’s attorney, filed a motion to withdraw in April but declined to cite a reason.
During a telephonic hearing Thursday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel C. Hoppe again asked DiNucci why he wished to drop Spencer. According to DiNucci, Spencer has been difficult to communicate with and has not paid him in several months.
“I understand that Mr. Spencer is going through a lot in his personal life, but, to be honest, I’m getting frustrated,” DiNucci said. “To be perfectly blunt about it, if I’m not being paid to litigate this case, then it’s putting a significant financial burden on me.”
Spencer agreed with DiNucci’s assessment but argued that he could make the necessary payments, if given time. According to Spencer, efforts to de-platform him in the wake of the rally have made fundraising difficult.
“In terms of fundraising, it has not failed from a lack of support — I was able to raise the money for [DiNucci’s] initial retainer over the course of a weekend,” Spencer said. “But now, whenever I attempt to raise money, there are various groups that make it their life’s mission to get me kicked off the platform, and they’ve become quite successful over the last two years.”
As a solo practitioner, DiNucci said he could not financially handle a three-week trial and the costs of his services and a hotel room for that period if he is not being compensated. To do that work without compensation would be “financially devastating,” he said, and he did not see a path forward.
When asked by Hoppe if he was prepared to represent himself, Spencer was adamant that he did not possess the necessary skills and would be out of his league.
“It’s not a question of intelligence; it’s a question of competency,” he said. “I have absolutely no training in this and it’s not something I’m good at; it would be catastrophic.”
Acknowledging the financial toll the case is taking on DiNucci, Hoppe said he would give Spencer a week to prove that he could raise the money to pay his attorney. If Spencer fails to meet that requirement, Hoppe said he would grant DiNucci’s motion to withdraw.
Later in the hearing, Michael Bloch, an attorney representing the various plaintiffs, broached the ever-contentious topic of outstanding discovery.
According to Bloch, Spencer needs to produce “thousands” of outstanding responsive photos and videos, a number that the defendant characterized as “absurd.”
As the plaintiffs prepare for the trial, Bloch said there was still much work to be done and many depositions to be taken over the next couple of months.