A Blue Springs man and his attorney incurred the wrath of the chief judge who presides over the federal court in Washington, D.C., during a hearing Friday to set a trial date for his Capitol riot case.
John George Todd III, 33, who prosecutors allege was caught on video making threatening remarks to police during the Jan. 6 insurrection, was originally scheduled to go to trial Nov. 14. But at Friday’s hearing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — held by video conference — his newly hired attorney said he needed more time to prepare.
John Pierce, of Woodland Hills, California, asked that the trial be moved to October 2023.
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell was stunned.
“Oh, come on,” she said. “This case has been pending now for some time.” She wanted to set the date for early December.
“This court’s going to be very, very busy with what we’re anticipating to be a number of new cases being filed by the government,” Howell said. “So I think this case needs to be tried as soon as possible.”
But Pierce said with all the other cases he had, a December trial would be a challenge. That didn’t sit well with Howell.
“Well, you understand that when you took this case, there was a trial date scheduled for November 14, and you have professional and ethical obligations, Mr. Pierce, to only take on matters that you can handle given your other trial schedule,” Howell said. “So knowing that this trial date had been set for November 14, how could you take on this case?”
Pierce noted that the November date had been canceled because Todd needed to seek mental health treatment.
“Based on the pretrial services report, he’s getting adequate mental health treatment,” Howell said. “And he seems to be functioning and doing fine.”
Todd, who was arrested in May, faces four misdemeanor counts related to the Capitol riot: entering or remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Prosecutors allege that Todd was in the Capitol building between 2:45 and 4:24 p.m. on Jan. 6. Authorities tracked his movements through images and videos captured in and around the Capitol, according to the charging documents. And body-worn camera footage obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department showed Todd yelling at law enforcement authorities, the documents said.
“At one point inside the rotunda, while near a law enforcement officer, Todd III yelled, ‘I swear to God, I’ll hip toss your ass into the f—— crowd, mother ——!’” the documents said.
About four minutes into Friday’s hearing, Howell paused.
“I’m sorry, just a second. Mr. Todd, where are you?”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m dropping my son off at the school bus.”
“Are you finding it hard to fit in your status conferences before this court, “ Howell said, “where you can participate and focus without distractions from other daily routines?”
“I’m trying,” Todd replied. “I had my son today, and I don’t have any help with him. So I had to manage with what I had at hand, Your Honor. You have my full attention.”
“Well, Mr. Todd, let me make it clear to you,” Howell said. “These are important proceedings for you. You should be paying your full and undistracted attention to what is going on. If having these hearings remotely is not allowing you to do that, I will require you to come to court in D.C. for all future hearings. Do you understand that?”
“I understand that, Your Honor.”
“I don’t want to see your face leave the screen. I don’t want you to be doing anything else but paying attention to these proceedings. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
During the hearing, Howell noted that Todd originally had been assigned a public defender because of his inability to afford an attorney. She wanted to know if he was now paying Pierce to represent him.
Pierce said he was being paid a miniscule amount, but that “I’m actively raising funds through a 501(c)(4) that is meant to be assisting these defendants.”
Howell retorted: “Are you spending too much time, Mr. Pierce, raising funds to pay yourself rather than paying attention to Mr. Todd and talking to him and figuring out precisely what his mental state is and whether he’s ready to go to trial?”
Pierce said he wouldn’t put it that way.
“I’m obviously trying to balance a lot of things,” he said. “I was honestly under the impression that due to the mental health condition that the trial was not going to be proceeding, certainly November 14.”
Howell said delaying a case “never works to the benefit of a defendant, because the government keeps investigating.”
“They’ve already found more tapes,” she said. “Public tapes that they think might support additional charges. So it’s also incumbent on you as a defense lawyer in the interests of your client to usually get to trial as speedily as possible.”
She asked Todd if he was OK with having “this thing hanging over your head until the fall of 2023 — your son’s next school year?”
Todd said he was fine with that.
“If I can get adequate counsel to where they can get up to speed on the case and get me a fair trial with what they feel comfortable with, then I’m OK with that,” he said. “That also gives me the time to go through my VA counseling. That is a three-months-long process…Just because I’m doing OK right now does not mean I’m fully OK.”
Howell then set a trial date for Oct. 16, 2023, but Pierce said that date wouldn’t work. He has another Jan. 6 trial that day.
“OK, you know what? I don’t have time for this,” Howell said. She told both sides to come up with three trial dates that would work in October and get them to her by the end of the day.
Howell also wasn’t letting the government off easy. She expressed surprise that prosecutors intended to take Todd to trial for four misdemeanors.
“Is the government telling me that we’re gonna have a trial on misdemeanor charges?” she asked Michael James, an assistant U.S. Attorney.
James said the government was looking into filing a felony charge because of new information it had received.
“But I cannot say that we’re going to do that right now,” he said. “It is something that we have actively considered…but we have not done so.”
“Well, you’re running out of time,” Howell said.
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