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ID sought of white nationalist’s legal ghostwriter

ID sought of white nationalist’s legal ghostwriter

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Attorneys for a group of Charlottesville residents suing organizers and key participants of the Unite the Right rally last summer are demanding that Michael Peinovich reveal the identity of the legal counsel who has been ghostwriting his court documents.

Since the lawsuit was filed in October, Peinovich — identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist who hosts an online radio show — has represented himself in court. At a recent hearing in the case, Peinovich joined with other defendants in the case to argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed for lack of legal standing.

The suit alleges that the defendants conspired to bring terror and violence to Charlottesville under the pretense of holding a political rally. It alleges that the defendants — whom plaintiffs name as the “masterminds” of the torch-lit march on Aug. 11 at the University of Virginia and the rally on Aug. 12 at Emancipation Park  — planned and promoted the violent acts that occurred that weekend.

Now, according to a motion that that was filed by the plaintiffs Thursday, Peinovich, of New York City, has admitted that he has “shadow counsel” that ghostwrites his pleadings, but has refused to identify such counsel. Between October and March, Peinovich has filed 16 briefs with the court, according to the plaintiffs’ motion.

“The law sensibly does not permit Peinovich to hide the identity of counsel from Plaintiffs and the Court, or shield shadow counsel’s pleadings from scrutiny,” the motion states. “Peinovich’s artificial pro se status and shadow counsel’s refusal to appear in the case are creating unnecessary procedural hurdles and other inefficiencies.”

The plaintiffs have sent multiple interrogatories — formal questions that must be answered — to Peinovich, asking him to identify the name and contact information for his legal counsel. On three such occasions, Peinovich refused to answer the question. At a June teleconference with the court, the plaintiffs again asked the question, but Peinovich again declined to answer.

“Peinovich acknowledged that he had ‘hired an attorney’ and explained that he believes he is ‘allowed to hire an attorney to ghostwrite pleadings’ and that his attorney ‘does not want to identify himself’ for fear of being harassed,” according to the motion.

In his response to the interrogatories, Peinovich objects to the questioning and said the plaintiffs were “improperly seeking to use inquiries into Peinovich’s communications and relationships with attorneys … to undermine and prevent such communications and relationships,” according to the document.

Peinovich’s response also stated that “Antifa organizations” openly talk about their intentions to harass and incite violence against attorneys who might represent people toward which “Antifa” might have antipathy.

Citing an independent review of the Aug. 12 rally that was commissioned by the city of Charlottesville, Peinovich said plaintiff Seth Wispelwey and other members of Congregate Charlottesville supported tactics used by “Antifa,” such as obstructing speech and making it difficult for right-wing groups to express racism.

“Because of credible threats of Antifa and for other reasons, Peinovich has found it difficult to find a lawyer licensed in Virginia with expertise in First Amendment litigation who will enter his or her appearance in this case on his behalf,” according to Peinovich’s response. “Although proceeding pro se, he has consulted with an attorney with respect to the pleadings he has filed in this Court and the First Amendment and other issues they raise.”

Arguing that the practice of ghostwriting legal documents is unethical and goes against the rules of the court, the plaintiffs write that it also enables the attorney to attack the plaintiffs and their attorneys without showing his or her face.

By allowing Peinovich to continue to represent himself, but also retain the benefit of legal counsel, the plaintiffs argue that he would receive an unfair advantage because his legal documents would be subjected to less stringent standards.

“Peinovich has no right to hide the identity of shadow counsel that is ghostwriting his pleadings,” the motion states.

Peinovich declined to comment on the motion, but said he should not have to face such a lawsuit because he said he did not attend the torch-lit march at UVa on Aug. 11. He said he briefly attended the rally on Aug. 12, but left Charlottesville soon after arriving because of the chaotic environment.

Along with Peinovich, the defendants in the case are Jason Kessler; Richard Spencer; Christopher Cantwell; James Alex Fields Jr.; Vanguard America; Andrew Anglin; Moonbase Holdings LLC; Robert “Azzmador” Ray; Nathan Damigo; Elliot Kline; Identity Evropa; Matthew Heimbach; Matthew Parrott; the Traditionalist Worker Party; Michael Hill; Michael Tubbs; the League of the South; Jeff Schoep; the National Socialist Movement; the National Front; Augustus Sol Invictus; the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights; the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; and the East Coast Knights of the KKK.

In addition to Wispelwey, the plaintiffs in the case are Elizabeth Sines; Marissa Blair; Tyler Magill; April Muniz; Hannah Pearce; Marcus Martin; Natalie Romero; Chelsea Alvarado; and John Doe. The plaintiffs’ case is being funded by the nonprofit Integrity First for America.

Lauren Berg is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, or @LaurenBergK on Twitter.

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