Feds say anti-vaxx defense attorney's severe COVID has brought 17 Capitol riot cases to a 'standstill'

Federal prosecutors are raising alarms about the condition of anti-vaxx defense attorney John Pierce, who represents 17 Capitol insurrectionists and has been widely reported to be on on a ventilator with COVID-19.

In a motion filed Monday, the prosecutors said Pierce's absence from court proceedings has left his clients without effective counsel — especially since an associate who's been standing in for him, Ryan Marshall, is not licensed to practice law, in part because he reportedly faces felony charges in Pennsylvania.

"Sadly, Mr. Pierce is reportedly ill with COVID-19, on a ventilator, and unresponsive," prosecutors wrote in a "Notice Regarding Defense Counsel John Pierce," filed in the case of Casey Cusick, on Monday morning.

"For roughly the past week, Ryan Marshall—an associate from Mr. Pierce's law firm who is not a licensed attorney—has been appearing in Mr. Pierce's place at court hearings and meetings with the government," they wrote. "Because Mr. Pierce is unavailable and Mr. Marshall cannot ethically or legally represent Mr. Pierce's clients, the government is making the Court aware of Mr. Pierce's reported illness so that it can take any steps it believes necessary to ensure the defendant's rights are adequately protected while Mr. Pierce remains hospitalized."

Prosecutors went on to say they've had no contact with Pierce since Aug. 23, and have received conflicting reports about his condition. During one court appearance last week, Marshall stated that Pierce's absence was "due to a conflict." At another appearance, Marshall said Pierce had "been in an accident and was on his way to the hospital." Finally, the next day, Marshall stated that Pierce had COVID — which prompted several outlets including Raw Story to report his condition.

The next day, Marshall told a prosecutor "that he had not had any direct contact with Mr. Pierce, but that one of Mr. Pierce's friends had told him that Mr. Pierce was sick with COVID-19 and another had said he was not." One of Pierce's colleagues subsequently issued a statement denying that Pierce has COVID — and saying he was merely suffering from "dehydration and exhaustion."

Later that evening, an NPR correspondent reported that one source close to Pierce told him that the attorney "is currently hospitalized, and has been diagnosed with COVID- 19, but firmly denied that he was ever placed on a ventilator.'"

"Adding to the confusion, Mr. Pierce, who generally posts multiple messages to Twitter on a daily basis, has not tweeted since August 20," prosecutors wrote. "And there are reports that 'multiple phone numbers for Pierce's law firm, Pierce Bainbridge P.C., have been disconnected.' Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce may be hospitalized and unable to communicate, and it is unclear when Mr. Pierce will recover."

They went on to say that Pierce's condition has left Cusick and 16 other Capitol riot defendants "effectively without counsel," bringing their cases to a "standstill." They said it would not be appropriate for them to continue to communicate with Marshall, since he would be acting without supervision from a licensed attorney.

"Hopefully, Mr. Pierce will soon regain his health and be able to continue his representation of the defendant," prosecutors wrote. "The government did, however, want to make the Court aware of Mr. Pierce's reported illness and its impact on the case so that the Court can take any steps it believes necessary to ensure that the defendant's rights are adequately protected while Mr. Pierce remains hospitalized."