WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Wednesday refused to delay the jury trial of Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Rhodes, the founder of the right-wing Oath Keepers group, had filed a motion to replace his lawyer and delay his Sept. 27 trial with co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, Jessica Watkins and Thomas Caldwell. Rhodes wanted to replace James Lee Bright and Phillip Linder with Edward Tarpley, who claimed that Bright and Linder were not prepared for the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who will oversee the trial, said Wednesday that granting Rhodes' request would create "havoc" and that a delay would push the trial back to at least next summer given how many cases are on the docket, including trials for other members of the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys in connection with the riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and hundreds more Capitol attack cases.
“Jan. 6 has committed a massive traffic jam of cases, and that is just the reality of it,” Mehta said.
Several members of the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy, including William Todd Wilson, who told a judge that Rhodes was on the phone with a Trump intermediary on the night of Jan. 6 and tried to speak with Trump directly.
Mehta noted Wednesday that 150 potential jurors were coming in next week to fill out questionnaires ahead of the Sept. 27 trial. He said that Tarpley was welcome to join Bright and Linder on the defense team but that the two original lawyers would be representing Rhodes during the trial.
"If Mr. Rhodes wants to put two other lawyers at the table with him, we can make room. We've got enough tables. Come on — it's a big group," Mehta said.
Bright, however, said he and Linder did not want to work with Tarpley.
"Mr. Linder and I will be ready. We will be present. We will do our damnedest to give you a good trial," Bright said. "I do not want Ed Tarpley sitting at that table."
Another complicating factor for Rhodes is the recent arrest of Kellye SoRelle, the Oath Keepers’ general counsel, who was indicted and arrested last week and was to have been a key part of his defense. The charges against SoRelle could affect Rhodes’ case, his attorneys said.
“Every time we put someone on the witness list, they get indicted,” Linder said.
SoRelle told NBC News that she had spoken with Rhodes' team and had planned to testify but that the situation has changed since her arrest.
Asked whether her indictment changed her calculus about whether to testify in Rhodes' trial, SoRelle said: "Hell yeah, it does. You don't give the DOJ free shots at your ass."
SoRelle said she now plans to invoke her Fifth Amendment rights.