After plaintiff Jason Kessler showed up 45 minutes late to federal court for his own motion to order Charlottesville to grant him a permit to hold an event the weekend of August 12, it took the judge about two seconds to grant Kessler’s attorney’s request to withdraw the motion.
“He’s not going to hold a rally here August 12,” said Kessler’s Cinncinati, Ohio, attorney James Kolenich, who was himself late to court and earned a reprimand from Judge Norman Moon.
Kolenich said he could not promise that his client, the organizer of last summer’s deadly Unite the Right rally, wouldn’t walk around town with a small group of people, which does not require a permit.
City Councilor Wes Bellamy said he was relieved the motion was withdrawn. “I couldn’t be more pleased,” he said.
“We’re going to be prepared,” said Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney, who still expects a large number of people here that weekend.
On December 11, City Manager Maurice Jones denied a permit application from Kessler for August 11 and 12 events running from 6am to 11pm in the former Lee/Emancipation park, now known as Market Street Park, citing public safety concerns. He also denied several other applicants for that weekend.
Kessler filed a suit against the city, and today’s hearing was to get a judge to issue a temporary injunction ordering the city to give him a permit.
Around half a dozen attorneys were gathered on the city’s side of the courtroom, but on Kessler’s side, attorney Elmer Woodard was alone, with both his client and co-counsel MIA.
Woodard proceeded, and argued that the city’s denial of Kessler’s application for a permit at “Lee Park” was content based and unconstitutional.
Judge Moon had questions about the length of the rally, the number of people Kessler expected and exactly what Kessler wanted the court to order.
Woodard said Kessler wanted a two-hour protest at 2pm August 11 at “Lee Park,” which he insisted was “not a burden on the city.” The attorney pooh-poohed the city’s public safety concerns, and took issue with its “stony refusal to grant” Kessler a permit.
Moon asked if Kessler had an organization. Kessler founded Unity and Security for America, and Woodard said Kessler was its only member. The attorney estimated between 200 and 300 people would show up.
“His deposition said 24 people,” the judge pointed out.
“If 24 people show up, he doesn’t need a permit,” said Woodard. “If it’s 51, he does.”
The city’s DC-based attorney, John Longstreth, said Kessler’s plans were “a moving target” and that apparently Kessler believed his initial application for a two-day permit was “an opening offer to negotiate and then he goes to federal court to get a judge’s order.”
Longstreth maintained that Kessler wanted a redo of last year’s event that “led to riot and disorder,” of which Kessler made fun. “Last year was an unimaginable disaster for Charlottesville,” he said.
Kessler was going on the darkest regions of the internet and “trolling” people who are violent and extreme, said Longstreth. “He has no idea who he’s stirring up.”
It was during the city’s opening statement that Kolenich appeared, and his response to a question about documents he had not filed caused Moon to ask Kolenich if he was contemptuous of the hearing.
“I would like to know why we’re here today,” said the exasperated judge. “It’s just not proper to ask for a permit for two days in the park and then say two hours is enough.”
Moon continued to scold the tardy attorney and said he didn’t want recriminations and name calling. “Your client isn’t here and you weren’t here.” He called a 10-minute recess.
During the break, Kessler showed up, and once court was in session, Kolenich said he was withdrawing the motion.
Afterward, in response to a reporter’s question about Kessler, Kolenich said, “I don’t know if he has mental health issues.” And when asked why Kessler was late, the attorney responded, “No comment.”
Kolenich said he advised Kessler to withdraw the motion because there were issues with discovery.
He also said he knows Kessler “is hated in this community” and that Kessler regretted inviting Nazis to last year’s event, but is unable to apologize.
And in a strange side note, Kolenich said to not link to news site Cincinnati.com. That prompted a question about whether the attorney was anti-Semitic. “Yes, Mr. Shapira,” said Kolenich to Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira. That, said Kolenich, was “because I’m a Catholic.”
On July 25, Woodard filed a motion to withdraw from representing Kessler on the grounds that he “has not met his financial responsibilities and that the representation has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.” According to the motion, Kessler indicated he would substitute local counsel for his lawsuit against the city for denying his permit, which is still on the books.
And on Twitter, Kessler said he intends to focus exclusively on an August 12 rally in Washington, DC.
Updated July 26 with Woodard’s withdrawal.