Rittenhouse-affiliated social media raising legal questions ahead of jury trial

KENOSHA, Wis. (CBS 58) – Jury selection is set to begin in March for the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen accused of killing two people and injuring another during protests following the shooting of Jacob Blake last summer, but some are concerned about social media posts affiliated with Rittenhouse affecting public opinion and the juror pool.

The Free Kyle USA Twitter account and website helps raise funds for Rittenhouse as well as share updates on the teenager.

Recent activity includes updates that Rittenhouse is focused on school, planning on attending college in the fall, exercising extensively and raising a puppy donated to the family. But some tweets and other content mentions events and actions surrounding the focus of the case.

It’s an issue raising legal questions.

Julius Kim, a managing partner at Kim & Lavoy, told CBS 58 defendants have a right to free speech and are not restricted from saying anything leading up to their trial, although legal advice often means defendants do not publicly share anything regarding their case.

It’s different for attorneys and legal team members. The state Supreme Court has stated rules of attorneys' professional conduct.

“The rules give attorneys very clear guidance on what statements might be appropriate and what statements might not be appropriate in terms of pre-trial publicity,” Kim said.

The caution comes if what attorneys or legal team members say in public before a trial may affect the pool of jurors, in this case, eligible members of Kenosha County, where the case is being tried.

It’s ultimately up to a judge in a case to decide if statements are appropriate or not and if something like a gag order is needed.

“A judge is going to guard and protect the jury pool in Kenosha County so that Kyle Rittenhouse and the state of Wisconsin gets a fair trial in this matter,” Kim told CBS 58. “And a judge doesn’t want those jurors to be prejudiced or biased or walk into court with preconceived notions with one side or the other.”

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger and Kimberley Motley, who represents one of the plaintiffs in the case, did not want to comment on this story.

Mark Richards, the attorney for Rittenhouse, replied to CBS 58 in an email to clarify who is on his legal team, saying he and Corey Chirafisi are on the defense team.

Richards added Robert Barnes, an attorney from Los Angeles, is “handling some civil matters around a proper accounting of monies raised for Kyle’s defense.”

Barnes has appeared on internet shows voicing support for Rittenhouse and gone as far to criticize the prosecution.

“The way this prosecutor was intending, by his course of behavior, was to legally lynch Kyle before he could have his day in court,” Barnes said in a video on conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s YouTube page.

Kim said criticism of prosecution is also common and mostly considered fair game, but cautioned again that if coming from an attorney directly involved with litigation, it may lead to action from a judge.

Kim added whether or not tweets or other social media content cross any ethical boundaries comes down to who is writing them or who is directing them to be written.

As long as the attorneys directly involved with litigation are not participating, Kim said it’s essentially fair game.

Rittenhouse is next due in court on March 11. Jury selection is scheduled to begin later that month.

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