Dabney Friedrich Russia probe case: judge publicly slammed the defense.
A judge publicly slammed the defense lawyers for a Russian company criminally charged by special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing the firm’s attorneys of submitting unprofessional and inappropriate court filings attacking Mueller’s office and of unwisely peppering legal briefs with jarring quotes taken from movies like Animal House.
“I’ll say it plain and simple: knock it off,” U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich told lawyers for the Russian company, Concord Management and Consulting, at a brief court hearing in Washington Monday morning.
The tone and content of the submissions from Concord’s combative attorneys, Eric Dubelier and Kate Seikaly, in past months has been unusual for lawyers practicing in federal court. A filing last week quoted both the British 19th Century historian Lord Acton and a slightly sanitized expletive uttered by the somewhat less erudite “Otter,” a fraternity brother in the 1970s classic Animal House.
A stern-faced Friedrich, the newest of President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the district court in Washington, made clear Monday that she was not amused by what she called the “clever quotes.” She also chastised Dubelier for ad hominem attacks on Mueller’s attorneys and other prosecutors in the case.
“I found your recent filings, in particular your reply brief filed Friday, unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective,” the judge said. She suggested the submissions were an effort to bully her into granting pending defense motions to give the owners and officers of Concord greater access to materials Mueller’s office has turned over to permit the defense to prepare for trial.
When Friedrich beckoned Dubelier to the courtroom lectern to address some more technical issues about the exchange of information, he declined to say anything of substance, declaring instead that the judge’s rebuke was so severe that he might need to withdraw from the case. He also accused Friedrich of bias.
“I need to go and discuss this with my client,” said Dubelier, a former federal prosecutor now with law firm Reed Smith. “There appears to be some bias on the part of the court.”
Friedrich insisted that there was no bias and that the defense filings were patently inappropriate, but Dubelier disagreed.
“That’s your opinion,” the defense attorney said.
It appeared that Friedrich called the Monday morning court session in large part to deliver a public dressing-down to Dubelier. After some routine scheduling matters and a brief discussion of what proceedings should be held in open court, the judge ejected the press and members of the public and moved the court into a sealed session.
The courtroom dust-up laid bare some of the tensions created by Concord’s unexpected decision to contest the criminal charges a grand jury acting at Mueller’s request returned in February against the firm, two other Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals. The charges allege a conspiracy to use a disguised social media campaign and some on-the-ground organizing to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Much of the effort was aimed at electing Trump, the indictment alleges, but some actions backed Clinton or simply seemed intended to maximize chaos, conflict and dissension among Americans.
From the outset, Concord’s lawyers have not only fought the legal charges, but used the vehicle of the court filings and open court hearings to mount a public campaign aimed at challenging Mueller’s legitimacy and the validity of the notion that online troublemaking amounts to a criminal conspiracy against the United States, as prosecutors have charged.
Concord’s attorneys and some supporters have noted, however, that the filing of the charges against the three firms and 13 Russians earlier this year also involved a significant amount of public posturing. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally announced the indictment at a Justice Department news conference.
Many inside and outside the Justice Department saw the indictment from the outset as a “name and shame” effort, that was intended to put the Russian government on notice that such conduct would be exposed and pursued by the U.S. The likelihood that any of the defendants would ever appear in a U.S. courtroom seemed remote.