Judge who delivered the only acquittals so far in Jan. 6 cases set to oversee another trial

Judge who delivered the only acquittals so far in Jan. 6 cases set to oversee another trial thumbnail

Gates: January 6 “a huge blight on our democracy”

Gates says January 6 was “a huge blight on our democracy” 02: 57

Washington – The Delaware man accused of parading a Confederate flag throughout the U.S. Capitol building during the January 6 attack is set to stand trial next month with his son. They will be tried not before a jury of 12 of their peers, but before a judge who will be the sole arbiter of their fate, court records indicate.

Kevin Seefried and his son, Hunter – who pleaded not guilty to multiple counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding and disorderly conduct – will appear before Judge Trevor McFadden on June 13, 2022, in a bench trial. McFadden will hear testimony and evidence from both sides, question witnesses, and render a final verdict.

Of the six Jan. 6 cases to be tried and completed so far, only two were bench trials. McFadden was randomly assigned to both cases. Unlike the other four juries, McFadden acquitted one defendant in all six Jan. 6 cases and another defendant in one of the two charges against him.

Juries have convicted all four defendants who faced jury trials, on all counts, each in a matter of hours.

“The extraordinary circumstance of so many criminal defendants in cases related by the same background facts and largely the same legal arguments before a single judge gives these defendants a huge advantage,” George Washington University law professor Catherine Ross said, adding that these defendants likely already know and take into account how a judge has previously ruled in relatively similar cases.

Defendants cannot select the judges that preside over their cases in any situation. Judges are randomly assigned, but with more than 800 Jan. 6 cases so far charged in the D.C. federal courthouse, such overlap is unavoidable.

Trump Supporters Hold
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. Brent Stirton / Getty Images

Defendant Couy Griffin – a New Mexico county commissioner who was acquitted in March on one of two charges by Judge McFadden – called the ruling a “partial victory” while speaking with supporters in the courtroom shortly after the verdict.

McFadden ruled from the bench that Griffin was guilty of the charge that amounted to knowingly and illegally entering Capitol grounds in the vicinity of then-Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the Capitol building to certify the counting of the Electoral College votes and remained in the Capitol complex during the riot. McFadden found Griffin innocent of the second charge for disorderly conduct. He said that Griffin’s attempt at getting the crowd to pray with him “arguably” was not disorderly but an attempt to calm them down.

When asked by CBS News if he’d recommend others seek a “bench trial”, rather than a jury trial, Griffin said, “If I was anywhere besides Washington, D.C., I’d say go with the jury trial. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to get a fair trial before a jury in Washington, D.C. I’m a strong conservative. “

But Griffin said there is risk when a defendant puts his or her fate in the hands of a single judge as opposed to a jury that must unanimously find an individual guilty in order to convict. He said, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket.” You have twelve baskets when you have a jury trial. Each defendant will have to go through the information and make a decision.

Griffin is scheduled for sentencing on June 17 for the single misdemeanor trespassing charge for which he was convicted by McFadden. CBS News did not reach out to his lawyer for comment.

Trump Supporters Hold
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. Getty Images

Over a dozen defendants have argued the Jan. 6 jury pool won’t give them a fair trial and asked that their cases be moved out of D.C. Judges so far have rejected those claims and in four separate cases, the judges have successfully empaneled juries from Washington, D.C.

McFadden acquitted defendant Matthew Martin, a contractor from New Mexico, of all four misdemeanor charges the Justice Department filed against him. Martin said that he was happy with the verdict and thanked CBS News. I’m eager for my life to be rearranged. “

In his ruling, McFadden cited Martin’s demeanor while inside the Capitol, noting that he did not appear to be screaming or crowding anybody. McFadden also cited video evidence that McFadden said Martin was not physically blocked by police as he entered the Capitol. One even appeared to be waving at him inside. McFadden stated that it was a close call on the charge of entering restricted buildings. McFadden acknowledged Martin had entered the Capitol. However, he stated in his ruling that intent was crucial.

After the verdict, his defense attorney, Dan Cron, said the decision to seek a bench trial before McFadden “could have cut both ways,” adding, “If it’s a jury trial, then all 12 have to convict somebody. A bench trial only allows for one person.

Don Lewis, a New York-based attorney, agrees. He explained that the defense only has one chance to present its case to a judge. Lewis explained that some defendants may choose to have their case heard by a bench judge in high-profile cases such as Jan. 6, when public opinion may already be formed.

“The judge handling the case is obviously a critical factor,” Lewis said.

Other Jan. 6 defendants have also asked judges for bench trials later this year, like Kyle Fitzsimmons, accused of multiple violent crimes against law enforcement. Fitzsimmons pleaded not guilty to the charges and asked for a bench trial. Instead, he asked Judge Rudolph Contreras (an Obama appointee) to decide his guilt. The judge has not yet granted his request.

McFadden has handled other high-profile Jan. 6 cases, too. In September 2021, he ordered the pretrial detention of restaurant owner Pauline Bauer, where she remains while she awaits her trial. Bauer, a Pennsylvanian, is facing lower-level charges but has disrupted the court proceedings with outbursts and used language consistent with “sovereign citizen” who consider themselves to be outside the scope of the federal government. She also violated her release conditions previously. McFadden has been interrupted several times by Bauer, who is from Pennsylvania. She represents herself in this case.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 6: Protesters take over the Inaugural
Protesters take over the Inaugural stage during a protest calling for legislators to overturn the election results in President Donald Trump’s favor at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In the Capitol breach case of Jenny Cudd, McFadden gained attention when he approved Cudd’s request to travel from her home in Midland, Texas, to hold a weekend retreat for her employees in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, despite pretrial release restrictions on her travel. Cudd was charged two misdemeanors. McFadden’s order stated that Cudd did not have a criminal record and that there was no evidence that Cudd was a risk to himself or others. The order gained notoriety because it was issued in February 2021, less than a month after the Capitol attack. Cudd agreed to the court’s order, and eventually pleaded guilty one count of illegal entry. McFadden sentenced her to two months probation and imposed a $5,000 fine.

He also denied separate attempts by both Kevin and Hunter Seefried to dismiss some of the charges against them, paving the way for the upcoming trial.

McFadden was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President Donald Trump in 2017. The Senate confirmed him by a vote of 84-10 on October 30, 2017.

McFadden’s official questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee said he had “volunteered as a vetter for President Trump’s transition team” both before and after Election Day in November (2016).” McFadden wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee, describing his role in the Trump transition team. “ McFadden’s official questionnaire stated that he had reviewed public-source information about potential political appointees to Executive Branch for evidence that could disqualify them or reflect poorly upon the President should they be elected to office. “

According to his court-published biography, prior to his 2017 appointment as a judge on the federal bench, McFadden worked as an attorney in private practice and for the Justice Department, most recently as Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Department’s Criminal Division.

McFadden, the Chief Judge for the D.C. court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., which prosecutes the January 6 defendants, all declined CBS News’ request for comment.

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