(CNN)A conversation between a federal judge and a lawyer for one of the Oath Keepers charged with seditious conspiracy ended in a screaming match on Wednesday, when the lawyer suggested she would argue at trial that her client deleted evidence after the riot because he was directed to by another lawyer.
Juli Haller, who represents Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs, told US District Judge Amit Mehta that she was exploring whether to argue that the Oath Keepers general counsel, Kellye SoRelle, instructed Meggs to delete text messages from his phone after the riot.
Meggs has since been charged with tampering with documents for the alleged act and has pleaded not guilty.
“How is it today, 10 days before trial, I’m first being told you might advance an advice-of-counsel-defense,” Mehta shouted at Haller.
The argument is indicative of the many legal issues that have yet to be resolved before the five leaders of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group head to trial later this month — the first seditious conspiracy trial stemming from January 6.
The trial will be a major test of DOJ’s decision to prosecute the rarely used charge, and the unsettled legal disagreements could implicate how they chose to present their case.
Haller said that she only learned of the allegation after SoRelle, who was federally charged two weeks ago, testified to a grand jury in June. Her testimony has not previously been reported.
SoRelle faces charges including obstruction of an official proceeding and obstructing justice by telling others to delete information from their phones. She has pleaded not guilty.
Mehta said that the allegation itself SoRelle suggested others should delete messages was not new. “I read it in the newspaper months ago,” Mehta shouted at Haller, adding “I’m not buying it” and that “it was in the indictment.”
“Which indictment? The first, second, sixth,” Haller shouted over Mehta. The two continued to cut each other off, Haller alleging that it was new information and Mehta rejecting her arguments. Prosecutors shook their heads fiercely.
Mehta eventually told Haller to sit down, but she did not. Another lawyer suggested a break in the hearing, to which Mehta shouted “no.”
On Thursday morning, Mehta ordered that “Any defendant who intends to assert an advice-of-counsel defense … shall make such disclosure to the government by September 21, 2022.”
Special master request
Mehta rejected another last-minute effort to delay the trial during the hearing as well, including a request from Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes to appoint a “special master” to assist with “manage discovery” in the case.
The request came from Rhodes’ attorney Edward Tarpley, who joined the case just last week during a tumultuous hearing in which Rhodes tried to fire his existing two lawyers.
Mehta rejected the request in court Thursday, chastising Tarpley for asking for the special master for “no apparent reason,” calling the request “mystifying” and questioning whether Tarpley was acting in “good faith.”
“I can’t imagine where the idea came from,” Mehta said.
This story has been updated with additional details.