White nationalist leader avoids jail over unpaid legal fees

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2017, file photo, White nationalist leader Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. A federal magistrate judge has agreed to let an attorney withdraw from representing Spencer in a lawsuit over violence that erupted at a rally in Virginia nearly three years ago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe’s order on Monday, June 22, 2020, leaves Spencer to defend himself against the lawsuit, which names him as one of the organizers of the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2017, file photo, White nationalist leader Richard Spencer speaks at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. A federal magistrate judge has agreed to let an attorney withdraw from representing Spencer in a lawsuit over violence that erupted at a rally in Virginia nearly three years ago. U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe’s order on Monday, June 22, 2020, leaves Spencer to defend himself against the lawsuit, which names him as one of the organizers of the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer has avoided a jail term in Montana by resolving a legal debt connected to his divorce case, court records show.

Spencer had owed more than $60,000 in fees to Joyce Funda, the court-appointed “guardian ad litem” who represented the interests of Spencer’s two children in the divorce proceedings.

The state judge presiding over the divorce case agreed Tuesday to vacate an order in which she had found Spencer in contempt of court over the unpaid fees. Spencer had faced a $500 fine and 14 days in a county jail if he failed to reach an agreement with Funda for a payment plan, Judge Heidi Ulbricht had ruled.

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Funda said in a court filing Tuesday that Spencer “purged the contempt finding by paying a satisfactory amount” to her. She didn’t disclose the amount but called it “full and final settlement of outstanding fees” for her work on the case in Flathead County, Montana.

“This was always a private dispute between Funda and myself; thus I have no desire to speak about it publicly, other than saying I’m thankful that it has been resolved,” Spencer said in a text message Wednesday.

Spencer popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. He became the face of white nationalism in the U.S. when he addressed a conference in Washington after President Donald Trump’s election and shouted, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” as audience members flashed Nazi salutes.

Spencer still faces separate legal troubles over his involvement in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Victims of violence that erupted on the streets of Charlottesville sued Spencer and other far-right extremists connected to the white nationalist rally.

On Monday, a federal magistrate judge in Virginia agreed to let an attorney withdraw from representing Spencer in the lawsuit. The lawyer, John DiNucci, said Spencer owed him a significant amount of money in legal fees and hadn’t been cooperating adequately. The order leaves Spencer to defend himself against the lawsuit.

Spencer’s ex-wife, Nina Koupriianova, filed the divorce proceedings in June 2018. They reached a settlement in December.

Funda said she billed a total of nearly $86,000 in fees for her work on the divorce case since October 2018. She told the judge last month that Spencer had paid her more than $26,200 but refused to pay for the remaining $60,236.

Spencer told the judge he could not afford a lawyer and thought the fees would be waived “if the responsible party is indigent.”

“I can’t invent money out of thin air,” he said, according to the transcript of a May 19 hearing.

Koupriianova had accused Spencer of physically, verbally and emotionally abusing her throughout their eight-year marriage. In a court filing, Spencer said he disputes “many of her assertions." He said in a text message Wednesday that he is grateful for Funda's help in “overturning” his ex-wife's "baseless accusations and insinuations against me,”

“Funda was extremely helpful in securing my rights to co-parenting and joint custody. For that, I’m grateful," he texted Wednesday.

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