White nationalist leader faces jail in legal fees dispute

A judge in Montana has told white nationalist leader Richard Spencer that he faces two weeks in a county jail if he doesn’t reach a plan this week to pay off a legal debt stemming from his divorce case, according to court records.

The state judge presiding over Spencer’s divorce case found him in contempt of court last month over his failure to pay more than $60,000 in fees owed to Joyce Funda, the court-appointed “guardian ad litem” who represented the interests of Spencer’s two children.

Judge Heidi Ulbricht said Spencer can “purge that contempt” and avoid a $500 fine and 14 days in jail if he reaches an agreement with Funda by Saturday for a payment plan, according to a transcript of a May 19 hearing.

The possible jail term and debt compound Spencer’s mounting legal and financial troubles. He told a federal judge last week that his notoriety has made it difficult to raise money for his defense against a “financially crippling” lawsuit over violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, nearly three years ago.

Spencer disputes the amount of money he owes Funda in the divorce case and is confident he can avoid any jail time.

“I have every confidence that we will reach an agreement and this will be quickly forgotten and under the bridge,” he said Wednesday.

Spencer, who was scheduled to speak at the “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017, popularized the term “alt-right” to describe a loosely connected fringe movement of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. Spencer 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. But he has kept a relatively low profile since he suspended a college tour in 2018 after violent clashes overshadowed one of his campus speeches.

After Spencer’s ex-wife, Nina Koupriianova, filed the divorce proceedings in June 2018, the court in Flathead County, Montana, appointed Funda to serve as the guardian ad litem.

The judge said Spencer had agreed to pay Funda’s fees and did not file a written challenge to the amount she billed for her work on the case before the couple reached a divorce settlement in December.

Funda said she has billed for 571 hours at an hourly rate of $150 for a total of nearly $86,000 in fees for her work on the divorce case since October 2018. Spencer has paid more than $26,200 but refused to pay for the remaining $60,236, she said.

“I did not take new business because of this case,” Funda said. “This was my life for 14 months.”

Spencer, who represented himself at the May 19 hearing, 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.

Spencer later sent a text message to Funda in which he said he has “no ability to pay” and would not have agreed to pay a guardian ad litem “if it were going to bankrupt me,” according to a screenshot Funda attached to a court filing.

The lawyer who represents Spencer in the civil lawsuit over the Charlottesville violence has asked to withdraw from the case, saying Spencer owes him a significant amount of money in legal fees and has not been cooperating adequately. Last Thursday, Spencer told U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe in Virginia that the lawsuit has been “extremely expensive” and a “huge burden” for him.

Spencer’s ex-wife has accused him of physically, verbally and emotionally abusing her throughout their eight-year marriage. In a court filing for the divorce case, Koupriianova said Spencer once left her with bruises after dragging her out of bed and down stairs in 2011. She also said he “attacked” and bruised her again in 2014, when she was four months pregnant with their first child.

In a court filing, Spencer said he disputes “many of her assertions.”

“More importantly, none of the allegations of ‘abuse’ have anything to do with my children,” he said.

Funda said this has been the most difficult case of her career but doesn’t hold any grudges against Spencer, whom she described as a good father. She said she told the judge she does not want Spencer to go to jail but needs to get paid.

“I’m not out to get him,” she said. “I just want this to go away.”