The first Jan.6 troublemaker to be convicted of a felony appeared in prison Monday to serve his eight-month sentence while mounting a far-reaching legal proposal to undo his guilty plea.
Paul Hodgkins of Florida stormed the United States Capitol during the pro-Trump insurrection and was one of a few dozen rioters to breach the Senate floor shortly after his evacuation. He pleaded guilty to obstructing the Congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory and was sentenced to eight months in prison.
But as his surrender date approached, Hodgkins fired his veteran attorney, hired a new one who only passed the bar last year, and launched an effort to undo his guilty plea and reduce his prison sentence, despite that the judge’s eight-month sentence was far less than the Justice Department’s 1.5-year recommendation.
Hodgkins’ sea change comes as other rioters struggle to accept responsibility and amid growing efforts by Republicans to rewrite the history of January 6. Protesters returned to the Capitol grounds Saturday in support of the few dozen rioters who are in jail before the trial. And prominent figures on the right continue to flood the area with disinformation about the insurrection.
Hodgkins, 38, turned himself in Monday and is now in prison, his attorney said. The attorney declined to say where Hodgkins is serving his sentence, citing concerns for his safety. He is serving his sentence at the Federal Detention Center in Miami, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
“Circled bloodthirsty sharks can feast,” Hodgkin’s defense attorney Carolyn Stewart told CNN in an email Monday. “Haters may rejoice, while everyone else’s prayers are welcome.”
Then-Hodgkins attorney Colonel Patrick Leduc delivered a passionate but ambiguous 30-minute speech at the July 19 sentencing, touching on everything from Abraham Lincoln to “canceling the culture.”
The unconventional approach may have paid off. Although federal guidelines called for about a year or two behind bars, District Judge Randolph Moss reached an agreement in eight months, in part because Hodgkins “accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty exceptionally early,” he said.
A day later, Leduc sailed to the Middle East as part of his service in the Army Reserves. He is currently in Qatar, helping to resettle refugees from Afghanistan. The case seemed over. As part of the plea agreement with the Department of Justice, Hodgkins waived most of his appeal rights. But behind the scenes, a bitter dispute was brewing.
Last month, with Hodgkins’ delivery date fast approaching, he changed his attorneys. He abruptly fired Leduc, who has nearly 30 years of federal litigation experience and as a JAG officer, and retained Stewart, a rookie who only passed the Florida bar exam last November.
Stewart soon told the judge that she would challenge Hodgkins’ sentence on the grounds that Leduc was an ineffective attorney. This was one of the few appeal rights Hodgkins retained under his court settlement. Despite objections from the Justice Department, the judge gave Stewart more time to file an appeal but rejected his last-minute attempt to delay Hodgkins’ delivery date until January.
At a hastily arranged court hearing last Wednesday, Stewart claimed that Leduc perpetuated a “forgery in court” by forging Hodgkins’ signature on some of the guilty plea documents. Stewart, who called the situation “mind-boggling,” said Hodgkins told him “that’s not my signature.”
In previous court filings, Stewart claimed that Leduc intimidated and manipulated Hodgkins into agreeing to the guilty plea, saying “one might wonder which team Mr. Hodgkins’ former attorney was on.” Stewart’s claims are unproven.
Leduc vehemently denied any wrongdoing in an interview with CNN Qatar, where he is currently deployed, and said that Hodgkins personally signed the plea papers in his presence at his Tampa law firm.
“Paul signed the statement, period,” Leduc said. “I would not have done anything that is unethical. No one has ever accused me of doing something that is unethical. I have represented thousands of defendants. I have never done anything without their consent, without their knowledge, or without their permission.”
Federal prosecutors have noted that Hodgkins testified under oath during his au