- A rabbi who stormed the Capitol argued that he should receive a small fine rather than prison time.
- Michael Stepakoff compared his conduct to that of a woman who protested Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
- The Justice Department has recommended that he be sentenced to two weeks in prison.
In Palm Harbor, Florida, Michael Stepakoff is known as "Rabbi Mike" among the congregation at Temple New Jerusalem. In the realm of Tampa Bay area youth sports, he's "Coach Mike" during the basketball and football seasons.
In Washington, DC, the messianic rabbi is among the more than 700 charged in connection with the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which he admitted to unlawfully entering as Congress prepared to certify now-President Joe Biden's defeat of Donald Trump. But, in a court filing ahead of his sentencing next week, Stepakoff stood out with an eye-catching argument from his defense lawyer: Rather than face prison time, the rabbi should have been allowed to pay a $50 fine and have his case dismissed.
The argument came in a court filing this week from Stepakoff's defense lawyer, Marina Medvin, who also accused the Justice Department of creating "public shaming" webpages for Capitol riot defendants — "a modern-day version of tar and feathering," she wrote.
Medvin sought to draw a connection between Stepakoff's case and that of a woman who was arrested in 2018 while protesting Justice Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court. The woman was charged in the District of Columbia's local court, Medvin wrote, but had her case dismissed after paying a $50 fine.
"Mr. Stepakoff should have walked away with a dismissal disposition and a $50 forfeiture after his arrest," like the Kavanaugh protestor, Medvin wrote. "Instead, he has been punished for the duration of one year through supervised release and prosecution, and then convicted under federal law — albeit of a petty offense."
"The most significant difference between the two — politics," she added. "Mr. Stepakoff entered amid a crowd of Trump supporters," whereas the Kavanaugh protestor entered with a progressive women's group.
In the aftermath of the January 6 attack, some Capitol rioters have avoided incarceration entirely while others accused of engaging in violence have received years-long prison terms. On the eve of the first anniversary of the Capitol attack, Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared to address criticism that the Justice Department has taken too lenient an approach toward the January 6 defendants, saying "a necessary consequence of the prosecutorial approach of charging less serious offenses first is that courts impose shorter sentences before they impose longer ones."
Medvin asserted in her court filing this week that Stepakoff had prepaid "in good faith" the $500 fine that has been imposed on multiple low-level January 6 defendants to help cover the cost of repairing the Capitol, "even though Mr. Stepakoff had committed no destruction or direct property damage."
In its own court filing, the Justice Department recommended that Stepakoff receive a two-week prison sentence followed by three years of probation, describing the rabbi as "a former attorney suspended from the practice of law and a member of the clergy." Federal prosecutors urged Judge Rudolph Contreras to also order 60 hours of community service.
The Justice Department noted that Stepakoff saw "warning signs," including other rioters scaling the walls of the Capitol, and entered the building through a doorway 12 minutes after it was forcibly breached. Stepakoff later glorified the January 6 attack on social media and maintains that he was unaware that he was not authorized to enter the Capitol, "despite being educated in the law as a lawyer who practiced criminal law for a decade," prosecutors said.
Medvin said the Justice Department has the "advantageous benefit of hindsight" and that Stepakoff, while in a "roaring crowd, had a limited viewpoint and did not share the advantage of the government's omniscient luxury while living through the moment."
Stepakoff is set to be sentenced on January 20 — the one-year anniversary of Biden's inauguration.