JOLIET – The attorney who led the defense team in Drew Peterson’s 2012 murder trial sat in the witness box Tuesday and faced questions from his former co-counsel – the latest turn in a long-running legal saga full of twists.
The rarity of former legal colleagues facing off as adversaries came at a hearing to decide if Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police officer, should get a new trial in the slaying of his third wife.
His current attorneys contend that former lead attorney Joel Brodsky botched Peterson’s trial, which ended in September with jurors convicting Peterson of murdering his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Witnesses during the hearing Tuesday included Brodsky, a law professor who teaches ethics and a spectator during last year’s trial. The hearing resumes today.
Peterson, 59, faces a maximum 60-year prison term for killing Savio, who was found dead in her bathtub. The former police sergeant gained notoriety after his younger fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, vanished in 2007. Her disappearance led authorities to exhume Savio’s body and change the cause of death from an accident to a homicide.
The most dramatic moment at Tuesday’s hearing came when current Peterson attorney Steve Greenberg announced that Brodsky was his next witness. Brodsky at first did not appear, and eventually the judge ordered him to the witness stand. Under questioning, Brodsky conceded Peterson received money for media appearances before Peterson was jailed in 2009.
As the day’s proceeding’s ended, lead prosecutor James Glasgow was asked by reporters if he knew of other cases where one-time legal allies ended up facing each other in court.
“In 30 years, I have never seen this before,” he said.
As he left, Greenberg said he didn’t enjoy putting a fellow lawyer on the stand – but added he felt compelled on Peterson’s behalf.
“It’s uncomfortable every time you have to throw stones at a lawyer,” Greenberg said. “I don’t like to do it. ... But this time, it has merit.”
Brodsky told reporters he didn’t think questions about whether he or Peterson profited by the decision to go on a talk-show circuit proved he had badly represented Peterson.
“[That’s] real, real weak,” he said about the defense contention. “What do they have [against me]? Nothing.”
Earlier Tuesday, a professor at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School told the judge that Brodsky had violated ethical norms by allegedly agreeing to split future book and movie proceeds with Peterson years before the case even went to trial.
“It seems that this is over the line,” Clifford Scott-Rudnick said.
Cutting business deals with clients, he said, raises the danger that lawyers will act in their own business interest rather than in their client’s legal interest.
In a phone interview later, Brodsky said he never sealed deals with Peterson regarding books or movies.
“There was no such agreement anywhere about splitting future profits,” he said. Any payments Peterson received related to publicity, Brodsky added, were used to pay Peterson’s legal bills.
The lawyerly feud escalated earlier this month when Brodsky filed a defamation lawsuit against Greenberg, which claims Greenberg became “irrationally fixated and obsessed with destroying Brodsky.”
In an open letter to Brodsky in September, Greenberg accused him of “single-handedly” losing the trial, adding he “wafted the greatest case by ignorance, obduracy and ineptitude.”
Another accusation by Peterson’s current attorneys is that it was Brodsky’s decision alone to call divorce lawyer Harry Smith as a witness — testimony that badly backfired on Peterson’s cause at trial.
A spectator at the 2012 trial, Jennifer Spohn told the judge Tuesday that she overheard Greenberg and Brodsky talking in the hall outside court, Greenberg cursing and telling Brodsky he was upset Smith was taking the stand.
“He said, ‘I filed 74 .... motions to keep Smith from testifying, and now you’re going to undo it,’” she said.
Brodsky hoped Smith’s testimony that Stacy Peterson allegedly sought to extort her husband would dent the credibility of statements she made to others that Drew Peterson threatened to kill her.
During his testimony, though, Smith repeatedly stressed how Stacy Peterson seemed to sincerely believe her husband had killed Savio. Some jurors later said that Smith’s testimony persuaded them to convict Drew Peterson.
Most experts say Peterson’s chances of winning a retrial are slim.
If Judge Edward Burmila rejects the motion for a retrial, he has said he would move on quickly to Peterson’s sentencing.