Brodsky called to witness stand in former client Drew Peterson’s case
BY JON SEIDEL, DAN ROZEK AND JANET LUNDQUIST Sun-Times Media February 19, 2013 11:12PM
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:49AM
Joel Brodsky and Steve Greenberg fought side-by-side all summer to keep Drew Peterson out of prison.
Five months later, Peterson has been convicted of his third wife’s murder and the defense lawyers have bitterly split, with Greenberg blaming Brodsky for their loss and Brodsky retaliating with a defamation lawsuit.
And now the former co-counsels have finally faced off in a Joliet courtroom as Greenberg called Brodsky to the witness stand Tuesday while fighting to get Peterson a new trial. Brodsky resisted at first but finally relented and answered questions from Greenberg about payments made from a trust fund he set up for Peterson’s defense.
Greenberg never asked Brodsky about the fateful decision to call divorce attorney Harry Smith to testify at Peterson’s trial, though, and Brodsky later scoffed at Greenberg’s attempt to save Peterson from a prison term as high as 60 years.
The fight is expected to continue at the Will County courthouse Wednesday, and State’s Attorney James Glasgow predicted Peterson’s sentencing could begin by the end of the day.
“This is Drew’s last chance before going to prison for probably the rest of his life?” Brodsky said outside the courthouse. “It’s not very impressive, I’ll tell you that.”
Peterson watched the hearing passively from the defense table in his blue jail jumpsuit. The showdown he witnessed wasn’t quite as dramatic as expected, but it was one the likes of which Glasgow said he hasn’t seen in 30 years. Still, Greenberg insisted Tuesday’s proceedings weren’t about him and Brodsky.
“This is between Drew Peterson and the people of the state of Illinois,” Greenberg said.
A Will County jury convicted Peterson in September for the 2004 drowning of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Authorities ruled her death a slip-and-fall accident until Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy, disappeared in 2007. Savio’s body was exhumed a short time later, reexamined and her death ruled a homicide. Peterson still insists he had nothing to do with it.
Nevertheless, Judge Edward Burmila could sentence Peterson this week to spend what could amount to the rest of his life in prison. The only thing standing in the way is Peterson’s request for a new trial, contending Brodsky botched the case by calling Smith to testify. If Burmila shoots down the argument, he could begin Peterson’s sentencing hearing immediately.
Smith offered the bombshell testimony at trial that Stacy Peterson told him her husband killed Savio. Several jurors said after their guilty verdict that Smith’s testimony secured the conviction.
Greenberg said outside the courthouse Tuesday the decision to put Smith on the stand was a “rogue act.” And Burmila heard testimony from a trial watcher who said she overheard Greenberg and Brodsky arguing about whether to call him as a witness. Jennifer Spohn said Greenberg told Brodsky, “I filed 74 f’ing motions to keep Smith from testifying, and now you’re going to undo it all.”
Still, Greenberg publicly defended the decision at the time, and Brodsky told reporters Tuesday he didn’t make the call on his own.
“All the other lawyers agreed plainly to Harry Smith to be called,” Brodsky said.
Though Smith’s testimony is at the center of Peterson’s argument for a new trial, the topic didn’t come up when Greenberg put Brodsky on the stand. Brodsky at first resisted, telling courthouse staff he wouldn’t testify voluntarily and that he was subpoenaed by prosecutors — not Peterson’s lawyers. He relented when Burmila told him “a subpoenaed witness is a subpoenaed witness.”
As he testified, Brodsky shuffled through several pages of spreadsheets detailing transactions involving a trust fund he set up on behalf of Peterson.
He confirmed the transactions included $10,000 paid by ABC television for video and picture licensing fees, $5,901.18 from a book publisher and $15,000 — after Peterson was jailed — from a TV production company.
A web page briefly established to solicit donations for Peterson’s defense also raised 11 cents — after expenses, Brodsky said.
All the cash raised on behalf of Peterson ended up in the bank, Brodsky said.
“Every penny went into the trust account,” Brodsky said.
He acknowledged that some expenses were paid out of the fund, including $885 for a publicist and more than $4,200 for legal fees.
After Greenberg conferred with Peterson, he asked a final question: Did Brodsky have any written authorization for March 2008 payment for his legal fees?
“I’m not sure,” Brodsky replied. “Maybe, maybe not.”
Before calling Brodsky to the stand, Greenberg called on Brodsky’s former law partner, Reem Odeh. Odeh and Brodsky also parted ways on less-than-friendly terms in 2010. She said Brodsky made a threatening comment to her before court Tuesday, and she said he once physically attacked her when she tried to leave their firm with a copy of the publicist’s agreement. Brodsky denied both claims and said she came after him.
Finally, Greenberg called Clifford Scott-Rudnick, a professor who teaches professional responsibility at The John Marshall Law School. He told the courtroom Brodsky violated ethical standards by signing a deal with the publicist and essentially becoming Peterson’s business partner.
“It seems this is over the line,” Scott-Rudnick said.
Brodsky — the man who stood by Peterson ever since the former cop’s pretty young fourth wife disappeared in 2007 never to be heard from again — said it all amounted to a “real weak, weak” argument. When it was over, he said he was disappointed. He said he put five years of work into the case, and he has mixed emotions.
But when asked whether he’d ever represent Drew Peterson in a courtroom again, he chuckled.
“I’d have to think long and hard,” Brodsky said.