As Drew Peterson awaits sentencing for murder, a new attorney is seeking to overturn his conviction based upon possible mistakes made by his defense team leader, court records show.
Naperville attorney John Paul Carroll filed documents in Will County court today asserting that he now represents the former Bolingbrook police sergeant, who was convicted last month of killing his third wife, Kathleen Savio.
In the documents, Carroll accuses lead defense attorney Joel Brodsky of lying about his courtroom experience, forcing Peterson to engage in pre-trial publicity and ignoring his request for a speedy trial. He also claims that Brodsky threatened to share unspecified information about Peterson if he fired him.
“Attorney Brodsky had lied to Mr. Peterson on a number of occasions and when Mr. Peterson discovered the lies and talked about possibly discharging attorney Brodsky and retaining other counsel, attorney Brodsky indicated that in the event he was discharged, he would be ethically bound to publicly reveal some things that were discussed between him and Mr. Peterson,” the motion states.
The allegations seemed to stun lead attorney Brodsky, who denied the accusations and insisted Peterson did not hire Carroll to handle post-trial motions. Brodsky, who said he spoke with Peterson by phone Tuesday, said Carroll was hired solely to represent Peterson as he tries to preserve his police pension in light of his conviction.
“I can state unequivocally that John Paul Carroll was not authorized to file any motions,” Brodsky said. “Drew is absolutely boggled as to how he could do something like this.”
Court records show that Will County Judge Edward Burmila, who oversaw the trial, granted Carroll permission to meet with Peterson at the Will County jail late last month.
A spokesman for Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow also declined comment, saying prosecutors had not yet seen the motion.
Several jurors have placed Peterson’s conviction directly at Brodsky’s feet, saying the decision to call Savio’s divorce attorney, Harry Smith, tipped the scales in the prosecution's favor. Smith told jurors that Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, asked him if she could get more money in a divorce if she threatened to tell police about her husband’s role in Savio’s death.
Defense co-counsel Steve Greenberg has since referred to Smith’s appearance as “one of the worst mistakes in jurisprudence.”
Burmila, had warned Brodsky that he could be opening Pandora’s Box by putting Smith on the stand. Despite that caution – and against the rest of the defense team’s advice – Brodsky called Smith anyway.
“Mr. Peterson did not want, suggest, agree to or authorize attorney Brodsky to call attorney Harry Smith as a witness for the defense,” the motion states.
To win an ineffective counsel claim, Peterson must show that Brodsky’s representation fell below acceptable standards and that the outcome might have been different because of it. It will be an uphill battle for him, however, given that he had five other experienced attorneys on the trial team.
Courts also rarely overturn motions based on tactical moves such as which witnesses to call.
“People can raise ineffective counsel, though it’s so hard to prove,” said Kathleen Zellner,Ö a civil rights attorney who handles criminal appeals and followed the Peterson trial. “But this may be one of the cases where you make that argument.”
Carroll’s involvement in the case marks another twist in a post-conviction drama that has consumed the defense team in recent weeks. One attorney quit last month while Brodsky engaged in a very public war of words with Greenberg over the trial’s outcome.
Peterson fired Greenberg, then asked him to hold off from withdrawing from the case last week during a brief court appearance. The move infuriated Brodsky, who insisted he was still in charge of the case and that Greenberg’s services had been terminated.
Brodsky and Peterson have walked lock step since 2007, when Peterson chose the then-unknown attorney to represent him. The two often acted as comedic duo, yukking it up on radio and TV shows as volunteers scoured the region for Stacy, who vanished nearly five years ago. The media blitz eventually backfired as comments from several interviews were used against him during the trial.
Though an experienced law-enforcement officer, Peterson opted to keep Brodsky as his main attorney after his 2009 arrest despite the fact that he had never tried a murder case. He also appeared to favor Brodsky’s advice over anyone else’s on the defense team.
Carroll said he does not fully understand Peterson’s deep-rooted loyalty to his lead defense attorney.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said. “I don’t have an answer to it.”
Carroll, who says he is not being paid for his services in this matter, says he has no problem with Brodsky staying on the defense team, though some question whether it would weaken Peterson’s argument about Brodsky’s ineffectiveness if he keeps him as his lawyer.
Carroll, a colorful and controversial lawyer, first represented Peterson in December 2007, when he went to court seeking the return of guns and vehicles from authorities investigating Stacy’s disappearance.
Though Brodsky had announced Carroll would join the defense team for the murder case, those plans were scuttled when the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee began investigating him for failing to tell a client about a proposed plea deal.
The matter is still pending before the committee.