Drew Peterson request for new trial to focus on 'botched' defense of Joel Brodsky

Peterson, Brodsky.

February 19, 2013 4:18:48 PM PST
Drew Peterson's former lawyer, Joel Brodsky, was called to testify Tuesday as the convicted murderer's new defense team asks for a retrial.

Peterson, wearing blue jail garb, appeared in the Will County Courthouse to request a retrial Tuesday morning. His current attorney, Steve Greenberg, argued that Peterson's 2012 trial was botched by the lead attorney, Joel Brodsky.

Judge Edward Burmila said he needed to raise the question of a conflict of interest now that Greenberg is being sued for defamation by Brodsky. The two worked together on Peterson's earlier defense.

Judge Burmila asked Peterson if he had confidence in his defense, to which the convicted killer responded, "Yes, your honor." Satisifed with that answer, Burmila then moved the hearing along.

The first person called to the stand in the hearing for a retrial was another attorney, Reem Odeh, who was once Brodsky's partner.

Odeh testified that Brodksy made threats to her before Tuesday's testimony.

She also claimed that Brodsky physically attacked her when she took a Peterson document from their law office when she quit the firm.

Brodsky denies all of the allegations.

Brodsky called to the witness stand

It's all about Joel Brodsky. Drew Peterson's former lead attorney is at the center of the former Bolingbrook cop's motion for a new trial in what has become a bitter feud between attorneys.

Steve Greenberg is leading the charge against his former colleague by arguing Brodsky botched the case.

Greenberg surprised Brodsky by calling him to the witness stand but there were no fireworks.

He never asked Brodsky about the decision to call Kathleen Savio's divorce attorney Harry Smith to the witness stand during the trial.

During the 2012 trial, Brodsky called Stacy's divorce attorney Harry Smith as a witness. Smith testified that Stacy told him Peterson killed Savio. Several jurors at the five-week trial say Smith's testimony clinched Peterson's guilty verdict.

The hearing's focus is expected to be on the decision to call Smith as a defense witness. Greenberg says that was Brodsky's decision; Brodsky says all the defense lawyers agreed on it.

"We were absolutely not involved in that decision," Greenberg said.

"Everybody agreed every lawyer agreed to call Harry Smith," Brodsky said.

Attorneys spar over Drew Peterson defense

Before ever setting foot in the courthouse Tuesday, former Peterson lead attorney Joel Brodsky served a defamation lawsuit against Steven Greenberg. Greenberg, who was Brodsky's co-counsel in the 2012 trial, is now Peterson's lead defense attorney.

"What does it say you that he waits till all the cameras are here and then has someone walk up and serve me? I mean, you know, come on guys, we got to go do for our client," Greenberg.

The two have been battling it out publically since Greenberg filed a motion for a re-trial in Peterson's murder conviction, accusing Brodsky of botching the defense. At issue: Brodsky's decision to call Stacy Peterson's divorce attorney, who testified that Stacy told him Peterson killed Savio.

"For it to come down to this type of unfounded bashing is just ridiculous and unfortunate," Brodsky said.

Greenberg admitted Tuesday it was a last ditch argument for a new trial before Peterson's sentencing hearing.

"We're definitely facing an uphill battle today, but I'm confident I know the law is on our side. I know the facts are on our side, and some people say it's a cold day in you know what when things happen. Well, it's cold today so maybe it will happen," Greenberg said.

Among those the defense called to the stand Tuesday was a law school teacher who testified that Brodsky had violated ethical norms by allegedly signing a contract 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, a professor at Chicago's John Marshall Law School told the judge.

Defense alleges Brodsky 'botched' 2012 trial

Under questioning by Brodsky, Smith told jurors that Stacy Peterson had asked him a question before she vanished: Could she squeeze more money out of her husband in divorce proceedings if she threatened to tell police that he murdered Savio three years earlier?

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.

Savio's death was initially deemed an accident, a freak slip in the tub. But after Stacy Peterson vanished, Savio's body was re-examined and her death was reclassified as a homicide.

During Smith's testimony, he repeatedly stressed how Stacy Peterson seemed to sincerely believe her husband had killed Savio. Prosecutors could barely contain their joy, with chief state's prosecutor James Glasgow calling it "a gift from God." And some jurors said later that Smith's testimony persuaded them to convict Drew Peterson.

Defense lawyer v. defense lawyer

"A new team of lawyers might accuse an old team of lawyers of making mistakes at the trial - but lawyers on the same trial team blaming each other? I've never heard of anything like this," defense attorney Gal Pissetzky said. Pissetzky is not connected to the Peterson case.

The feud escalated earlier this month when Brodsky filed a defamation lawsuit against Greenberg, which claims Greenberg became "irrationally fixated and obsessed with destroying Brodsky" and held Brodsky up to "great public scorn, hatred, contempt (and) ridicule."

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."

The current acrimony is in stark contrast with the beginning of the trial, when the limelight-seeking defense team faced the media horde together. Several times, they insisted that Stacy Peterson - whose body was never found - could show up any day to take the stand.

Among the accusations against Brodsky, chief is that he was so bent on publicizing himself that he pressed Peterson into a damaging pretrial media blitz.

Judges rarely grant retrials, even in egregious cases of missteps. And when they do, it is usually because an attorney didn't make a certain argument or call a witness who might have exonerated a defendant, explained Kathleen Zellner, another Chicago-area defense attorney.

"It's usually not for something an attorney did but for what they did not do," she said.

But seemingly nothing can be ruled out in this case, which has been full of oddities since first making headlines in 2007. Peterson's trial was the first in Illinois history where prosecutors built their case on hearsay, thanks to a new law tailored specifically for the case, dubbed "Drew's Law."

Still, most legal observers and the Savio Family agreed that the motion for a new trial is a longshot, at best.

"Nothing in this case has been usual," Pissetzky said. "But the chances for this motion to succeed are slim to none - and slim just left the building."

"I'm feeling good about the way things are going," Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.