Chicago Tribune, Published August 12 2012
Drew Peterson defense team embraces media spotlightCHICAGO — Each day of Drew Peterson’s murder trial, his defense team argues his case for several hours in front of jurors in a tiny Will County courtroom. More often than not, they also spend at least a few minutes each day making their case in front of a bank of television cameras that beam their avowals of innocence to the world.
Peterson’s lawyers, especially trio of lead attorneys Joel Brodsky, Joseph Lopez and Steve Greenberg, mirror their client’s embrace of the media spotlight. Peterson, the former Bolingbrook, Ill., police sergeant charged with drowning his third wife, Kathleen Savio, did interviews on several national TV shows before his arrest in 2009.
Brodsky, Lopez and Greenberg appear almost daily on “In Session,” a TruTV show that is broadcasting up to six hours of commentary of Peterson coverage daily. Lopez is blogging the trial for the Chicago Sun-Times and occasionally tweets during breaks in the trial or on his ride home.
Lopez’s willingness to share his evening plans and lunch menus with the press has not meant Team Peterson has always been pleased with the media’s coverage. On Tuesday, Greenberg returned to the courthouse fuming about scathing commentary from Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro that aired the previous weekend, about the same time Nancy Grace of cable network HLN was badgering Brodsky on her show.
“These pundits have a single-mindedness in trying to see people convicted regardless of what’s fair and not fair. They’ve already made up their minds that he’s guilty,” said Greenberg, who challenged former prosecutor Grace to interview him, in person.
Greenberg got no chance to spar with the bombastic, controversial Grace last week, though he did appear at least three times on “In Session” — which is owned by the same parent company as HLN.
If it might seem like an unseemly embrace, the dance between defense lawyers and the press is a time-honored one, said Northwestern University journalism professor Jack Doppelt.
While prosecutors are barred by ethical rules — and the risk of providing grounds for an appeal — from offering more than the most vanilla commentary in a criminal trial, defense lawyers can say pretty much anything they want, Doppelt said. No one may listen, but they could be helping their clients by doing so.
“It’s not unusual for a defense attorney to say, ‘My client is getting killed out in the world (outside the courtroom), and I have a responsibility to rehabilitate their reputation,’ ” Doppelt said.
High-profile cases from Lizzie Borden to Casey Anthony always proceed on two tracks, one in the courtroom and one in the press. “Most attorneys in most cases ignore the second track,” Doppelt said.
Brodsky and Greenberg typically will stop for the assembled camera crews and field questions each day on their way into the courthouse, and the entire five-attorney defense team will gather for the media at lunch and the end of the day.
The sometimes rollicking critique of the prosecution’s efforts often includes barbs at witnesses, mirroring the glibness Peterson himself displayed about his ex-wife’s death until his arrest.
Greenberg on Thursday gave a blunt assessment of testimony by Mary Parks, a friend of Savio’s who broke down on the witness stand: “It was made up. … How could you believe anything she said? And when she thought she was in trouble, she started to cry.”
Lopez’s highest-profile client prior to taking Peterson’s case was mobster Frank Calabrese Sr. in the 2007 Operation Family Secrets trial, during which Lopez was ordered to stop posting blog entries after prosecutors complained about his sarcastic commentary. During the Peterson trial, he has been willing to debate points of evidence with court watchers and complain about his coverage on Twitter.
“Now the press has called me a mob lawyer due to all the wiseguys I have represented,” he recently tweeted. “(It’s) not mob but Outfit here in Chi Town.”
Attorneys see other benefits to an aggressive media offensive campaign, including a chance to bias the jury pool, annoy close-lipped prosecutors, and, not least, get free advertising.
“Some of them may be thinking they’re going to get a book deal or a movie deal after the trial” — Peterson has already been the subject of several books and a TV movie — “and in this case, they probably will,” Doppelt said.
Shari Diamond, a Northwestern University School of Law professor and jury expert, said the saturation coverage of the trial might seem like a threat to the fairness of the proceedings, but she said studies of jurors provide little evidence they are influenced by the cavalcade of coverage a sensational trial generates.
“You can talk about what impact this has on the justice system writ large, but jurors are really only focused on getting their one case right,” Diamond said.