(MCT) — After more than a month of behind-the-scenes struggles and public skirmishes among members of Drew Peterson's defense team, longtime lead attorney Joel Brodsky withdrew from the case Tuesday after Peterson threatened to fire him, sources said.
Brodsky asked a Will County judge to withdraw after Peterson told Brodsky at a meeting just before Tuesday's court hearing that Brodsky could either leave or be forced out, sources said. Peterson, a former Bolingbrook police sergeant, was convicted last month of drowning his third wife, Kathleen Savio, in her bathtub in 2004.
But Brodsky, who had represented Peterson since shortly after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacy, vanished in 2007, insisted after the hearing that he wasn't pushed out.
"On the contrary, Drew said absolutely nobody in the world knows the facts and the record in this case better than I," Brodsky said. "What we have here is a situation where unfounded allegations that have been made are interfering with the movement of this case and the focus of this case."
The reference was to a motion filed this month seeking a new trial for Peterson based on Brodsky's alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. The motion alleged that Brodsky repeatedly lied to Peterson, forced him to engage in damaging pretrial publicity and threatened to reveal unspecified information if Peterson fired him.
And at Peterson's trial, Brodsky, whose first murder case was Peterson's high-profile prosecution, called a witness who several jurors said convinced them that Peterson was guilty of murder. Will County's top prosecutor called the testimony "a gift from God," while another Peterson defense lawyer dubbed it "one of the worst mistakes in the history of jurisprudence."
"All the allegations up to now, public allegations, I should say, have been focused on me," Brodsky said outside court Tuesday. "And I guess as lead counsel, I mean, the captain of the ship has to take responsibility."
Brodsky seemed to hold out hope of possibly returning to the case later. "Maybe when this thing is all over, who knows?" he said.
In court Tuesday, Brodsky told Judge Edward Burmila that he would like to "temporarily withdraw" from the case. When Burmila informed him "there is no such thing," Brodsky said he would like to withdraw as Peterson's attorney.
"I have always put Mr. Peterson's interests first," Brodsky, who once suggested a "Win a Date with Drew" contest, told the judge. "It's in Mr. Peterson's interest to have new and independent counsel take a fresh look at the record."
Brodsky's replacement, experienced criminal defense lawyer David Peilet, said he met with Peterson several times over the past few weeks about a possible appeal.
Peilet told Burmila about the defense team's breakdown over the past few weeks.
"It probably comes as no shock or surprise to your honor that there has been a fracturing on the defense team," Peilet told the judge. Outside the courtroom, he commended Brodsky for withdrawing and said the defense team infighting will stop.
"There will be no more public finger-pointing and disunity in this defense effort," he said.
Veteran criminal defense attorneys Joseph Lopez and Steve Greenberg, who had publicly feuded with Brodsky, will remain on the defense team. Also joining Peterson's legal team is John Heiderscheidt, who began practicing law less than a year ago.
Heiderscheidt declined comment outside court.
Lopez said Brodsky made a smart choice.
"He did the right thing. He stepped down from a high-profile case and it was in the best interest of Drew Peterson," Lopez said. "And I think that in a situation like this, rather than trying to castigate Mr. Brodsky for any past, we should commend him because we have to look forward to the future."
Peilet will lead the defense team's efforts on appeal and said one possible avenue Peterson may pursue is asking for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
But Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said he was confident that Peterson's conviction will be upheld on appeal.
"I'm not the least bit concerned about any motion filed relative to ineffective assistance of counsel," he said.
When asked if he would miss Brodsky, Glasgow, who often seemed unhappy with the former lead attorney's numerous media appearances, held back a smile.
"Well, ironically, I have to say no," Glasgow said.