Judge rips Heather Mack attorney over Iowa court sanctions

By Bill Dwyer For Chronicle Media

The Northern District of Illinois federal court building in Chicago.

An angry federal judge took defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback publicly to task Wednesday, June 29 during a status hearing in the murder conspiracy case of former Oak Park native Heather Mack.

Senior Judge Charles R. Norgle was insistent in questioning Steinback regarding a June 6 opinion by Iowa Northern District federal judge C.J. Williams. That opinion and order found Steinback in contempt of court for what the judge said was Steinback’s “lack of candor” and false statements in a criminal case he was defending.

Judge Williams found that Steinback made false statement about medical treatments he’d received that caused him to request several continuances on short notice. When challenged by the judge to provide proof of medical care he received on one occasion and given 30 days to produce it, Steinback did not.

Williams found that Steinback had “repeatedly and willfully violated the courts orders,” and criticized his “lack of candor and misleading behavior with the court,” over the course of repeated requests for continuances based on purported medical issues.

“Only through repeated prodding and pushing by the Court over the course of three hearings did Steinback eventually admit the statements were not true,” Williams wrote. Steinback’s actions, he said, wasted court time that could have been focused on numerous other cases awaiting its attention.

The judge also excoriated Steinback for burdening his client with two long and unproductive round trips from Chicago to Iowa for sentencing. “Steinback’s client… lived in Chicago, approximately four hours from this courthouse. Twice (he) had to steel himself to face a federal sentencing hearing and travel to the courthouse, only to find out that his attorney failed to appear and the hearing was continued…”

“Steinback’s) utter disregard for the welfare of his client is reprehensible,” Williams wrote.

Williams barred Steinback from ever appearing in his courtroom again without permission of the district’s chief Judge. He also fined Steinback $5,000.

Williams further directed that the Iowa court clerk send copies of his 21-page opinion to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee, and court documents related to nearly 40 dockets numbers.

On June 29, Norgle was clearly intent on getting Steinback to answer publicly for the Iowa sanctions and displayed skepticism of Steinback’s answers.

At several points in his questioning, Norgle asked sharply, “Are you being candid with me?” The judge also interrupted Steinback several times as he was replying, saying, “That’s not what I asked you!”

“You are aware of an order entered in Iowa,” a clearly annoyed Norgle asked Steinback. “He ordered you to pay a fine of $5,000.”

When Steinback stated that the Iowa judge “identified some areas we have some disputes in,” Norgle called an immediate recess and ordered Steinback to retrieve a copy of Judge William’s order, with a curt, “get a copy!”

After about 30 minutes, court was called back in session, and the judge asked Steinback,” Have you had an opportunity to read the opinion?”

“I have read the opinion,” Steinback replied.

“Anything you want to say,” the judge asked.

Steinback seemed to be somewhat unclear on what the judge asked at times, telling the judge he was “in the process of filing an extensive reply to this.”

However, the reply he was filing, he eventually explained, was to the Chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois and the district’s judicial executive committee.

Norgle grew irritated when Steinback was apparently unable to follow his directions to read part of the Iowa judge’s opinion “in its entirety.”

“I’m asking you for the third or fourth time to read it in its entirety,” Norgle said to Steinback.

After Steinback complied, Norgle demanded, “Did you disclose to your client what happened (in Iowa)?”

“Yes, I did,” he replied.

Norgle turned to Heather Mack and asked her if that was true.

“That’s correct, your honor,” Mack said.

Norgle then turned his attention to Steinback’s co-counsel on the case, Michael Leonard, pressing him on whether he had explained the situation to Mack, and what duty he felt to Mack regarding Steinback’s difficulties in the Iowa case.

“I think my duty’s been fulfilled,” Leonard replied.

When Norgle asked Steinback if he believed he could adequately defend Mack in her criminal case, he answered, “Yes, your honor.”

When Norgle asked Assistant U.S. Assistant Attorney Terry M. Kinney if he wanted to comment on developments, Kinney expressed concern that there were members of the public present. Norgle asked if the two sides wanted a side bar

After about 10 minutes off the record, Norgle announced that “This concludes the matter.”

Thomas Durkin, the defense attorney for Mack’s co-defendant, Tommy Schaefer, stated, “Could I be heard,” but was ignored and the next case was called without comment.