Heather Mack hires high profile defense attorney

By Bill Dwyer for Chronicle Media

Heather Mack is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago. (Photo courtesy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons)

In something of a surprise move, Heather Mack, the Oak Park native who faces U.S. federal murder conspiracy charges related to her mother’s 2014 murder, has hired high profile — and high priced — defense lawyer Jeffrey Steinback.

Steinback filed an appearance in Judge Charles R. Norgle’s courtroom Wednesday. Filing documents indicate he will be Mack’s lead counsel.

On his attorney appearance form, Steinback marked yes by “Are you acting as lead counsel in this case?” And indicated he was “retained counsel,” as opposed to a taxpayer funded federal defender appointed by the court.

At Mack’s Nov. 10 court hearing, Norgle had formally acknowledged attorney Keith Spielfogel as Mack’s primary defense counsel. It is not clear how Steinback’s hiring affects Spielfogel’s role in Mack’s defense.

On Nov 19, Norgle granted Mack’s request for additional legal counsel, reasoning that “voluminous discovery and international legal and factual issues may be difficult for a single attorney to handle alone.” However, the judge made it clear that it would be the court that would choose any taxpayer funded attorney.

“(I) will not permit defendant’s present attorney or the defendant personally to select the additional appointed attorney,” Norgle wrote, noting that “the right to counsel of choice does not extend to defendants who require counsel to be appointed for them.”

In granting Mack’s request, Norgle instructed her to file “the appropriate Criminal Justice Act forms to establish (Mack’s) inability to afford private counsel.”

It appears unlikely now that those forms will be filed.

Steinback has represented a slew of high-profile defendants, most recently singer R. Kelly. In 2007, convicted swindler Conrad Black received a 6½-year sentence despite prosecutors asking 30 years, after Steinback delivered what was described as a “passionate” hour-long plea for leniency.

Other notable Steinback clients include former Chicago Alderman Isaac “Ike” Carothers, Cicero mob boss Michael “the Large Guy” Sarno, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan aide Scott Fawell, politically connected insider Stuart Levine, a key witness in the criminal case against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich; and legendarily corrupt Chicago police chief of detectives, William Hanhardt. (It was Judge Norgle, coincidentally, who sentenced Hanhardt in 2002 for his role in leading a lucrative jewelry theft ring.)

Mack’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.


Heather Mack to remain in federal custody