Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Illinois district judge questions the integrity of accused murderer’s attorney

North Illinois District Judge Charles Norgle all but directly accused high-profile attorney Jeffrey Steinback of lying to the court, and questioned his fitness to serve as Heather Mack's counsel.

CHICAGO (CN) — Heather Mack, the 26-year-old Chicago-area woman accused of killing her own mother in Bali in 2014, has a very well-known attorney. But on Wednesday afternoon, North Illinois District Judge Charles Norgle questioned if he was an honest one.

The attorney's name is Jeffrey Steinback. Besides Mack, he has previously represented the singer and now-convicted sex offender R. Kelly, as well as convicted Illinois mob boss Michael "Big Mike" Sarno and Stuart Levine, a key player in the 2009 corruption investigation into former Democratic Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

He was also barred from practicing law in the District Court of Northern Iowa less than a month ago.

North Iowa District Judge C.J. Williams, a Donald Trump appointee, found Steinback in contempt of court — and slapped him with a $5,000 fine — on June 6 for allegedly lying to the court about his medical issues. The allegations of dishonesty stem from Steinback's defense of an Iowan named Romel Murphy on multiple counts of felony wire fraud between January 2020 and October 2021. During the proceedings, Steinback cited those medical issues, which included everything from Covid-19 exposure to back spasms to the birth of his grandson, in multiple requests to push back court dates.

The court agreed to the delays four times, before finally denying Steinback's fifth request — asking for a raincheck on Murphy's trial — on Dec. 14, 2020. Murphy, who initially pleaded not guilty, changed his plea to guilty the next day. Steinback entered another three requests to delay Murphy's sentencing over the course of 2021, the last of which Williams denied on Oct. 6. Steinback missed the sentencing held on the same day, forcing the court to push it back to Oct. 20.

Also on Oct. 20, Williams held a hearing calling Steinback to account for his many continuance requests. He asked why Steinback shouldn't be held in contempt, and demanded he produce records that could corroborate his claims of medical troubles. The judge found the attorney's responses lacking, particularly when Steinback couldn't produce any medical records to back up his claim that he entered a sentencing continuance request for Murphy on Sep. 24, 2021, due to having to go to the ER for back spams.

"Mr. Steinback, what that tells me regarding the September 24th is that — I’m highly skeptical that you went to the emergency room and had any instructions from any doctor not to appear — or not to travel," court documents show Williams saying. "I find it absolutely unbelievable that you could not produce documents to demonstrate those medical treatments that you allege and that you told me in a court filing happened on those dates."

Despite making a statement on the record in January 2022 that "[he] will not sit still and be called a liar," Steinback submitted a three-page letter to the court in May admitting that he had conducted himself in a "misleading" way over the last two years.

"Aspects of my response to some of Your Honor’s inquiries were likewise either misleading, or at best, confusing," Steinback wrote in relation to the Sep. 24 incident.

As part of being found in contempt, Williams ordered on June 6 that Steinback "must not again practice law before this Court without express written permission from the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa." Williams also ordered that copies of his contempt opinion be sent to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois and to the clerks of all of Illinois' federal court districts.

In what was assumed to be a routine status hearing for Mack's case in Chicago on Wednesday, Norgle, a Ronald Reagan appointee, brought up the contempt order immediately. He questioned Steinback's "candor" before the North Illinois District Court and insinuated that he may be unfit to continue to represent Mack going forward. He commanded Steinback to read, in full, Williams' contempt order out loud for the court record. He even repeatedly asked the federal prosecutors and Steinback's co-counsel Michael Leonard, if they had anything to say on the matter.

"Do you as an officer of the court have anything to say to your client as to the problem with Mr. Steinback as co-counsel?" Norgle asked Leonard. The judge became plainly irritated that he didn't, reminding both defense counsels of their duties to their client.

Steinback and Leonard both told Norgle that they had already informed Mack about Iowa. Despite the contempt order, she said she wanted to stick with Steinback.

"I want Mr. Steinback as my counsel," Mack said.

"This was a status hearing that turned into something very different," Steinback told Courthouse News over the phone after the hearing ended. He declined to comment further.

No trial date has yet been set in Mack's case.

Follow @djbyrnes1
Categories / Courts, Criminal, Law

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.