By Tony Farina
Attorney Paul Cambria, 69, showed his bulldog courtroom grit and razor-sharp legal mind on Monday in arguing on behalf of his client, Steve Pigeon, against the might and resources of the State Attorney General’s Office. Cambria is seeking full disclosure from prosecutors on the evidence against Pigeon, who faces a nine-count indictment.
Cambria made his arguments before visiting State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio Jr., from Madison County, who is handling the Pigeon case because of the involvement of former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who resigned in June after pleading guilty to receiving a bribe (from Pigeon) and filing a false instrument.
Pigeon’s indictment followed Michalek’s plea and the former judge is expected to be a witness against Pigeon if there is a trial.
Before a courtroom packed with reporters and TV cameras, Cambria delivered a very detailed legal case against the tactics of the prosecution in gathering evidence against Pigeon and questioned the neutrality of the county judge, Michael Pietruszka, who issued the search warrants for Pigeon’s property, as well as the validity of the warrants themselves which were amended, apparently by someone other than the issuing judge.
Cambria, a leading First Amendment lawyer who has represented many high-profile defendants, including Hustler’s Larry Flynt and hockey’s Patrick Kane, was in his element on Monday, piecing together in piercing detail all the legal reasons why the government’s case may be flawed by overreach and disregard of state law limiting their actions including the validity of search warrants served and even the seizure of Pigeon’s personal cell phone without a proper warrant.
As one lawyer said after the hearing, “there is no one better at this than Paul Cambria, and he made a very strong case in asking for a hearing on these matters and arguing for disclosure now, not later, to help prepare his defense. It was classic Paul Cambria.”
Judge Cerio, a former Madison County district attorney before moving to the bench, appeared to be listening carefully and taking notes during Cambria’s lengthy arguments and the response from Susan Sadinsky of the attorney general’s office who argued against any need to disclose evidence to the defense at this time, noting a trial date has not been set.
Veteran lawyers tell me that the fight over disclosure is a familiar one, and they expect the state prosecutors in the Pigeon case to stall as long as they can before turning over evidence to Cambria, or the details of any deals made with witnesses, including Michalek, statements made by Michalek to authorities before his plea, and any other arrangements made with potential witnesses, even a so-called “secret” witness who may have made a deal in exchange for his help in the Pigeon case.
But while Cambria may not get the evidence he is seeking any time soon, he certainly made compelling arguments on Monday for the need to have hearings on the matters he raised in the government’s handling of the case, citing case law and sections as if they were written on the back of his hand.
When Cambria represented Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks not long ago, another one of his clients, Larry Flynt, told the Chicago Tribune, “Paul is like a bulldog in the courtroom. He loves to go to battle for his clients and he loves to win.”