Two New Players Joining Skakel's Legal Team
By LYNNE TUOHY - Hartford Courant
Michael Skakel's siblings have scuttled defense attorney Mickey Sherman's appellate game plan, and they have hired prominent Hartford lawyers Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos to appeal Skakel's June 7 conviction for the murder of Martha Moxley in 1975.
Sherman remains on the legal defense team and will argue at Skakel's sentencing on July 19. But Santos and Seeley, too, are expected to argue several motions, including one for a sentence that does not involve incarceration. They have brought on board Clinton Roberts, a former probation officer who is a respected consultant on alternatives to incarceration.
Seeley confirmed Friday that their firm was hired by the Skakel family earlier this week and that she and Santos have met with Skakel at the Garner Correctional Institution. She would not say how many times they had met or elaborate on issues they would raise at sentencing and on appeal.
She is known to be tight-lipped about her clients, in sharp contrast to Sherman, who is highly quotable and a frequent guest on talk shows.
"We have been hired to assist in the post-trial motions, the sentencing phase and to do the appeal," she said Friday. Asked if Sherman would continue to be involved, she replied, "Most definitely."
Seeley, Santos and several other lawyers were interviewed by Stephen, Julie and David Skakel. The siblings could not be reached for comment Friday. The Skakels also have hired Steven D. Ecker of the Hartford firm of Cowdery Ecker & Murphy, to assist Santos and Seeley. The three have worked together in the past.
Sherman was not present when the Skakel siblings interviewed the lawyers, and he said Friday that was his choice. He said the reality of the situation is that any mistakes or miscalculations he may have made could become fodder for an appeal.
"One of the things they may do is second-guess everything I've done, and that's appropriate," Sherman said. "If they or any other appellate lawyer feel I should have done something differently, so be it. It's part of the deal."
"But we're absolutely all on the same page here, and on the same team," Sherman noted. "Hubert and Hope will be leading the appeal."
Within days of Skakel's conviction, Sherman had said that the appeal would be handled by New Haven attorney David Grudberg and solo practitioner Richard Emanuel, who has worked on more than 120 criminal appeals.
Grudberg won an appellate court victory for Skakel while the case was still before the one-man grand jury. He secured a ruling that records and the knowledge of staff members at the Elan School in Maine where Skakel once attended are privileged and exempt from disclosure. Grudberg also appealed Skakel's transfer from juvenile to adult court, and the claim that the case could not be prosecuted because the legislature briefly and unwittingly imposed a statute of limitations on murder prosecutions in the mid-1970s.
Both those appeals are expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court sometime after Skakel is sentenced.
Emanuel is a seasoned appellate lawyer who secured freedom for former Danbury prison guard Larry Miller. Miller had spent 12 years behind bars after being convicted of a brutal assault on two Danbury teenagers that Emanuel was able to prove Miller did not commit. .
Although Sherman said Friday the pair would continue to be involved in the appellate process, there were strong signals that might not be the case. Ira Grudberg, senior member of the firm in which his son is a partner, said Friday that the involvement of David Grudberg and Emanuel appears to have been superseded by the hiring of Seeley and Santos. "The family went out on their own," Ira Grudberg said.
Emanuel, who was recruited by Sherman after the conviction, reportedly was told that his services would not be needed.
Although Sherman has not been officially voted off the Skakel family island, the hiring of Santos, Seeley and Ecker clearly was not his game plan. Sherman denies there was a rift between him and the siblings who have been most involved in their brother's defense.
Asked if they were disenchanted with him, Sherman replied, "Absolutely not. We're as united as we've ever been."
"We're in a different stage of these proceedings, one which I had hoped we'd never have to visit," Sherman said. "By the same token, we have to do what we have to do."
Michael Skakel, 41, faces 10 years to life in prison when he is sentenced by Judge John F. Kavanewsky Jr. on July 19. He was taken into custody minutes after a jury pronounced him guilty of bludgeoning to death his neighbor and friend, Moxley, when they both were 15 and residents of the exclusive Greenwich community of Belle Haven.
Skakel's lawyers are expected to argue in advance of his sentencing that the conviction should be vacated for lack of substantial evidence. Kavanewsky has denied similar motions twice already.
The lawyers also will argue that Skakel should be released on an appeal bond. The defense team and Roberts also are expected to fashion a suggested sentence that would enable Skakel - divorced and the father of a 3-year-old son - to remain free, but contribute in some meaningful way to society.
Seeley, 38, is president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a professor of criminal law at the University of Connecticut School of Law.
She was co-counsel representing notorious Darien High School wrestler, rapist and fugitive Alex Kelly, and persuaded the trial judge to dismiss the kidnapping charge against Kelly, which carried a higher penalty than the rape charge of which he was convicted.
She is a highly regarded criminal defense lawyer whose work has spared two capital felony convicts from death sentences.
The entrance of Santos and Seeley into the case coincided with the Skakel siblings' decision to cancel an appearance they had planned with Barbara Walters in advance of sentencing.