Former Madison businessman and convicted child molester Gordy Sussman was back in court last week seeking a new trial, on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. It was the first step in what could be a long appeals process, and the sole witness was Sussman's former attorney, Steve Hurley, by any measure one of the state's best criminal defense lawyers.
But Hurley freely admitted he made a critical mistake in failing to file a pretrial motion to allow in charges that Sussman's accuser, a boy he met through a school mentoring program, had made prior false allegations. "If I filed that motion, we might not be here today," Hurley testified.
Sussman, through his new lawyer, James Geis, also faults Hurley for failing to get in that Sussman's accuser at one point denied any abuse. (For Isthmus' past coverage, see this article at TheDailyPage.com.) Briefs on the motion are due in early February.
In a letter from prison, where he is serving a 13-year sentence, Sussman argues that the jury also should have known that his young accuser's personal computer, surreptitiously obtained by the defense, "contained a large body of pornographic material including child and animal pornography" downloaded from the Internet. The lad testified at trial that he did not visit such Web sites.
Assistant District Attorney Jac Heitz established at last week's hearing that Sussman's lawyers spent hundreds of hours on the case and argued that any oversights were inconsequential. And he signaled his intent to play hardball, pointedly refusing to shake Geis' proffered hand before the proceeding, a churlish display of disrespect of the sort Geis has not previously encountered in 40 years of practice, mostly in Illinois.