By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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In a few minutes of conversation, between heavy sobs, Lisa Lobman described to Payne the events of the previous six weeks. "Something stunk," Payne says. "You could tell immediately something very funky was going down in this case, that something clearly wasn't right." Payne's suspicions grew when Assistant State Attorney Andy Hague entered the otherwise deserted courtroom.
Hague appeared surprised and concerned that someone from the Public Defender's Office was speaking to Lisa. He hurried over and interrupted them. "He said something to me to the effect of, 'Don't worry about her case. It's going to be worked out.' And I told him I was worried about it," Payne recalls. "I was mad and I was very pissed off. I see all these big hitters in there -- Andy Hague and Simon Steckel -- and I'm thinking, 'Somebody better take care of this girl before she gets walked all over.'"
Hague asked to speak with Payne outside, alone, attorney to attorney, but Payne refused. Instead he continued talking to Lisa, and promised her he would keep an eye on her case and would make sure that the next week, when she was scheduled to appear again in court, an attorney from the Public Defender's Office would be by her side.
Although the Public Defender's Office hadn't been officially appointed to represent Lisa, and Stephen Glass was still listed as her attorney of record, Payne saw to it that her case file was routed to one of the senior lawyers in his office, Suzanne Driscoll.
The following Friday, February 12, when Driscoll walked into the packed courtroom searching for her new client, she had no trouble picking out Lisa from the crowd. "She looked overwhelmed and just pathetic," Driscoll remembers. "She was hysterical and crying. I took her in the back and started talking to her and she was telling me things I just couldn't believe.
"She was not the type of person we usually see come through the system. She didn't belong in jail and she shouldn't have been in jail all that time," Driscoll argues. "Normally a case like that comes along and you're out the next day with supervision. Guys with a page full of priors get out within a day of being arrested. And here is this little girl, who has never been in trouble before, sitting in jail almost 50 days. I've never seen anything like it."
Driscoll says she was amazed Lisa hadn't been granted a bond hearing much earlier. Stephen Glass had missed at least two scheduled hearings, which caused them to be further delayed. (Glass says he didn't attend because he was still trying to work out a deal with Steckel, and that it was Steckel who asked to have the hearings delayed.)
Among Driscoll's other complaints was her belief that the State Attorney's Office should have done a better job reigning in Steckel. It was clear to her, she says, that he was directing the case and negotiating directly with the defendants and their families. "That's the role of the State Attorney's Office," she contends. "The victims are not supposed to be the prosecutors.
"I understand the relationship between Simon Steckel and Andy Hague," Driscoll continues. "I know Simon was formerly an assistant state attorney and I understand that as a result they felt close. I understand how things like that happen. It's not unusual. But when we started trying to negotiate some sort of plea to work this thing out, you couldn't tell who was in charge. Andy Hague would be talking to the judge, and you could see Simon pulling on Andy's coat, telling him to add this or add that and telling Andy what conditions he wanted set. It was ridiculous. It was a dog-and-pony show. It was the most ridiculous behavior I have ever seen in court. After listening to Andy Hague and Simon Steckel in court that morning, I was nauseated. I finally asked the judge, 'Who's the prosecutor?'"
What particularly galled Driscoll was the fact that Melissa had been released from jail a week earlier, while Lisa was still in custody. "I was trying to get the judge to realize that something strange was going on here," says Driscoll, who emphasized her argument in court by using some colorful language. "I wanted to know why Steckel's concubine, the woman who planned the whole thing, was free while my client was still in jail," Driscoll recalls with a smile. "I was mad and it just came out. When I said it, the judge lost it and started laughing." Nearly everyone in the courtroom also began laughing -- except Steckel. Later, while passing in the hallway, Steckel nodded at Driscoll and deadpanned, "Nice choice of words."
Though her tone may have flip, her point was serious: "I told the judge that if Lisa had a whole bunch of money like Melissa, then Lisa wouldn't be in jail, either."
That was only the beginning of the fireworks. Driscoll stressed to both Hague and Steckel that as committed as Steckel may have been to keep Lisa in jail, she was equally determined to get her out. The first thing she did was prepare a subpoena to question Steckel. Driscoll was shocked to learn that Steckel had never given a formal sworn statement to anyone connected with the case. He hadn't even been seriously questioned. If Lisa wasn't released immediately, Driscoll warned, Steckel would be in her office for a sworn deposition the following week.