NEW YORK — An attorney for an accused big-money madam isn't offering just legal arguments to get her out of jail – he's ready to offer her his home.
In the latest eye-catching turn in the case surrounding Anna Gristina, lawyer Peter J. Gleason said Monday he'd put up his $2.5 million Manhattan loft as security for her $2 million bail – and to have her be under house arrest and electronic monitoring there with her family – even as he and her court-appointed attorney sparred publicly over Gleason's role in the case.
"I really have a fundamental belief in justice, and I despise what I perceive as someone being bullied," Gleason said outside court, where a judge set a hearing for Thursday on the unusual bail plan. ". I want them to move in with me."
Prosecutors oppose the bail request, saying it raises ethical questions.
"There is serious concern (about) having a lawyer put up any sort of bail, much less his home," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan told the court.
State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he wasn't convinced there was an ethics problem but wanted to research the issue further.
Some states or their bar associations prohibit lawyers from posting clients' bail, but New York does not, according to a 2009 Bronx court ruling that said the ethics of such arrangements are "the subject of continuing debate."
While rare, they're not unheard-of, said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey who's now a defense lawyer with McCarter & English; he's not involved in Gristina's case.
Lawyers generally aren't supposed to have financial dealings with clients that could color the attorney's advice. But a lawyer would tell a client to return to court no matter who posts bail, so "I don't think it poses any conflict of interest between the attorney and the client," Mintz noted.
Accused of running a high-priced prostitution service for 15 years and boasting of having law-enforcement connections, the Scottish-born Gristina has pleaded not guilty to promoting prostitution. Prosecutors say the 44-year-old mother of four and pig rescuer from Monroe, N.Y., was heard during their five-year investigation saying she'd made millions of dollars.
Gleason, however, said Monday she doesn't have "two nickels to rub together." She was trying to start a legitimate dating service, he says.
The case has been splashed across the front pages of the city's tabloid newspapers for days, and Gleason has become the public face of her defense. Working for her for free, he has spoken to gaggles of reporters outside the courthouse and gone on morning television shows to counter the allegations against her.
His role has engendered questions from the judge – who prompted Gleason to acknowledge in court Monday that he has never tried a felony case – and tensions with her court-appointed lawyer, Richard Siracusa. Siracusa, a veteran defense lawyer, was put on the case before Gleason got involved at the behest of a Gristina family friend.
Gleason told the judge Monday that Gristina wanted Siracusa off the case – and, moreover, wanted the highly unusual privilege of picking a taxpayer-paid replacement. Judges sometimes will replace an appointed lawyer if the attorney and defendant can't get along, but the defendant doesn't generally get to choose the new attorney.
"She's an intelligent, stoic, strong-willed person who has very, very sound ideas on the type of person she wants to represent her," Gleason said.
He said Siracusa hadn't visited her in jail and hadn't told her in advance about a court hearing last week that was conducted without her, among other complaints.
Siracusa, on the other hand, said Gleason had "been nothing but a hindrance to me."
After a short court break, however, Siracusa said he had consulted with Gristina and believed they could resolve their differences.
Wearing a black-and-white herringbone sweater and her bobbed, honey-blond hair in waves, Gristina watched keenly but said little during the proceedings, besides briefly assuring the judge she understood his remarks.
Meanwhile, Gristina's co-defendant, former matchmaking service recruiter Jaynie Baker, remained at large. Defense lawyer Robert Gottlieb said he had contacted prosecutors on her behalf, but he declined to say Monday whether she planned to turn herself in.
Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz