Stiehl allows prosecutor to challenge Peel's witness

Steve Gonzalez Feb. 1, 2007, 10:24am

Attorney Gary Peel lost another court battle this week as U.S. District Judge William Stiehl ruled that the government will be able to hold a hearing to question the relevancy of an expert Peel's public defender hired in his criminal case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Burke asked Stiehl to hold a Daubert hearing to determine whether the testimony of Thomas L. Hoops, a certified public accountant and certified valuation analyst is both relevant and reliable.

Peel was indicted last year on charges of bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice and possession of child pornography.

He wants Hoops to offer his opinion, as an expert, as to the value of his estate and his ex-wife, as well as the value of certain assets, had those assets been distributed in accordance with several settlement proposals between the he and his ex-wife.

Peel told the judge that a Daubert hearing would be "unnecessary and would require unnecessary additional expense" in the case.

On Jan. 25 an Effingham County jury ruled against Peel's wife, Deborah Pontious Peel, who was seeking $4 million from Effingham Community Unit School District 40 for causing intentional infliction of emotional distress. Pontious (Peel) was suspended with pay from her job as a high school teacher in April 2002.

On Wednesday, Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack dismissed a defamation lawsuit Pontious Peel filed against the Record.

Burke asked for a Daubert hearing claiming the proposed testimony appears to have no relevance to any issue at trial, and because the disclosure does not allow for an adequate assessment of the reliability of Peel's proffered testimony.

Burke also said that even if Hoops' testimony is qualified and accurate, his testimony cannot be admitted unless it is relevant. He also claims that nothing Hoops has to say bears on any of the issues in the case.

Peel's four-count indictment alleges that in 1974 the he took sexually explicit photographs of his then-wife's 16-year-old sister, and retained those photographs.

In November 2003, Peel and his wife divorced and entered into a settlement under which he had to meet certain financial obligations.

In July 2005, Peel filed for bankruptcy, and sought discharge of financial obligations to his ex-wife who was listed as a creditor. His ex-wife opposed the discharge and Peel is alleged, on Jan. 20, 2006, to have telephoned his ex-wife and revealed that he had a sexual relationship with her sister during their marriage and had taken pictures of her.

He is alleged to have told his ex-wife that copies of the pictures were in her mailbox and that if she did not agree to the discharge he would mail the pictures to his ex-wife's parents.

Judge Stiehl wrote, "It is simply unclear to the Court as to what claim or defense Hoops' testimony is related."

Stiehl says Hoops report concludes that Peel's ex-wife received in excess of 50 percent of the marital assets as part of the Marital Settlement Agreement.

"It is simply unclear to the Court how this is relevant to the bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography charges in this case," he wrote.

Stiehl also set Peel's case for trial on March 13, at 10 a.m. in East St. Louis.

The final pre-trial matter is set at 2 p.m. on March 2.

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