Bankrupt Lakin Law Firm attorney Gary Peel stuck sexually explicit photos in the mailbox of his former wife to prove he carried on with her 16-year-old sister 32 years ago, Deborah J. Peel testified Feb. 6 in the courtroom of Madison County Associate Judge Nelson Metz.
The testimony came in a proceeding brought by Ms. Peel, who was seeking an order of protection against her ex-husband under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act.
According to Ms. Peel, Gary Peel offered to surrender the original photos if she would drop her demand for a deposition of his current wife, Deborah Pontious-Peel.
Deborah J. Peel told Metz her attorney called the U.S. Attorney and put her in touch with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
She testified that at the direction of the FBI, she met Gary Peel at Hardee's restaurant in Glen Carbon with a tape recorder running in her purse.
She asked Metz for a protective order that would keep Gary Peel 100 feet away.
"I didn't expect for him to try and blackmail me," she said. "I didn't expect for him to go to my home without at least letting me know in some fashion. I didn't expect for him to call my place of business."
She said, "I don't know what I expect from Mr. Peel. I was cautioned by the FBI agent that he was very belligerent and that I should be aware of my surroundings."
Her testimony explained the sudden cancellation of a bankruptcy trial that would have determined her rights under a divorce contract she and Gary Peel signed in 2003.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gerald Fines of Danville had planned to conduct the trial Feb. 3 in East St. Louis, but he called it off Feb. 2 without explanation.
The U.S. Attorney stopped the trial, Deborah J. Peel told Metz.
Gary Peel called and told her to check the mailbox Jan. 20, according to her testimony.
She petitioned for a protective order or an emergency protective order Jan. 23. Associate Judge Barbara Crowder denied the emergency order.
Chief Judge Edward Ferguson assigned the petition to Associate Judge David Grounds, who recused himself. Ferguson assigned it to Crowder, who recused herself.
Ferguson assigned it to Metz, who set a hearing Feb. 6.
Neither Gary Peel nor Deborah J. Peel brought an attorney to the hearing.
Metz told Deborah J. Peel that under the state domestic violence act she had to prove abuse. Metz said, "You need to tell me about the allegations of abuse."
Deborah J. Peel said Gary Peel told her that if she did not drop action against him in bankruptcy court, he would send her elderly parents the nude photos he took of Deborah's sister when the sister was 16.
"I went to the police department and filed a formal report," she said. "I also went to the Edwardsville police department. I was sent here to the courthouse to get a restraining order, an order of protection."
She said she gathered evidence for about 10 days and obtained the original documents the previous Tuesday.
She said, "I feel that since that time Mr. Peel is aware of my involvement with the FBI that my physical safety is in danger."
On cross examination, Gary Peel asked why her attorneys did not seek to regulate his conduct through the bankruptcy court. She said she did not know.
He asked if a judge in St. Clair County family court had authority to regulate his conduct. She said, "I'm not aware of what their scope is."
He asked her to recall his exact words about the deposition of his wife.
She said, "You told me essentially that I was to stop pursuing, to have my attorney stop pursuing their attempts to take her deposition. And that I was to stop challenging you or fighting you in bankruptcy court or you were going to mail the sexual explicit photographs that you took of my sister to my parents."
He asked if she recalled him saying that the ugly nastiness had to stop.
She said, "Actually I don't. I recall you telling me that you would see that I was bankrupt and that you would continue filing lawsuits against me until I didn't have a dime left."
He asked if they were likely to have any further phone calls. She said, "I was cautioned by the FBI agent that you might try to contact me or that someone you work with or an associate of yours or a member of your family would try and contact me."
Metz asked Deborah J. Peel for a closing argument.
She said, "Just that I am afraid. I sell real estate. It's published in the paper on weekends that when I'm going to be at an open house I'll be by myself for certain periods of time."
Metz asked Gary Peel to close.
Gary Peel said there had been no threats by phone or in person to her physical safety.
He said, "In light of the fact that I have two court proceedings being overseen by two separate judges and an FBI office and U.S. Attorney's Office breathing down my neck, I would expect that the chances of my having any contact would be so remote as to not warrant any kind of order of protection."
He said a distance of 100 feet would obligate him to leave the courthouse where he does business if she walked in the door.
Metz ruled that Deborah J. Peel did not prove abuse within the meaning of the domestic violence law.
According to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, Peel is not currently authorized to practice law or present himself as a lawyer. Peel did not pay his annual registration fee with the ARDC, and has been removed from the "Master Roll of Attorneys" list.
The penalty for engaging in the unauthorized practice of law may result in a contempt of court charge, according to Supreme Court Rule 756.
James Grogan, a spokesman for ARDC, said the annual fee (approximately $250) is due Jan. 1, but if it is not paid on time no action is taken until Feb. 1.
"We see this at this time of year," said Grogan, "and we begin to notify chief judges."