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Judge: Chicago area woman has right to trust fund for murder defense

The lawyer’s request appeared straightforward: Heather Mack, the pregnant Chicago teen on trial in Bali in the murder of her mother, needed $150,000 to pay her legal fees.

But the Cook County judge assigned to decide whether Mack, 19, should have access to the trust fund that her mother set up for her had a question.

He wanted to know what Mack’s attorney, Anthony Scifo, was hiding, what he didn’t want to say in open court Friday.

Finally, a reluctant Scifo lifted the lid on Mack’s netherworld existence, where, he said, she’s in a Bali jail surrounded by accused drug smugglers who sometimes push chosen lawyers on the uninitiated.

“This is getting to be like a script from a Grade B, film noir novel,” Judge Neil H. Cohen said at one point during the hearing at the Daley Center.

But Cohen nevertheless ruled that because Mack has an absolute right to counsel, she should have access to her slain mother’s trust fund. Cohen said Mack needs to pick someone besides the lawyer she’s got in Bali — Ary Soenardi — before he will sign off on the release of funds.

“You’ve given me every reason to doubt whether this gentleman . . . is committed to represent his client in an effective manner,” Cohen said, after Scifo told him Soenardi represents “a number of international drug smugglers.”

Mack and her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer, 21, are charged with the murder of Mack’s mother, Sheila von Wiese-Mack, 62, whose badly beaten body was found in a suitcase near a Bali resort last year where the three were staying.

Scifo filed the emergency motion Thursday on Mack’s behalf, seeking the funds from the $1.56 million trust fund overseen by her uncle, William A. Wiese. Scifo says Mack’s lawyers have been negotiating for months for the release of some of the funds, without success. On Friday, Wiese’s attorneys were at the Daley Center hearing to argue against Mack’s request.

Wiese attorney, Eric Dorkin, told Cohen that his client has an obligation to “act in the best interests of the trust.” Dorkin said Wiese is concerned, among other things, that trust money could be used for corrupt purposes in Bali.

A testy Cohen at one point snapped at Dorkin, “What is your duty to her?” referring to Mack.

Cohen said the purpose of the trust is primarily to protect the health of Mack, who could face a firing squad if found guilty as charged.

“Nothing is more important than whether you live or die or whether your child is going to live or die,” Cohen said of the purpose of von Wiese-Mack’s trust.

Cohen, citing concerns over a conflict of interest, appointed a retired judge as interim trustee to review the hiring of a new lawyer for Mack. Cohen pointed out that should Mack be found guilty and then executed — and should Mack’s unborn baby not survive — then Wiese gets all of the trust’s funds.

Cohen, noting that “time is of the essence,” said he would make himself available to lawyers this weekend. Cohen told Scifo to send the judge in Bali “his compliments” and also to urge him to delay the trial while Mack finds a new attorney.