HBO Max’s crime series ‘The Staircase’ follows Michael Peterson, who gets accused of killing his wife, Kathleen Peterson. Michael claims that his wife died after accidentally falling down the stairs but eventually gets indicted for her murder. He seeks the assistance of a renowned attorney named David Rudolf.
The series progresses through the murder trial, where Rudolf battles against district attorney Jim Hardin and assistant district attorney Freda Black. Rudolf’s calculated moves to protect his client from getting sentenced for the murder make one intrigued to know more about the origin of the character. On that note, here’s everything you need to know about the same!
Is David Rudolf a Real Lawyer?
Yes, David Rudolf is a real lawyer. Born on July 2, 1949, Rudolf enrolled in the New York University School of Law in 1971. In 1974, he started practicing law as a public defender in the South Bronx and later moved to Brooklyn to try federal criminal cases in the Federal Defender office. Rudolf started Criminal Law Clinic at the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1978. In 1982, he started his law firm with a colleague from Duke Law School.
Since 1982, Rudolf appeared in several high-profile cases and became one of the most distinguished trial lawyers in the United States. He became Michael Peterson’s attorney when Kathleen’s death was officially recognized as a homicide by the authorities. When Elizabeth Ratliff’s death got connected to Kathleen’s case, Rudolf went to Germany to speak with the prosecutor. In 2003, his client Michael got convicted of first-degree murder in Kathleen’s case and was sentenced to life without parole.
“It was the most crushing experience of my legal career. I was convinced of his innocence and believed we had won the trial – before the verdict,” Rudolf wrote about the verdict on his website. However, his battle to save Michael didn’t stop there. In 2011, the lawyer proved that a key witness, former State Crime Lab blood analyst Duane Deaver, lied on the stand during the original trial. Following the same, Michael was released from the prison on a $300,000 bail and was placed under house arrest with a tracking anklet. In 2017, Michael entered an Alford plea and was sentenced to time served, which paved the way for him not to serve additional prison time.
Where is David Rudolf Now?
David Rudolf is still a practicing lawyer, working with his wife and fellow lawyer Sonya Pfeiffer. The couple met during the time of Michael Peterson’s trial. At the time, Sonya was a news reporter who covered Kathleen’s case. The two tied the knot in 2007. Rudolf has also become a renowned speaker, having spoken or presented at pivotal organizations like American Bar Association and Federal Bar Association.
Recently, Rudolf bought an art gallery with Sonya in Charlotte, North Carolina, named Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art. “We [Rudolf and Sonya] recognize that art can be an incredibly powerful way to address challenging issues and subjects in a non-threatening manner – as opposed to the adversarial setting we generally live in,” he shared.
In 2021, Rudolf and Sonya completed their move from North Carolina to Toronto with their daughter. “The [Covid-19] pandemic contributed to our [Rudolf and Sonya’s] decision to leave the United States. American governors made one inane comment after another about Covid, which made me think, ‘I need to get out of here,’” the lawyer told Toronto Life. As per the couple, they also wanted a better social environment for their daughter to grow up in, which led them to Toronto.
Rudolf and Sonya got work permits in June 2021 and also moved into a rented house in a Toronto neighborhood named Hoggs Hollow. In the city, the couple is working in a law firm named Brauti Thorning LLP. However, they are seemingly still affiliated with their North Carolina law firm named Pfeiffer Rudolf, which is also known as Rudolf Widenhouse.
In January 2022, Rudolf published ‘American Injustice: Inside Stories from the Underbelly of the Criminal Justice System,’ a non-fiction book about the misconduct happening in American law enforcement that includes wrongful accusations and legal wrongdoing. He is also the co-host of the criminal justice podcast named ‘Abuse of Power,’ alongside his work and life partner, Sonya.