By JOHN COTÉ BEE STAFF WRITER
Published: September 27, 2003, 05:50:14 AM PDT

Laci Peterson's mother filed a lawsuit late Friday seeking to bar Scott Peterson from profiting if he's found guilty of killing his wife and unborn child.In the lawsuit, Sharon Rocha alleges that her son-in-law or his representatives are planning to -- or already have -- solicited and sold the rights to his story.The lawsuit asks a judge to bar Peterson from spending any income earned from the case -- such as payments for interviews or book or movie rights -- until a verdict is reached.Scott Peterson, 30, is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and the couple's son, Conner.The fertilizer salesman has pleaded not guilty. He faces the death penalty if convicted.Beyond its financial impact, the lawsuit could test whether a re- cently revised California law places unconstitutional limits on free speech by allowing victim's families to block perpetrators from profiting from their crimes.But for Rocha, the lawsuit is about putting Scott Peterson and his defense team on notice that her family will try to prevent them from enriching themselves with the case, her attorney said."We have a significant amount of evidence -- innuendo and otherwise -- that book deals and the like are in the works," Modesto attorney Adam Stewart said. He would not be more specific about that evidence. "It's more than just suspicions, but it's probably less than direct proof," Stewart said. "What this does is force them to account for everything they make."Proceeds would be held in trustPeterson's lead attorney, Mark Geragos, said Friday that he would not comment until he had seen the lawsuit.Rocha asks for any proceeds to be held in a trust account for the "victim's beneficiaries."Since Laci Peterson did not have a will, the funds would belong to her husband if he is found innocent in the deaths, Stewart said.If he is found guilty, the funds would go to Laci's parents, Rocha and her ex-husband, Dennis Rocha, Stewart said.The lawsuit filed in Stanislaus County Superior Court also lists Scott Peterson's "agents, servants, employees or representatives" as defendants.The lawsuit was filed under California's "Son of Sam" law, named for a series of 1970s murders in New York; killer David Berkowitz later sought book and movie deals. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 struck down the New York law designed to keep felons from profiting from their crimes.Last year, the state Supreme Court unanimously struck down California's original Son of Sam law, saying it placed prior restraints on constitutionally protected free-speech rights.Seven months later, Gov. Davis signed a revised version of the law pushed by Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz.That law allows victims or their survivors to sue a felon for damages for up to 10 years after a felon has completed parole. Before McPherson's bill, victims only had one year after a conviction to sue.But the new law still may face legal challenges on constitu- tional grounds, said Gerald Uelmen, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law and a former member of O.J. Simpson's defense team."This may very well be a test case," Uelmen said. "There are questions about whether the new statute is constitutional as well. And that's a question that hasn't been addressed by any court yet."Rocha's lawsuit presents an intriguing approach because it does not ask a judge to bar the defendant in advance from speaking or writing about the case, Uelmen said. It simply asks the court to restrict him from spending any money that results from those actions -- including any already received -- until the case is resolved.A legal conference on the lawsuit is set for Jan. 23."It's going to be interesting," Uelmen said, "to see how this develops."