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CT Case: Sarbanes v. Attorney Ethics

Posted Aug 13, 2007 12:30 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Fellow practitioners are watching with increasing concern the case of Philip Russell, a Connecticut lawyer who has been charged with violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act because he allegedly obstructed justice by destroying a client's computer.

"For a lawyer, especially a criminal lawyer, this is the most important case in a long, long time," says George D. Royster of Halloran & Sage in Hartford, Conn. But business lawyers also should be concerned about what this federal prosecution could portend concerning inadvertent destruction of important corporate documents, according to New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

This aggressive application of corporate compliance law by federal prosecutors in Russell's case conflicts with a lawyer's ethical duty to zealously represent his or her client and keep client information confidential, says the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. It has filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Russell, who is seeking a dismissal. "Regardless of whether there are ethics issues here, it's not a crime and certainly not a crime under Sarbanes-Oxley," says Jon Schoenhorn, CCDLA's president. "This has a chilling effect on any advice you give to a client."

Robert M. Casale, of Branford, Conn., is defending Russell, who says he didn't know, when he destroyed the computer, that Robert Tate, who worked for Russell's client, Christ Church of Greenwich, Conn., was being investigated in a child pornography case. As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com post, Russell himself says he has a clear conscience in the matter: "The law does not require a gym coach to keep a beer can he finds on a school bus," he told Greenwich Time.

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