Legal Ethics

Sarbanes Case Against Lawyer Continues

The controversial prosecution of a Connecticut lawyer under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for what he says was an unknowing destruction of evidence will proceed, a federal judge has decided.

Although Philip Russell says he didn’t know when he destroyed a computer containing child pornography that the FBI had just started a secret investigation, U.S. District Judge Alan H. Nevas ruled Wednesday that his state of mind is a question for the jury rather than an issue to be decided on a motion to dismiss, reports the Hartford Courant. Russell destroyed the computer after his clients—officials at a church he represented—brought it to him when they discovered the illicit images.

He was charged with two counts of obstructing justice under the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate compliance statute, which relaxes the traditional standard of proof. Prosecutors are required only to show that an investigation was foreseeable rather than actually pending.

Russell’s prosecution has alarmed the defense bar, which has rallied to his defense, as discussed in an earlier post. Fellow practitioners say the standards applied to him under Sarbanes conflict with a attorney’s ethical duties to his or her client.

The images at issue in the case were loaded onto a computer at Christ Church in Greenwich by Robert Tate, the church’s choirmaster for 24 years, the newspaper states. He has pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and awaits sentencing.

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