The arrest of a prominent attorney on charges of destroying evidence in a child pornography investigation is raising alarm bells that a law targeting corporate accounting schemes could be used to prosecute lawyers over work done on their clients’ behalf.
“Every criminal defense lawyer in the country has to be alarmed at the indictment,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers. “It’s going to upset a lot of assumptions about how lawyers can represent clients. I think this is a boundary-pushing case.”
Philip Russell was charged Feb. 16 with destroying a computer that contained child pornography at Christ Church in Greenwich. Former President George H.W. Bush attended the church while growing up and funeral services for his parents were held there.
Russell, the former attorney for the church, is accused of obstructing an FBI investigation that led to the January conviction of the church’s music director, Robert Tate, for possessing child pornography.
Russell was charged under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which Congress passed in 2002 after a wave of corporate accounting scandals to make it easier to prosecute such cases. He faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
“The case will test the meaning of those new provisions,” Gillers said.