Indicted Lawyer Says Feds Overreached

Thursday, March 22, 2007

By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press Writer


NEW HAVEN, Conn. — 

A prominent defense attorney charged with destroying evidence in a child pornography investigation said Thursday that authorities are overreaching in a way that could make parents, employers and others vulnerable to such prosecutions.

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.

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.

He 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.

Russell filed court papers Thursday urging a judge to dismiss a count that involves the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, saying the law was meant to prevent corporate document shredding. The law made it easier to prosecute obstruction of justice by requiring only that an investigation was foreseeable, rather than pending.

Russell acknowledges he destroyed the computer but says he had no reason to believe the matter was under investigation or that it would lead to an investigation.

"A parent who finds pictures of 'naked boys' in his/her child's backpack would also face a 20-year federal felony for obstruction ... if he/she throws the pictures out to insulate the child from future legal difficulties," wrote Russell's attorney, Robert Casale.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the latest court papers but have defended Russell's indictment.

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