March 6, 2012 7:01 PM

New York Finally Drops Former Winston Partner Bristol from Attorney Rolls

Posted by Ross Todd

Putting an end to some unusual legal wrangling, a New York appeals court on Tuesday granted former Winston Strawn partner Jonathan Bristol’s wish, allowing the confessed felon to remove his name from the rolls of those licensed to practice in the state.

The decision by the First Department of the state’s Appellate Division comes some six months after Bristol moved to give up his law license by filing an affidavit of resignation with the state’s First Judicial Department. That request came about four months after Bristol pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal district court to conspiracy to commit money laundering. In entering the plea, Bristol acknowledged allowing his attorney escrow accounts to be used by financial adviser Kenneth Starr to transfer nearly $19 million in stolen client funds. (The scheme was detailed in the November 2011 print edition of The American Lawyer.)

The appeals court decided the matter after the state’s Departmental Disciplinary Committee sought to essentially prevent Bristol’s from resigning by moving to automatically disbar him on the grounds that his federal felony conviction was akin to being found guilty of a similar state crime.

In its decision, the appellate court found that Bristol’s admission in the federal case failed to establish that he had acted with the intent to defraud Starr’s investors required under the equivalent New York state statute. Further, the court found, while his admitted offenses might constitute a “serious crime” under the state’s judicial code, determining that would require “protracted and time-consuming” set of tasks.

“Acceptance of [Bristol]’s resignation now will expeditiously remove respondent from the roll of attorneys and dispense with the need for undertaking the protracted process that a serious crime hearing would entail,” the court wrote in its per curiam decision.

The court denied the disciplinary panel’s request that Bristol be forced to pay restitution to his victims. That may be a moot point given that Bristol has already agreed to pay nearly $19 million in restitution as part of his federal plea agreement.

While Bristol’s sentencing has not yet been set, prosecutors in the case filed their sentencing memorandum last week. In it, they noted that the maximum statutory prison term for the offense of which Bristol was convicted—60 months—is much shorter than the 70 to 87 years spelled out in federal sentencing guidelines.

The memo also notes that Bristol’s defense counsel has argued for leniency at sentencing, citing a difficult upbringing, the remorse he feels over his misdeeds, and his desire to please. Prosecutors appear unmoved. Bristol, they argue, attended an elite college and law school, was a partner at a prestigious national law firm, and “had a powerful incentive to do anything he could to maintain his book of business and his position at the firm.” In short, they claim, “This sort of educational and professional trajectory suggests the defendant had more strength, determination and savvy than defense counsel claims.”

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