NEW YORK, June 19 (Reuters) - A former Sullivan & Cromwell
partner who was sentenced to more than two years in prison for
not paying taxes was suspended Tuesday from practicing law in
The New York Appellate Division, First Department, suspended
John O'Brien after finding he had committed a "serious crime" in
failing to pay $2.5 million in taxes while he was a partner at
Sullivan & Cromwell. A federal court in Manhattan sentenced
O'Brien in January to 28 months in prison after he pleaded
guilty to four criminal misdemeanor charges.
The appellate court directed O'Brien to appear before
departmental disciplinary committee within 90 days of his
release from prison and issue a report stating why a final order
for censure, suspension or disbarment should not be entered,
according to the order.
New York law provides for the automatic disbarment of
lawyers convicted on felony charges. While O'Brien was instead
convicted on misdemeanor charges, the First Department said two
of those counts "fall squarely" into the definition of a serious
crime, which can include willfully not filing income tax
Hal Lieberman, a lawyer for O'Brien at Hinshaw & Culbertson
in the disciplinary case, did not respond to requests for
comment. A court-appointed lawyer for O'Brien in his criminal
case, Nicholas Pinto, declined comment.
O'Brien, 49, is currently serving his time in the
Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, according
to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He is scheduled for release in
He is appealing his sentence to the 2nd Circuit Court of
Appeals. In a filing June 5, a lawyer for O'Brien said he was
primarily seeking resentencing before a different judge. He had
been sentenced by U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in
"If that relief is granted, we will urge the district
court to impose a sentence that does not entail incarceration,"
Prosecutors in a brief Monday urged the 2nd Circuit not to
expedite to appeal, saying the request does not raise
substantial questions that would reduce O'Brien's sentence.
Lawyers with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan said in the
brief that O'Brien's 28 month sentence is below the 37 to 46
months recommended by the federal sentencing guidelines.
A previous court-appointed lawyer for O'Brien, Russell
Neufeld, sought Feb. 10 to be relieved from the case because of
"strong disagreements" about the merits of his appeal, the brief
said. Pinto was appointed after Neufeld's request was granted.
Neufeld did not respond to a request for comment.
O'Brien, who had earned $10 million during the tax years at
issue, claimed not to have the funds to cover the appeal after
the court approved Neufeld's request. O'Brien said he had $2.08
million in debt, excluding penalties to the Internal Revenue
Service, and monthly expenses of $3,720.
The filing stated he earned $183,000 a month until May 2009,
when he was still a partner at Sullivan. He said he had received
$98,187 in the last year from his Sullivan & Cromwell pension
and had property in Canada Lake, New York, worth $281,400.
A spokeswoman for Sullivan & Cromwell did not respond to a
request for comment.
The case is In the Matter of John J O'Brien, New York State
Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, No. 1555.
For the Departmental Disciplinary Committee: Jorge Dopico
and Raymond Vallejo.
For O'Brien: Hal Lieberman, Hinshaw & Culbertson.
(By Nate Raymond)
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