The U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Simels' 2009 convictions on attempted obstruction of justice and bribery, and the 14-year-prison sentence given to him by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn, but vacated his conviction on two counts relating to importation and possession of electronic surveillance equipment.
Simels' lawyers didn't respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said they were still reviewing the decision and would not comment.
Simels...was convicted in connection with an attempt to tamper with a witness against his client Shaheed Khan, a cocaine trafficker from Guyana who ultimately pleaded guilty to charges in the U.S. Prosecutors in Brooklyn made a case against Simels, who was retained by Khan for $1.4 million, in part with help from a federal informant connected to the drug trafficker, who taped meetings with the attorney.
There are two points to be remembered from this story. One is the criminal defense bar is not the uniformly pristine, Knight-on-a-White-Horse, Constitution-shielding sentinel its PR machine portrays. There are bad actors among defense lawyers, just as there are among Brady-hiding prosecutors and gun-happy cops. Every profession has its bad apples, and defense lawyers, notwithstanding their gentle treatment in the press, are right in there with everyone else. It's just more popular, and politically more rewarding, to bash cops and prosecutors, which is why it gets done more often and more loudly. By contrast, no one ever got a piece in Salon, or tenure for that matter, doing a dissertation about the wonderfulness of cops.
The second point is this Simels story, like the Mike Nifong story, is easy to bullhorn all over town to drive whatever one's agenda might be. If you take the worst one-half of one percent of ANY profession's behavior and repeat it in 30 blogs, 10 op-ed's and 5 network broadcasts, you can make that profession out to be a cesspool. It's my impression that Radley Balko does exactly that in his obsession with the police.
But it's cheap and misleading. If you want to know what defense lawyers, prosecutors and cops act like, it's easy to find out: Go to your local court and sit there for a week watching random cases.
It's possible you'll see people who left good faith far behind, and put out every slick argument they think they might get away with. But I doubt it. I suspect you'll see what I did for about 20 years -- able and almost always honest advocacy. Counsel see cases from different angles, sure; our system is designed so that they will. But only through a dark, tiny and distorted lens will you see any segment of the legal profession in the light in which Mr. Balko, for example, presents the police.
I am not an optimist by nature, but I can tell you from long experience in litigation that the grim picture of competing thugs and cheaters we see painted in so many places simply is not true.
Find out for yourself -- visit that courtroom.