The prosecutions of attorney Robert Simels and his former associate Arienne Irving, both of whom were convicted in August of conspiring to threaten witnesses, came to very different conclusions on Friday. Eastern District Judge John Gleeson sentenced Mr. Simels to 14 years in federal prison and a $225,000 fine. "These are such egregious crimes," Judge Gleeson told Mr. Simels. "You need to be punished for them not because you are a member of the profession, not because it's an affront to this court. You are a criminal defendant and you committed crimes deserving of punishment that reflects the seriousness of the crimes." As for Ms. Irving, 3 1/2 hours before the sentencing, the judge granted her Rule 29 motion, throwing out the jury's verdict and dismissing her case. Ms. Irving did not attend the sentencing, instead celebrating the dismissal with her parents in midtown Manhattan. In an emotional speech before Judge Gleeson ruled, Mr. Simels, 62, was apologetic and remorseful. He spoke at length about the effects of his trial, conviction and sentencing on his young son and teenage daughter. "I have an 8-year-old son who doesn't understand," Mr. Simels said. "'How will you get there? When will you be back?' are questions without answer for an 8-year-old." Mr. Simels' attorney, Gerald Shargel, told the judge that his client was a "broken man." "You have a lot of evidence before you that Mr. Simels is a good and decent man," Mr. Shargel said.
Mr. Shargel also argued that the court need not impose a "draconian" sentence to deter other defense attorneys from threatening witnesses or obstructing justice. "The bell has been rung," Mr. Shargel said. "The message has been sent." Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Fodeman acknowledged the "severity" of the sentencing guidelines, 30 years to life, but argued that Mr. Simels' crimes merited such a sentence. "The government submits that the circumstances of this crime demand a severe sentence," Mr. Fodeman said. "Justice demands a fair sentence." Judge Gleeson, who like Mr. Simels, is the father of two young children, was visibly and openly moved by the letters sent in support of Mr. Simels. "Some of these letters just absolutely tear at the heart," the judge told Mr. Simels, "particularly the one from your wife." The judge also said that, at sentencing, Mr. Simels should neither benefit from nor be punished for being a lawyer. Rather, he said that Mr. Simels should be punished for bribing witnesses, suborning perjury and committing perjury. Judge Gleeson denied Mr. Simels' request for bail pending appeal, but gave Mr. Simels until Jan. 8 to remand himself to prison. The judge said he would personally call the Federal Bureau of Prisons to request Mr. Simels' choice, the federal prison at Otisville, which is near Mr. Simels family in Westchester.
In a statement Friday, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Benton J. Campbell said, "The defendant's license entitled him to practice law—it was not a license to commit crimes. Those who attempt to subvert the criminal justice system will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted with all the resources at our disposal." Ms. Irving's reversal of fortune could hardly have been more dramatic. Her attorney, Javier Solano, received a ding on his BlackBerry from the court's Electronic Court Filing system while standing in line at Starbucks. Sentencing was less than four hours away. Ms. Irving was in her parent's midtown hotel room. "I did not know if she would be walking out of that courtroom," Mr. Solano said. "She had to prepare for the worst, and that preparation was spending literally the last hours with her parents." Judge Gleeson's order, posted at 11:23 a.m., stated simply, "Defendant Irving's motion to set aside the jury verdict pursuant to Rule 29 is granted in its entirety. The case as against her is dismissed. An opinion will follow." When Mr. Solano reached Ms. Irving on her phone, she did not believe him. Mr. Solano told her, "Arienne, of all things, do you think I'd be kidding about this?" Ms. Irving's legal travails are not over: Federal prosecutors may pursue an appeal of Judge Gleeson's decision, and the Appellate Division, First Department, disciplinary committee has initiated proceedings against her. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said, "We'll review the judge's opinion and consider our options." As for the disciplinary proceedings, Mr. Solano said, "I would hope with all that she's been through they would take Judge Gleeson's opinion, considering he has heard the entire case, and use that to discontinue the proceedings." On Thursday, Ms. Irving faced disbarment and the possibility of spending a decade or more in prison. Today, her biggest problem may be that she is yet another unemployed lawyer in a depressed market. "She'll take that in a heartbeat," Mr. Solano said. Mark Fass can be reached at email@example.com.