Phillip D. Russell Defense Attorney Tampered with Evidence GUILTY!


The prosecutor claimed it was a major obstruction in a case that involved child pornography as well as the sexual abuse of children.

The judge said he was “deeply offended that a member of my profession could have acted so irresponsibly.”

But in the end, Phillip D. Russell, a prominent criminal defense lawyer, walked out of the courtroom with a sentence of one year’s probation for destroying a computer containing child pornography used by the choir director at Christ Church in Greenwich.

“As a lawyer, I am deeply offended that a member of my profession could have acted so irresponsibly,” Judge Alan H. Nevas said. “But I must consider your years of good service.”

So Nevas ordered Russell, 48, of Stamford, to spend the first six months of his probation confined to his home wearing an electronic monitoring device. Additionally, Russell must perform 240 hours of community service as well as pay a $25,000 fine and $100 criminal assessment.

“I’m happy, I’m relieved,” said the normally outspoken Russell, who could have received a prison term of 8 to 14 months for failing to report a felony to authorities. “I’m going to spend the holiday season with my wife and daughter. They have been through a lot on my account.”


One thing Russell won’t be doing is practicing law for the next year.

He surrendered his license Nov. 1. The Superior Court appointed Wayne R. Keeney to serve as trustee of Russell’s case files and accounts.

“I’ve notified his clients about his situation and referred them to other lawyers,” Keeney said. “I will say I have found his case files and his trust accounts in impeccable condition.”

Keeney said Russell’s former associates at Russell and Pastore have formed a new firm.

Russell said it’s his understanding he can re-apply for his license to practice once his probation period ends.


Meanwhile, Robert Tate, the choirmaster, faces a possible lengthy prison term when he is sentenced on Jan. 31 for possession of child pornography.

“I’ve never seen such an extensive history of child abuse,” said Nevas, who has been on the bench for 20 years and also spent four years as Connecticut’s U.S. aAttorney.

Nevas said the FBI uncovered evidence that Tate traveled to the Phillipines and Thailand to have sex with young boys. He also brought child prostitutes from New York back to the Greenwich parish to have sex.

It turns my stomach,” Nevas said.

“It’s appalling,” added Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jongbloed.

The prosecutor further cited a study, which showed that 80 percent of the individuals who possess child pornography also sexually abuse children.

But Jongbloed said he also was appalled by Russell’s actions in this case in which the criminal defense lawyer took a sledgehammer to the laptop Tate used, destroying any evidence of child abuse and child pornography inside.

“The government intended to offer at the trial that Mr. Russell on numerous occasions called the FBI or other law enforcement with evidence. In one instance, Mr. Russell called the FBI on the day before Thanksgiving to make arrangements to turn something over. Mr. Russell knew what the stakes are when there are allegations of child pornography.”

Jongbloed said Russell represented the church and not Tate. He said the computer is believed to have had more than 2,000 images of naked boys.

“When church members asked counsel if federal law enforcement should be called, he said no,” Jongbloed told the judge.

The prosecutor further claimed Russell advised the rector that he did not have to report the matter to authorities under a state law that requires religious leaders, teachers, day-care operators and others to report evidence of child abuse.

But Nevas took the church to task, claiming they never pressed Russell.

“They never asked him, ‘Are you going to notify law enforcement? What is our responsibility to notify the diocese office?’ None of this was done. They just wanted it to go away.”

They wanted Tate to go away. After the computer was turned over, Tate was given an airline ticket to California and told to clean out his room in a church-owned apartment.

“What the public doesn’t understand about child pornography is what an insidious, horrifying, repugnant industry it is,” Nevas said. “It’s fed by people who watch it.”

Nevas said when “someone has the opportunity to call attention to this kind of action and fails to meet the obligation, it’s serious. It’s more serious, doubly, triply more serious, when its done by a lawyer.”

The judge looked Russell in the eyes and told him, “You knew what you had to do. You knew your obligations.”

Nevas pointed out that in two similar unrelated cases Russell called the FBI.

“Here you took a sledgehammer to the computer and destroyed it,” Nevas said. “What could you have been thinking?”

The case raised concern among the National Association of Criminal Defense Layers and the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association that Russell, a sometimes outspoken defense lawyer, was being singled out by the government.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Jongbloed said.

Still, lawyers from both groups filled Nevas’ courtroom last fall during a hearing, which sought a dismissal of all the charges.

The local group filed a friend of the court brief urging Nevas to throw out the case. But the judge refused.

After Monday’s sentencing, Russell handed out a typewritten statement noting that many felt he is being treated too harshly.


“Their feelings are not my feelings,” the statement read. “I have no ill will or bad feelings toward anyone. I made a mistake. The system worked. I accept my punishment and I’m moving on.”

Published in: on December 18, 2007 at 7:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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