NEW YORK, (Reuters) – Defense attorney Robert Simels was disbarred in New York today by an appeals court, more than two years after he was convicted of intimidating potential witnesses in his client’s trial.
While defending Shaheed Roger Khan, a suspected drug smuggler from Guyana, Simels repeatedly asked a former member of Khan’s criminal group to help him track down and threaten potential witnesses with everything from bribery to violence, prosecutors said.
The former Khan ally, Selwyn Vaughn, was a government informant, and prosecutors recorded conversations between the two men.
During Simels’ trial, numerous media outlets reported that prosecutors had a tape of him saying he would “eliminate” or “neutralize” a witness, a term he claimed was a figure of speech employed by defense lawyers.
Simels, a former prosecutor, was sentenced in 2009 to 14 years in prison by a Brooklyn federal judge after being convicted on one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, seven counts of attempted obstruction of justice, one bribery count and two counts of possessing and importing eavesdropping equipment.
A U.S. appeals court later vacated the eavesdropping counts.
Today, the Appellate Division, First Department, granted a petition by the departmental disciplinary committee to disbar Simels.
In doing so, the panel said that the committee had established that the conduct underlying Simels’ federal bribery conviction was also a felony under state law, warranting automatic disbarment.
The Eastern District of New York and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had already disbarred Simels.
The case is In the Matter of Robert M. Simels, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, No. 1746.
For the disciplinary committee: Raymond Vallejo
For Simels: no appearance