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March 7, 2011 6:52 PM

Starr Report: Prosecutors Expect a Bristol Plea, Winston Responds to Civil Suit

Posted by Ross Todd

Prosecutors said in court Monday that former Winston & Strawn partner Jonathan Bristol is set to plead guilty to criminal charges stemming from his role in financier Kenneth Starr's $30 million Ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, on a related note, Winston and Bristol fired back at the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit related to Starr's scam.

Mark Hamblett of sibling publication the New York Law Journal reports that assistant U.S. attorney Michael Bosworth told Manhattan federal district court judge Deborah Batts that an agreement in principle has been reached concerning a disposition in the case against Bristol, who was charged in December with laundering more than $20 million through his attorney escrow accounts for Starr.

According to a companion civil suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bristol served as counsel to Starr and his financial firms since at least 2007 and aided and abetted the disgraced money manager's fraud. Starr himself received a seven-and-a-half year sentence last week after pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and investment adviser fraud.

Batts set a May 2 deadline for a possible plea by Bristol, Hamblett reports. Bristol's defense lawyer Susan Kellman did not immediately respond to The Am Law Daily's call seeking comment.

Meanwhile, as the criminal case against Bristol appeared to move toward a resolution, there was also movement in a civil case stemming from the Starr scandal. 

In December, James Wiatt, the former chairman and CEO of the William Morris Agency, and his wife, Elizabeth, sued Starr and his companies as well as Winston & Strawn and Bristol in federal district court in New Jersey. The Wiatts claimed in their complaint that Bristol inappropriately offered to represent them in the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation into the Starr matter.

On Friday, Winston & Strawn responded to the Wiatts's claims against the firm with a 35-page filing that asks a Newark federal district judge to dismiss the complaint, which the firm labels "blunderbuss."

"Starr's victimization of the Wiatts is plain from the well-pleaded facts and those in the criminal and SEC charges. But those facts do not state claims against Winston & Strawn," write Winston's lawyers at Jenner & Block and Drinker Biddle & Reath. Winston has previously said that Bristol's conduct was "neither authorized by nor known to others at the firm" and that the firm is cooperating with authorities.

According to Winston's filing, the Wiatts's complaint does not point to any engagement letters, invoices, or payments for services to the firm and it "contains no allegations that Winston & Strawn authorized Bristol to maintain the attorney trust account, let alone to use it as a parking space for the funds of Starr's clients."

A firm spokesman provided The Am Law Daily with the following statement: "Winston & Strawn has asked the federal court in New Jersey to dismiss the claims brought against it by the Wiatts.  As is set forth in the motion to dismiss, Winston & Strawn contends that there is no basis for the Wiatts’s claims against the firm. Winston & Strawn looks forward to being vindicated in the litigation."

The Wiatts's lawyer David Stone of Stone & Magnanini said in a phone interview Monday that there was nothing unexpected in the Winston filing. ''We're very confident that we can deal with this motion and this case will proceed," Stone said. "Winston likes to pretend that Bristol was never at their firm. They like to pretend that Wiatt was never represented by their firm. They like to pretend that Starr was never represented by their firm," Stone says. The facts, he says, are to the contrary.

Bristol's lawyers in the civil case at Sills Cummis & Gross filed his response to the Wiatt complaint on Monday. While the filing, submitted in support of a motion to dismiss the Wiatts's suit, alluded to the criminal case against Bristol, it noted his initial plea of not guilty and offered no indication that he plans to change his plea.

 

  Contact Ross Todd at rtodd@alm.com.

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