SEATTLE (AP) — Two attorneys representing the son of a prominent Russian lawmaker may face a conflict of interest because their firm represented victims of a hacking scheme he’s accused of running, the U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors asked a U.S. Disctrict Court judge in Seattle to inquire into whether Robert W. Ray and Ely Goldin have a conflict in representing Roman Seleznev, who was arrested at an airport in the Maldives last month and subsequently transported to Seattle.
Seleznev, the son of Russian lawmaker Valery Seleznev, pleaded not guilty last week to charges that he hacked into computers that run point-of-sale terminals, stealing hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers and selling them online. The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused the U.S. government of kidnapping him.
Ray and Goldin are attorneys with Fox Rothschild, a national firm with 600 attorneys and 19 offices, according to its website. Ray succeeded Kenneth Starr in 1999 as the independent counsel on the Whitewater investigation. Seleznev is also represented by Seattle defense attorney Larry Finegold.
“We feel strongly that our representation comports with all applicable rules of ethics and that Mr. Seleznev is legally entitled to vigorous defense — which we intend to provide,” Goldin wrote in an email Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. attorney Norman Barbosa said the government was not implying any wrongdoing by the defense attorneys, only raising the question of whether they should continue to represent the defendant when at least one other attorney in their firm represented the pizza chain Z Pizza in connection with a breach in late 2010 and early 2011 that resulted in the theft of thousands of its customers’ credit card numbers. Seleznev was responsible for the hack, prosecutors say.
“The Court should timely inquire so that the parties can either move forward with trial preparation and plea negotiations, or move for withdrawal of counsel,” Barbosa wrote.
The government noted that if Seleznev is ultimately ordered to pay restitution in the case, Fox Rothschild could wind up representing both the defendant and the people he is required to pay. And if anyone from Z Pizza is called as a witness in the case, the firm could wind up cross-examining its own client.
Barbosa wrote that the defense attorneys had offered to avoid any contact with any of the firm’s attorneys who represented Z Pizza, but he suggested that was inadequate.
In certain cases, parties can waive conflicts of interest in writing. But such waivers cannot be used when it would harm a defendant’s constitutional right to a lawyer, he said.
“Even if Seleznev is willing to waive the potential conflict, this Court, in the interests of justice and judicial integrity, should consider whether disqualification constitutes the only way to protect Seleznev’s Sixth Amendment right to the effective, conflict-free, assistance of counsel,” Barbosa wrote.
Seleznev is scheduled to have a detention hearing Friday.
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