The D.C. Court of Appeals today disbarred a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who pleaded guilty in Washington federal district court to a conflict of interest violation stemming from the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Robert Coughlin II, who served as deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division, consented to disbarment from the District of Columbia bar, the appeals court said in an order (PDF) published today.
Coughlin had been under interim suspension since June 2008. He pleaded guilty in April 2008 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of conflict of interest. Coughlin was not immediately reached for comment this morning.
Prosecutors said Coughlin acknowledged receiving gifts from former Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Kevin Ring, who was also charged in the Abramoff investigation. Ring and Coughlin were close friends, socializing regularly.
Coughlin helped Ring get a $16.3 million grant for the Chocktaw Tribe to build a jail. Coughlin received thousands of dollars in concert and sporting event tickets and restaurant trips.
“There is no question that Mr. Coughlin benefited from Ring’s generosity and made use of the perks,” lawyers for Coughlin said in court papers. “Mr. Coughlin believed that Ring, through Greenberg Traurig, had access to extra sports and concert tickets when they were available and not being used by others at the firm.”
Coughlin’s attorneys, including Joshua Berman, now a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, said in court papers that “over time Kevin Ring took advantage of their friendship. In a sad twist of fate, Mr. Coughlin’s greatest attribute—his trust in and dedication to friends—became his undoing.”
Berman said Ring traded on Coughlin’s name, pushing him for information from the Justice Department. Ring, according to court papers, held Coughlin out to be an important contact at DOJ. Berman said Coughlin was a “government employee that Team Abramoff tried to corrupt.”
Coughlin resigned from DOJ in 2007, six years into his service, while the criminal investigation was pending. Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of Washington federal district court sentenced Coughlin in November 2009 to three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine.
Alice Fisher, a former assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division who now leads Latham & Watkins’ office in Washington, supervised Coughlin for several years at DOJ. Coughlin was involved in administrative and staffing issues at the department.
Fisher said Coughlin played a critical role in guiding the daily operations of the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force.
“I witnessed Mr. Coughlin deal with his colleagues in an honest manner and with integrity,” Fisher said in a letter to the court in November 2009. “No matter who the person or their rank, he dealt with everyone with compassion and respect. He was loyal to the division and its employees.”
Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, a white-collar defense and corporate investigations partner at O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, described Coughlin as a hard worker who knew how to get the job done well.
“Throughout our service together, I always respected Bob as a colleague and public servant,” Wainstein said in a letter to Huvelle in November 2009. “He was straight-forward in his dealings with me, and he never gave me any reason to doubt his word.”
Wainstein said Coughlin “demonstrated a commitment to the mission of the Justice Department and always seemed more concerned with pursuing the goals of his office and his teammates than with promoting himself.”
After leaving the department, Coughlin was hired as a consultant with NanoCell Biologics, a start-up focused on developing technology to administer pain medicine. He also took a paying part-time job with a group that places environmentally sound products in retail stores.