A Washington federal judge today sentenced a former Nixon Peabody counsel to two years of probation for a false statements charge that arose in an insider trading probe.
The lawyer, Melissa Mahler, whose New York license has been suspended for two years, pleaded guilty in January 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She faced up to six months in prison under advisory sentencing guidelines.
Mahler today apologized in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issuing a short statement to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth.
“Your honor, I do recognize that I’ve made a mistake and I’ve paid significantly for that,” Mahler said.
Lamberth said Mahler, who cooperated with the government, earned the right to probation, which he tells defendants in his court is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The judge said he expressed confidence he will never again see Mahler standing before him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson, who specializes in fraud and public corruption cases, said Mahler’s assistance led in part to a guilty plea from Robert Brown, one of two other attorneys charged in the investigation. Brown is awaiting sentencing.
Atkinson said Mahler made a false statement to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about her participation in a particular stock transaction. “It’s a serious offense, especially for an attorney,” Atkinson said.
Mahler’s attorney, Patton Boggs litigation partner Jamie Gardner, said in court today that the consequences of Mahler’s conduct will be felt for years. “It’s ongoing,” Gardner said. “It’s not going to end no matter what the court does today.”
Friends, family members, attorneys, hedge fund managers and others wrote the court expressing their support of Mahler.
Andrew Smith, a counsel at Sichenzia Ross Friedman Ference, said in a letter to the court that he worked with Mahler for more than three years on corporate and securities law matters “that have required us to address ethical considerations as we find solutions that are legally compliant.”
“Melissa is a bright, creative and capable attorney who has been consistent and unwavering when it comes to resolving matters consistent with principles of high ethical standards and legal compliance,” Smith, formerly the president and general counsel of Getty Realty Corp., said in his note to the court.
At the end of the hearing, Lamberth expressed optimism that Mahler will at some point win back her law license. The judge said that, given the extent to which Mahler has “made amends,” she deserves a break with the New York bar disciplinary authorities.