Jason Mark Sims, a 35-year-old lawyer who has worked at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in Washington, D.C., has pleaded guilty to distributing videos of child sex abuse.
The U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced Friday evening the charges against Sims, who faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison at his sentencing on Dec. 1. Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III accepted Sims’ plea at a Friday morning hearing.
Criminal information filed against Sims on Aug. 29 accused him of distributing videos and still images “depicting minor and prepubescent children engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” such as intercourse, masturbation and the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals and pubic area.”
A recently unsealed 12-page affidavit filed on June 13 in support of the criminal charges against Sims contains graphic depictions of child sexual abuse. The affidavit details online discussions within the past year between an undercover federal agent and an individual identified by the government as Sims. The government notes that during that time Sims worked as a staff attorney at Paul Weiss in Washington, D.C. While Sims declined to meet in person with the undercover agent, he did share videos of underage girls being abused.
A profile for Sims on professional networking website LinkedIn states that he has worked at Paul Weiss since November 2011. A Paul Weiss spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to Sims’ status at the firm. Paul Weiss’ website notes that staff attorneys are hired on an as-needed basis to three-month contracts that are “renewable depending on their performance and the needs of the assignment.” Emails sent to Sims’ personal and work accounts went unreturned by the time of this story.
Judith Wheat of Washington, D.C.’s Griffith & Wheat and Arlington, Virginia-based solo practitioner Donna Murphy are representing Sims, having replaced his previous counsel from Fairfax, Virginia’s Greenspun Shapiro on Aug. 1, according to court filings. Neither Wheat nor Murphy responded to requests for comment about Sims, who court records show was put on home detention after being formally charged in mid-June. He was required to notify his employer about the charges against him.
Laura Fong and Kellen Dwyer, assistant U.S. attorneys in Alexandria, Virginia, who previously were associates at Jenner & Block and Kirkland & Ellis, respectively, prosecuted the government’s case against Sims.
Sims is not the first lawyer from Big Law to have his career derailed and life upended as a result of actions that resulted in sex crime charges.
Last year David Rothenberg, a former lawyer at Florida’s Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer and Conroy Simberg, was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. In late 2013, Edward De Sear, a former partner at Allen & Overy, Bingham McCutchen and McKee Nelson, received his own 17-year prison sentence on child pornography and sex trafficking charges. Joshua Gessler, a former Arnold & Porter associate charged in 2010 with possessing and producing child pornography, also pleaded guilty and spent three months in jail. All three lawyers have since been disbarred.
Earlier this year, Chicago lawyer James “Jaime” Zeas—who had worked at a handful of large firms, including Chadbourne & Parke, Paul Hastings and a predecessor to Dentons—was sentenced to four years in prison after being found guilty on one count of child pornography. Zeas, whose law license has been suspended indefinitely, secretly recorded a 14-year-old girl changing at a local fitness club.
Others have met harsher fates.
In June 2011, former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher associate Moshe Gerstein was one of several individuals caught up in a sweeping child pornography sting conducted by the New York County District Attorney’s Office. Gerstein was found dead in a Mexico City hotel room shortly thereafter.
In recent years, the availability of child pornography has soared through the so-called Dark Web, according to a recent report by Vice News, which noted that the largest market for such material is in the U.S. The exploitation of children, particularly from Third World countries, has become so endemic that some law enforcement authorities are now working with computer-generated online avatars designed to identify potential sex offenders.
The uptick in arrests and prosecutions has led some to call for more studies into the causes of pedophilia—a mental illness that results in an adult having a sexual attraction to prepubescent children, which is not a crime unless acted upon—in order to better understand and treat those with the disorder, rather than continue an endless cycle of prosecution and imprisonment.
The idea that pedophilia is a sexual orientation, such as being straight or gay, remains extremely controversial, with the American Psychological Association clarifying its position on the matter in late 2013. The stigma against alleged pedophiles, in which the overwhelming majority of documented cases of pedophilia involve men, has led at least one lawyer to fight back against his former employer.
In California, a former in-house entertainment lawyer for a film production company affiliated with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. is poised to stand trial on charges that he sexually molested an underage boy he met on the social networking website Instagram. Benjamin Adams, who has denied the charges, sued MGM this summer for wrongful termination, claiming that the studio fired him after he was falsely accused of being a pedophile.
Latham & Watkins partner Marvin Putnam, a high-profile litigator hired by the firm from O’Melveny & Myers in 2015, is advising MGM in the civil matter, while Adams has turned to noted Los Angeles defense lawyer Alan Jackson of Werksman Jackson Hathaway & Quinn to handle his criminal case.