Edmund Duffy, a former Skadden partner, listens during a panel discussion at a China business investment forum in New York on Monday, June 13, 2005. (Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg News)

Edmund Duffy’s five-decade legal career officially ended on Feb. 8, but its downward spiral began at least two years earlier.

The New York Appellate Division, First Department, automatically disbarred Duffy on Thursday as a result of a child pornography conviction last year stemming from charges levied against the former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom partner in July 2016.

A corporate and international trade expert, Duffy rose to prominence as the former head of the China practice at Skadden, which he helped achieve new heights, according to “Skadden: Power, Money and the Rise of a Legal Empire,” a 1994 book by Lincoln Caplan that documented the firm’s stratospheric rise.

Duffy switched to an of counsel role at Skadden before his retirement from the firm, whose New York office he left in early 2016. A few months later, Duffy was charged in federal court in Manhattan with possession of child pornography as a result of his participation in a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing network infiltrated by the FBI.

According to the government’s six-page complaint, Duffy possessed and accessed materials “containing an image of child pornography” via computer from his residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side between 2011 and May 2016. The sexually explicit content involved prepubescent minors shared via a P2P network using software downloaded from the internet. Two FBI special agents working undercover accessed the network and monitored the activity of its users, including Duffy, who in the network used the name “Daddisc.”

The government’s complaint contains graphic depictions of sexual imagery involving young girls. After law enforcement agents executed a search warrant in June 2016 on Duffy’s Manhattan apartment, he told agents at the scene that he preferred to “view images and videos of adults and children between the ages of 10 and 14 being spanked,” according to the complaint. A laptop computer and portable flash drives that Duffy acknowledged were his were then taken from his residence.

Duffy was arrested on July 19, 2016. He posted a $500,000 bond and was released on bail. Court filings indicate that he began cooperating with federal prosecutors led by assistant U.S. attorney Catherine Geddes in Manhattan. Duffy agreed to computer monitoring, searches of his phone, mental health evaluations, no unsupervised contact with minors and travel restrictions, although the court did allow him to visit Boston, Connecticut, Florida and Northern California. In January 2017, the then 75-year-old Duffy initially entered a plea of not guilty that was quickly changed to guilty.

John “Rusty” Wing, a well-regarded criminal defense lawyer and partner at New York’s Lankler Siffert & Wohl who previously spent nearly 30 years as a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, represented Duffy in his criminal case and before the First Department. Wing did not return a request for comment about his client, nor did two Skadden spokeswomen.

Court records show that Wing unsuccessfully sought to seal the transcript of a sentencing hearing on June 27, 2017, before U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York that delved into the circumstances of the charges against Duffy. The ex-Skadden partner’s defense lawyers, while acknowledging their client’s guilty, had in a footnote to a brief seeking leniency from the court stated that many of the offending images downloaded by Duffy were on the less extreme of the pornography spectrum and essentially child nudes that could be considered art in some places.

Forrest, a former partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, reacted negatively to that contention, noting that “these are not just pictures of children naked floating in a pool like the Nirvana album cover,” a reference to the grunge band’s iconic and controversial 1991 classic “Nevermind.” In Duffy’s favor at his sentencing was the fact that he had no prior criminal record, no personal sexual contact with children and did not sell images that he obtained online.

At the June 27 hearing, Wing said the “child pornography in this case was roughly 1.4 percent of all the images and material [Duffy] had on his computer at the time, at least the devices that were taken by the FBI from his home. And most of them contain spanking material, which was Mr. Duffy’s primary interest, and I think in a way that’s how he wound up getting some of this [other] material.”

Wing cited Duffy’s age, cardiovascular and other health issues and the looming loss of his law license and ability to assist friends and colleagues dealing with legal issues in arguing for a sentence without jail time. Wing also noted Duffy’s work in helping inner-city children get a good education, as well as his efforts working with Stand for the Troops, a nonprofit that assists veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

Duffy, a veteran himself, addressed Forrest in court, apologizing for his actions that not only hurt his family and friends, but also the victims whose images were online. Duffy said he had worked with the government to try and identify individuals that produced the material, many of whom are often located outside the United States. Duffy also noted his willingness to seek medical and psychological help and acknowledged his fortune in life, noting that he had received funds to attend college and eventually make “good money” doing something professionally that he enjoyed in practicing law. Duffy vowed to make amends for his past misconduct.

In the end, Forrest looked at what she called a “photographic permanent record of sexual abuse” consumed within the four walls of an individual’s apartment. She noted that while the percentage of obscene files on Duffy’s computer might seem small, the actual number of offending images were roughly 600. The government’s crackdown on possessors of child pornography, she noted, is part of an effort to curtail an online market where the currency that changes hands is the images themselves. The quickest way to disrupt such a toxic ecosystem, Forrest said from the bench, is to target the possessors that fuel its perpetuation.

“I will tell you that I believe in every other crime, child pornography crime like this that I had, even for possession, I have incarcerated every single other defendant,” Forrest said. “I will tell you that I find the description of the images that you were reviewing extremely disturbing … I am disturbed by this, but I am also not prepared to impose a sentence which I think might kill you.”

As a result of his plea agreement with prosecutors, Forrest spared Duffy a prison sentence, but ordered him to serve five years’ probation, pay $9,000 in restitution to victims, forfeit $256,000, perform 1,800 hours of community service with Stand for the Troops or some other organization, and participate in a computer internet monitoring program. Duffy must also register as a sex offender, although his name does not currently appear in a database maintained by New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services.

Duffy’s disbarment comes two months after a former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison staff attorney named Jason Mark Sims in Washington, D.C., received a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to distributing videos of child abuse. Sims is not due to be released until Feb. 20, 2022, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Sims and Duffy are unfortunately not the only lawyers affiliated with prestigious firms to have had their reputations tarred by child pornography charges.

Edward De Sear, a former partner at Allen & Overy, Bingham McCutchen and McKee Nelson, received a 17-year prison sentence in late 2013 after pleading guilty to child pornography and sex trafficking charges. He is not due to be released from prison until Nov. 19, 2027. David Rothenberg, a former lawyer at Florida’s Conroy Simberg and Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, received a similar sentence in 2016. Federal prison records show that he is not due to be released until May 21, 2031. Joshua Gessler, a former Arnold & Porter associate charged in 2010 with possessing and producing child pornography, pleaded guilty and spent three months in jail.

All three lawyers have since been disbarred.