Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota was disbarred Wednesday after more than 50 years as a lawyer and 15 years in office, following his felony convictions for helping orchestrate the cover-up of the beating of a suspect in police custody.
The disbarment by a five-justice panel of the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn was virtually mandatory due to Spota's felony conviction. It was expected after he was found guilty in December of 2019 of helping to cover up the assault on the suspect by his longtime protégé, former Suffolk police chief James Burke.
The decision forbids Spota from “practicing law in any form,” “giving to another an opinion as to law,” and “holding himself out in any way as an attorney.”
The panel’s action came after a motion by the committee of lawyers on Long Island who initially hear complaints of attorney misconduct.
In disbarring Spota, 78, of Mt. Sinai, the justices wrote they were responding to a request “by the Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District to strike [Spota’s] name from the roll of attorneys and counselors-at-law … based upon his conviction of a felony.”
The justices noted that Spota had been found guilty of a number of felonies.
They included; conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and obstruct an official proceeding, witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding; obstruction of justice; and accessory after the fact to the deprivation of civil rights.
In their decision the justices said that Spota had been served with a notice of the motion to disbar him but he “has not filed any papers in opposition.”
The suspect that Burke assaulted in 2012, Christopher Loeb, had broken into the then-chief’s department SUV and stolen his duffle bag.
Spota’s attorney, Alan Vinegrad, did not return a call for comment.
John Marzulli, a spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors, declined to comment.
A former chief aide to Spota, Christopher McPartland, was also convicted along with the former district attorney. McPartland, 54, of Northport, the ex-head of Spota’s anti-corruption unit, is also an attorney who could face disbarment. But the Appellate Division has not yet listed a determination in McPartland’s case.
An attorney who has been disbarred can regain his ability to practice law, but reapplication usually takes a passage of at least five years, and proof that the person has rehabilitated him or herself during that time by having performed good deeds, such as helpful community activities.
No date has been sent for the sentencing of both Spota and McPartland. They both theoretically face up to 20 years in prison, but would probably get much less under federal sentencing guidelines.
Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for his role in the Loeb case.
The opinion also said that if Spota “has been issued a secure pass by the Office of Court Administration” to enter a courthouse “it shall be returned forthwith.”
A secure pass entitles attorneys to enter a state courthouse without being searched.