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Former US big law partner charged for airplane assault

airplane landing on a runway-Article-201410281600By Lizzy McLellan, From The Legal Intelligencer

A one-time partner at a national law firm is facing a federal misdemeanor charge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania over an allegation that she assaulted another person during a flight that was forced to divert to Philadelphia.

The U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charged attorney Sarah Buffett by information Jan. 7, alleging that she violated 49 U.S.C. Section 46504, regarding interference with a flight crew. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the charge arose out of Buffett’s “unruly conduct” on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to London in July, which caused the flight to land in Philadelphia.

Buffett was a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough at the time of the incident. She was suspended in July, according to a report by Legal affiliate The American Lawyer. A spokeswoman for Nelson Mullins said Buffett is no longer affiliated with the firm, and that the firm has no comment on the matter.

Buffett appears to have founded Buffett Immigration Law Firm in Charlotte since her departure from Nelson Mullins.

Buffett was arrested July 22. According to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint against her, Buffett became physically aggressive during her flight, damaging her seat and the surrounding area, and attempting to break the airplane window with a remote for the entertainment system. Buffett was verbally threatening, the complaint said, then got out of her seat and “was acting in a menacing manner” in front of the cockpit. Flight attendants required the help of passengers to physically restrain Buffett.

After the flight landed, Buffett was ­removed from the airplane by numerous law enforcement officers, the complaint said, and was taken to the Tinicum Township Police Department.

According to the affidavit, federal authorities interviewed Buffett, and she stated that she consumed at least three glasses of wine and took a zaleplon prescription sleeping pill. She said she did not remember the incident, and her last memory before being physically restrained was a conversation with the flight attendant about not being served dinner.

Buffett’s attorney, Maria A. Pedraza of the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, did not respond to a call for comment Jan. 8.

According to court documents, the original deadline for the government to file an information or indictment against Buffett was in August, but five continuances were granted in the case. When the government requested its most recent continuance, which pushed the deadline to Jan. 19, it explained that the government and Buffett were engaging in discussions to resolve the case without going to trial.

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Mark B. Dubnoff.

Buffett, if convicted, faces a maximum of one year in prison, one year of supervised release, a possible fine and a $25 statutory assessment, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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