One of Wichita’s most high-profile lawyers is expected to soon have his law license suspended by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Brad Pistotnik, principal owner of Bull Attorneys law firm in Wichita, pleaded guilty in 2019 to three misdemeanor counts of accessory after the fact to an illegal cyber attack and extortion scheme to remove negative online reviews about Pistotnik from websites.
Nearly three years later, a Kansas disciplinary panel is recommending a one-year suspension of his law license.
The federal convictions triggered an automatic suspension of Pistotnik’s law license in Oklahoma. But he has been allowed to continue practicing law in Kansas, where he is well known for his flamboyant “Bull Attorney” persona, appearing in television and billboard commercials dressed for trial atop a longhorn steer or standing on the roof of a moving semi-truck.
The Kansas Supreme Court will decide how long Pistotnik, 66, should be suspended and under what conditions he can return to the profession. This would be the sixth time he has been disciplined by the state of Kansas in his 40-year career, records show.
Pistotnik has agreed with the panel’s recommendation for a one-year suspension. One question for the Supreme Court is whether his license should be automatically renewed after the suspension.
The state’s Office of Disciplinary Administrator argued that he should have to petition for reinstatement after the suspension, to make sure he doesn’t illegally practice law in the meantime. Pistotnik and his lawyer did not address that during oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court last week.
A one-year suspension without a reinstatement hearing would be lighter discipline than was handed down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in November 2020. That court doubled his suspension to two years and one day because Pistotnik would not accept full responsibility for his conduct, maintaining “he was an innocent pawn” in a scheme perpetrated by the computer software engineer he hired to clean up his online image, Oklahoma court records show.
In Kansas on Tuesday, Pistotnik apologized to the state’s high court but said he didn’t fully grasp what was going on.
“I didn’t know what was going on and then it was against the law and I panicked at that time,” Pistotnik said.
The criminal convictions stemmed from actions Pistotnik took in 2014, when he hired David Dorsett, a computer software engineer, for online reputation management services and asked him to help get rid of negative online reviews about him. Dorsett pleaded guilty to two counts of making extortionate threats through the internet and was sentenced to three years of federal probation and a $2,000 fine.
An Oklahoma Supreme Court decision on his disciplinary hearing following his conviction gives the most detailed description to date of Pistotnik’s involvement in the case:
In response to Pistotnik’s request to remove negative online reviews, Dorsett launched a cyber attack on the servers of Leagle and Ripoff Report and on an Arizona law firm that represented Ripoff Report — sending a flood of emails that overwhelmed the websites’ servers and threatened to target their advertisers unless they removed the negative reviews.
During the cyber attack, two attorneys from Ripoff Report called Pistotnik and asked him if he knew any information that could help them identify the attacker and stop the flood of emails threatening to crash their servers.
Pistotnik denied hiring anyone and attempted to shift the blame to his brother, Brian Pistotnik, whom he had sued earlier in the year as part of a nasty breakup of the family law practice.
After hanging up the phone with the Ripoff Report lawyers, Pistotnik immediately called Dorsett, who confirmed the attacks. Pistotnik said he “chewed him out” and “screamed at him,” asking “what the hell was wrong with him,” the Oklahoma court records say. But Pistotnik later paid him for the work after Dorsett described his methods and confirmed the negative posts had been successfully removed.
“Even if (Pistotnik) was initially unknowing of Dorsett’s plan, after the attacks he chose to persist in the lie, not contact the lawyers, and then pay for the completed scheme,” the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision says.
It wasn’t until Pistotnik learned Dorsett had actually caused the negative reviews to be published as part of a larger ploy to extort him and the three companies that Pistotnik reported it to the FBI. Even then, he was deceptive, the Oklahoma high court said, describing the events to the FBI as if he was “completely innocent in the scheme.” He excluded two incriminating emails from the evidence he gave to the FBI.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court wrote that Pistotnik’s actions “brought disrepute on the legal profession as a whole.” The two years and one day suspension requires a reinstatement hearing before he can get his license back in the Sooner State.
At the Kansas Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday, Pistotnik’s lawyer, John Ambrosio, argued that his client’s behavior since the 2014 online attack shows that he is “an honor to his profession.”
“He gives to the community,” Ambrosio said. “He allowed his plane to be used to take an ill child to an operative procedure — didn’t ask for anything, didn’t put anything in the paper until later on when the paper found out about it.
“Every year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, he gives toys to the poor. He allows people to go to food banks that he provides the food for. He is an honor to this profession. There’s a blight in that he made a mistake, but that mistake has been rectified by his conduct.”
Ambrosio said stress and health problems contributed to Pistotnik’s actions.
“My client was going through a breakup of a family law firm. It was a terrible battle between he and his brother that ended up with a receiver being appointed and the court being involved for years to get the firm broken up,” he said. “He injured his back very seriously. He had three operative procedures. He has nerve damage. He had to walk with a walker for a while, and now he walks with an altered gait because of it. All of those things plus the stress of the breakup plus the stress of practicing law led to the mistake that he made.”
Pistotnik asked the Kansas Supreme Court not to measure him by his worst days. He said he has suffered enough for his actions and called the experience of being under federal prosecution “terrifying.”
“To lose a professional license — it is part of my very identity,” he said. “Since I was a young man — I apologize for crying – I always dreamed of being a lawyer to help people. Being aware of my calling, I devoted my whole life to helping my clients and others to continue to help people that need a good lawyer.”