Friday, April 29, 2011
Bar Court Lifts License of Break-in Lawyer Michael Pines
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A State Bar Court judge placed Carlsbad attorney Michael T. Pines on involuntary inactive status yesterday, saying his headline-grabbing advice that clients break into homes they’ve lost in foreclosure threatens the public, as well as any clients who might follow similar advice.
“Throughout modem time, attorneys have been at the forefront of the war against corruption and injustice,” Judge Richard Honn wrote. “This battle, however, is waged in the courtroom and not in the streets. Attorneys are litigators, not vigilantes.”
Finding that the State Bar was likely to prevail on charges that Pines advised clients to break the law, showed disrespect for courts, performed legal services incompetently, engaged in moral turpitude, and committed several crimes—including contempt of court, violation of a temporary restraining order, trespass, and making criminal threats—Honn barred Pines from practicing law pending further court action.
The order is effective this Sunday. Pines did not return a MetNews phone call seeking comment.
The judge acted at the request of the bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel, which asked March 11 that Pines be prohibited from practicing. Under the State Bar Act, an attorney who causes substantial harm to clients, or to the public, can be ordered inactive as a matter of public protection.
“The State Bar is very gratified that the court has agreed with us that Pines poses an imminent threat of harm to the public, and therefore has removed him from active practice,” Chief Trial Counsel Jim Towery said in a statement. “Lawyers have an obligation to follow the law, not to break it. There are proper ways and improper ways for a lawyer to protest a court order. Taking the law into one’s own hands is an improper way, and will subject the lawyer to discipline.”
Pines, 59, an attorney in California since 1977, has been recently arrested in separate cases in Orange, San Diego, and Ventura counties. In each instance, he has acknowledged, he told his clients that they had a legal right to return to their homes, regardless of writs of possession issued by the courts in favor of subsequent purchasers, because the foreclosures had been illegal.
That was very bad advice, Honn said.
“Although Pines is a seasoned attorney, he seems to have lost his ability to distinguish between zealous advocacy and lawlessness,” Honn wrote. “Legal decisions are to be made by the courts, not the litigants. Respondent’s unwillingness or inability to obey court orders and follow the laws of this state has tarnished the reputation of other attorneys and the legal community as a whole.”
On Feb. 18 of this year, the judge found, Pines was arrested for making threats against occupants of a house that used to be owned by one of his clients, cited for trespassing on the property the following day and cited for violating a temporary restraining order at the site four days after that. He told a court his clients may break into the property again.
Last October, the judge found, Pines gave Newport Beach police—as well as the media—advance notice that he and a client were going to take possession of a house the client had lost in foreclosure, leading to a five-hour standoff involving seven officers and a lawyer for the city. After he and his client were arrested, he told police that it had been his intention that they arrest the client in order to set up a wrongful arrest action.
The client, Honn found, broke a window that cost over $1,700 to fix.
Also in October, the judge noted Pines accompanied his clients to their foreclosed Simi Valley home and advised them to break in despite a court ruling forbidding such an action. The family remained in the house for several days until the new owner got another writ of possession.
“The aforementioned misconduct has wasted scarce law enforcement resources and preoccupied officers while they could be responding to actual emergencies,” Honn wrote, adding that Pines “has also caused great harm to legitimate homeowners and potential buyers” and damaged the image of the profession.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company