Hello and welcome to this JACPA Ethics Alert blog which will discuss the recent media reports about a New Mexico divorce lawyer who helped his female client break into her ex-husband’s home, was videotaped asking the client for a hug during the crime, and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor larceny and trespassing. He was recently sentenced to serve 334 days of supervised probation, complete 100 hours of community service and pay $5,000.00 in restitution and $2,500.00 in fines.
According to the reports, the criminal charges arose when the Alamogordo New Mexico Police Department responded to a 911 call at the home of Anthony Stonecipher on Oct. 28, 2011. Mr. Stonecipher claimed that his ex-wife and the lawyer were attempting to break into his home but by the time the police arrived, the lawyer and his client were gone; however, their actions were captured on surveillance video installed by the ex-husband.
The videotape shows the lawyer initially trying to get in the home by kicking in the front door. Mr. Stonecipher and a roommate then leave through a back door and an outside surveillance video then shows the lawyer confronting Mr. Stonecipher and attacking his vehicle, causing damage to the driver’s side window. Mr. Stonecipher can be heard on the videotape warning the lawyer about the cameras and the lawyer responds by mocking him.
After Mr. Stonecipher left the scene, the video shows the lawyer forcibly breaking in through a back door and he and his client then entering the residence. At one point on the videotape, the lawyer can be seen approaching his client and saying: “I need a hug … I need some relaxation.” After the hug, the lawyer and the client open the front door and the lawyer tells his office staff to gather items and “act quickly” because they did not have much time. The video also shows the lawyer removing and destroying several “No Trespassing” signs posted throughout the residence and the individuals take documents, truckloads of furniture, and the family pet. The lawyer apparently had no legal authority to enter the residence and remove any property and he pled guilty to the crimes of misdemeanor larceny and trespassing.
According to the media reports, at the sentencing hearing held on March 13, 2012, the lawyer apparently stated he did not have time to get an Order from the Court because the incident occurred late on a Friday afternoon. He also apparently stated that “if Stonecipher would have just opened the door, none of this would have happened.”
The prosecutor disagreed and stated “(t)his was a home invasion disguised as a legal process. (The lawyer) gathered his crew of employees and his client, pulled up to the house in droves and demanded entry. When he couldn’t get in, he intimidated the victim into leaving his own property and then forced his way into the house where he and his posse cleaned this victim out. It was a planned attack against a person and his property, without any legal backing at all, and (the lawyer) needs to be punished.” The prosecutor also argued that lawyer is a habitual criminal since he has two prior felony drug convictions. According to the reports, the lawyer also was “temporarily disbarred” for possession of cocaine in 2002.
Bottom line: This is quite a bizarre story and it is very likely that the New Mexico Bar will be investigating this lawyer, if it is not investigating already. Hopefully, I don’t need to ask or tell anyone not to do this…
…and be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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