State bar revokes law license of vigilante California attorney
[Update 1: Clarifies at end of article that there is another Michael Pines practicing law in same region.] California attorney Michael T. Pines, a foreclosure defense attorney who advised his clients who had lost homes to foreclosure to break in to their former homes, will be disbarred. Pines views himself "as a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, who encouraged civil disobedience to effect universal societal benefits, including ending slavery and war," said an 18-page ruling signed by Richard Honn, judge of the State Bar Court of California. "But respondent is not Thoreau, and his cause is not slavery or war. (Pines) sought a few minutes of fame in front of reporters or the television cameras while he violated the law, or encouraged his clients to do so." The disbarment takes effect May 1. Pines "poses a substantial threat of harm" to his clients and the public, the order notes. No one answered the phone at Pines' law office when HousingWire called seeking comment, and Pines did not immediately return a message left for him. The Los Angeles Times quoted a defiant Pines saying the ruling meant "absolutely nothing" and quoted him saying that he would "go right on doing what I have always done, and it won't affect me at all, or my clients." Pines was Member No. 77771 of the California State Bar for more than 30 years, according to bar records, having been admitted in 1977 after going to law school at the University of San Diego. But despite that longevity, the court noted that he had trouble properly filing court documents and following basic rules of civil procedure in acting in his own defense. Despite two extensions to allow him to correct improperly filed paperwork, Pines twice re-filed and twice had the documents rejected due to procedural errors. While some homeowners who have lost their homes during the nation's lingering housing crisis suffered "inappropriate or overreaching actions by lenders," such homeowners had legal remedies to seek justice for improper lender conduct, the order noted. Instead of pursuing those legal remedies, Pines told his clients to break into their former homes and take them back from the new owners. On three occasions, he went with his clients to help them break in. In one case, Pines assisted Jim and Danielle Earl in their Oct. 9, 2010, break-in at a Simi Valley, Calif., home that they lost to foreclosure by using a locksmith to pick the locks. The Earls moved in and stayed several days in the property, which had been purchased 10 months earlier by Conejo Capital Partners at a public auction. As a result of the break-in and media attention, there is now a cloud over the property and Conejo has been unable to sell it, according to the order. Just days later, Pines orchestrated another break-in involving Hector Zepeda who had lost a property to foreclosure in Newport Beach, Calif. Zepeda ultimately broke a window at the house and was arrested along with Pines at the house, which had been repossessed by JPMorgan Chase (JPM). A third case involved a house formerly owned by Benjamin and Sara Valenzuela in Carlsbad, Calif. It was sold on Dec. 1, 2010, but remained occupied by the Valenzuelas until they were evicted on Feb. 18, 2011. Pines confronted the new homeowner on the day of the eviction and later returned while the new owner was moving in and attempted to change the locks. The new owner called police, and Pines was arrested. Pines was later arrested two more times for returning to the property. Judge Honn said Pines "propelled his clients into volatile and even dangerous situations, with apparently little concern for their wellbeing." The judge also chastised him for harming the legal profession, which he said has been at the forefront of the war against injustice and corruption in a battle waged in the courtroom, not the streets. "Attorneys are litigators, not vigilantes," the order said, noting that Pines somehow lost his ability to distinguish between zealous advocacy and lawlessness. (Michael T. Pines is not associated with Michael Pines, 53, a personal injury attorney practicing in San Diego/La Jolla, Calif. The other Pines does not use a middle initial and his firm is the Law Offices of Michael Pines.) Write to Kerry Curry. Follow her on Twitter @communicatorKLC.