Lawyer, Client Plead Not Guilty in Foreclosure Break-In

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A 72-year-old man and his suspended attorney pleaded not guilty Tuesday to allegedly trying to illegally break into the man’s former, now foreclosed, Newport Coast home.

Newport Beach resident Rene Hector Zepeda and his attorney, Michael Theodore Pines, 59, of San Diego are charged with one misdemeanor count each of vandalism, second-degree burglary, and the unauthorized entry of a dwelling. Pines faces an additional misdemeanor count for resisting and obstructing an officer.

Zepeda lost the home to foreclosure in 2009 and hired Pines as his attorney in 2010, according to a statement released Tuesday by the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

Pines allegedly told Zepeda that the foreclosure was illegal and instructed him to break in and repossess the house on Coral Cay, according to the statement, without any official move to undo the foreclosure or file any case alleging that the foreclosure was defective.

Pines then allegedly contacted the media and a real estate agent hired by the bank as a trustee for the house and said he and Zepeda would take possession of the house on Oct. 13. The agent contacted the Newport Beach Police Department.

The two allegedly arrived at the home with a locksmith, Uziel Santos, on Oct. 13. According to the State Bar of California, Pines identified Zepeda as the owner of the home and Zepeda showed Santos his driver’s license, listing the Coral Cay house as his residence.

Also present were two women and an armed security guard. One of the women warned Santos to be careful so he would not get arrested and that they wanted Zepeda to get arrested “so they could sue for millions of dollars,” according to the 17-page state bar document from Pines’ court case regarding the decision to list him as involuntarily inactive.

When police arrived Santos stopped cutting the lockbox and officers informed Pines and Zepeda and bystanders that the house was owned by the JP Morgan Chase Bank and handled by Clifford Adkins property management, according to the state bar findings.

Police informed them they would be arrested if they entered the property, according to the OC DA’s office.

The DA alleges that Pines then instructed Zepeda to “ignore the officers’ warning and break into the home.” Pines and Zepeda walked through front yard into the backyard, with police officers following.

Pines allegedly continually asked officers what Zepeda had to do in order to get arrested and then told Zepeda he would probably get arrested if he broke a window.

Pines then waited for media to arrive, made video statements with Zepeda, and returned to the backyard with a hammer. After ignoring officer’s warnings and advising Zepeda not to listen, Pines broke one of the house’s windows, the document states.

Both defendants were arrested, cited, and released.

After being read his Miranda rights at the police station, Pines allegedly stated that it was his intent for Zepeda to get arrested so they could sue the city for wrongful arrest, the text from the State Bar Court of California claims.

Pines allegedly added that he wanted the arrest to be covered by the media so it would “create a public outcry and to help him build up momentum to encourage civil disobedience,” the document states.

Pines’ license was suspended in last month. According to the State Bar, he has also been involved in at least two similar cases, in Simi Valley and Carlsbad.

“(Pines’) misconduct has caused substantial harm to his clients and the public. (Pines) willfully exposed his clients to legal liability, all for his own personal benefit. In doing so, he has propelled his clients into volatile and even dangerous situations, with apparently little concern for their wellbeing,“ the State Bar document states in its findings. “In the Newport Beach matter, for instance, respondent advised his client to trespass, ignore police warnings, and vandalize property.”

The court document notes that there have been reports of inappropriate or overreaching actions by lenders with little research into creditworthiness of borrowers. There have also been reports that lenders didn’t inform borrowers of potential interest rate increases, which resulted in borrowers being unable to pay and, ultimately, foreclosure.

But it goes on to mention that there are legal solutions for borrowers when dealing with improper lender conduct.

“(Pines, however,) advises his clients that they have the right to engage in self-help and retake their former homes by forcibly breaking into them after new owners have taken title,” it states in the reasoning for the decision to enroll him as involuntarily inactive.

He encourages civil disobedience, the State Bar Court of California claims.

“Throughout modern time, attorneys have been at the forefront of the war against corruption and injustice. This battle, however, is waged in the courtroom and not in the streets. Attorneys are litigators, not vigilantes,” the document states. “Although (Pines) is a seasoned attorney, he seems to have lost his ability to distinguish between zealous advocacy and lawlessness.”

Pines and Zepeda turned themselves in on Tuesday on a warrant and are scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on June 20 at the Newport Beach Harbor Justice Center.

If convicted, they could face up to a year in jail and $10,000 in fines.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Pete Pierce of the Real Estate Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.

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