Attorney Could Owe N.M. $1M in Penalties - Albuquerque Journal

Attorney Could Owe N.M. $1M in Penalties

LAS CRUCES – It sounds like one of those “bad lawyer” jokes.

You know, the one about the El Paso lawyer whose advertisements featured a picture of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and who had Las Cruces clients delivered to his doorstep by a chiropractor who is now in prison?

And who wasn’t even licensed to practice law in New Mexico?

The state Attorney General’s Office says it’s no joke.

In fact, the AG could recover up to $1 million from El Paso-based attorney Michael Gopin for allegedly cheating his clients.

State District Judge Jim T. Martin of Las Cruces decided recently that the office of Attorney General Gary King can recover civil penalties of $5,000 per client against El Paso-based attorney Michael Gopin on the grounds that Gopin “willfully violated” the state’s Unfair Practices Act.

The AG’s Office argued that Gopin failed to deliver a “free initial consultation” to clients as advertised and didn’t tell clients he wasn’t licensed to practice law in New Mexico.

According to court files, at least 100 New Mexico consumers have contacted the AG’s Office seeking restitution from Gopin, and those cases would form the basis for penalties against him. Those cases alone would generate penalties of $500,000 against Gopin, said Las Cruces attorney Robert “Tito” Meyer, who is representing eight other clients seeking damages. Gopin, however, might have had as many as 200 clients, Meyer said.

“They (the AG’s Office) just had a huge victory,” Meyer said.

According to court documents, Gopin worked closely with a chiropractor, Laura Carsner of Las Cruces, who found names of accident victims off police reports, called the victims and said they needed an attorney to recover damages. She referred the clients to Gopin, sometimes providing rides to his office.

Carsner was sentenced to life in prison in July following her conviction in El Paso for the fatal 2009 shootings of her mother and stepfather.

Gopin has advertised heavily in southern New Mexico in recent years, and his ads feature a photo of “Star Trek” star William Shatner, but not his own.

Gopin, through a member of his El Paso staff, declined to comment on Martin’s ruling, and his attorney, J. Monty Stevens, did not return a call seeking comment.

Stevens has previously argued that client agreements were handled by New Mexico licensed attorneys employed by Gopin’s firm and that Gopin was simply the “sole proprietor” operating the law firm. Stevens has also cited correspondence from the state Disciplinary Board, which handles complaints against lawyers, that he said approved how Gopin’s office handled New Mexico clients.

The Disciplinary Board said no charges have been filed against Gopin.

Attorney General spokesman Phil Sisneros said it was premature to estimate the number of former Gopin clients that penalties would be based upon, adding, “The final number is up to the judge.” The AG’s Office is preparing a proposed order to reflect the judge’s ruling, Sisneros said.

“The ruling was very significant and a good beginning for the people who ended up being victims of a lawyer who was supposed to be protecting them,” King said in a statement. “Our next focus is to help these consumers get back some, if not all, the money they paid in legal fees.”

Separate from the civil penalties, a trial in which former clients are seeking restitution and triple damages against Gopin is expected to begin in late October.

The attorney general’s motion relied on a 2008 order in the case that found Gopin’s non-attorney staff interviewed and contracted with clients for legal services, acts that amounted to the unauthorized practice of law and therefore nullified the contracts.

The same 2008 order found that Gopin violated state law by advertising his law practice and operating in New Mexico, where he is not licensed to do so.

According to court documents filed by the AG’s Office, clients believed they would be personally represented by Gopin based on his print and television ads.

However, none of the former clients ever met with or spoke to an

attorney before signing powers of attorney and contingent fee contracts provided by Gopin’s staff, and none ever met with Gopin personally.

Clients only spoke to an attorney to go over insurance settlements following accidents and to review how funds would be distributed.

Those agreements, Meyer said, ended up benefiting Gopin and Carsner far more than the clients.

Documents filed by Meyer allege that about 70 percent of clients handled by Gopin’s Las Cruces office were referred by Carsner.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

Home » News » New Mexico News » Attorney Could Owe N.M. $1M in Penalties


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
End of the line: Why some New Mexicans may ...
ABQnews Seeker
NM Medicaid enrollees warned: Yearly requalifications ... NM Medicaid enrollees warned: Yearly requalifications on horizon again
2
University of New Mexico's plan for massive development project ...
ABQnews Seeker
Plan to use tax money for ... Plan to use tax money for site's development under scrutiny
3
Acequias face challenges, uncertain future
ABQnews Seeker
Fire, flood damage to NM irrigation ... Fire, flood damage to NM irrigation ditches threaten a way of life
4
New venture plans to launch technological revolution in ...
ABQnews Seeker
AFF, America's Frontier Fund, aims to ... AFF, America's Frontier Fund, aims to rebuild US technological lead
5
Judge, pets killed by husband in murder-suicide
ABQnews Seeker
Diane Albert, resident of Los Ranchos, ... Diane Albert, resident of Los Ranchos, mourned by officials and friends
6
A quiet space for time apart
ABQnews Seeker
Norbertine community adds lodging, meeting space ... Norbertine community adds lodging, meeting space to West Side center
7
Contract talks stall for some health plans
ABQnews Seeker
Thousands of UnitedHealthcare and Lovelace patients ... Thousands of UnitedHealthcare and Lovelace patients may be affected if a new pact is not reached
8
Black Friday? Not as big a deal
ABQnews Seeker
For some bargain-hunters, lines are part ... For some bargain-hunters, lines are part of the fun, but few were seen
9
Albuquerque police shoot son during response to family dispute
ABQnews Seeker
Chief Harold Medina described it as ... Chief Harold Medina described it as the bookend of 'a tough 24 hours'