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Bar moves to lift license of controversial lawyer

Declaring that he poses a “substantial threat of harm to the public,” the State Bar has filed pleadings in State Bar Court to lift the law license of Michael T. Pines, the Carlsbad attorney who made national headlines by advising clients to break into their foreclosed homes and start living there again.

“To remove a lawyer from active practice on an interim basis before formal charges are filed is a drastic remedy,” said Chief Trial Counsel James Towery. “That remedy is justified by the established misconduct of Michael T. Pines. He has shown complete disrespect for the law, the courts and especially the best interests of his clients. Removing Mr. Pines from active practice is an important step in our mission of public protection.”

The State Bar Court scheduled a hearing April 12 to consider the bar’s petition. Pines remains active until the court acts.

Pines [#77771], 59, who has law offices in Carlsbad but lists his official address as Encinitas, was served notice March 11 that the State Bar seeks to have him enrolled as an inactive member of the bar under a section of the State Bar Act that allows swift action to remove an attorney from practice when he or she is causing substantial harm to clients or the public, when the evidence suggests the harmful behavior is likely to continue and when it is likely the State Bar will prevail on the merits of the case.

Michael T. Pines should not be confused with Michael Pines, a San Diego personal injury attorney who has been handling car accident cases since 1992. Mr. Pines (#140602) has no record of discipline.

Pines said he would file a class action lawsuit against the bar, accusing the agency of helping debt collector attorneys who engage in illegal foreclosure activities. By press time, the bar had not been served with the suit.

Pines has been unapologetic about encouraging – and often physically helping – clients hire a locksmith to get into their foreclosed homes despite warnings from the court and police to stop the illegal activity. He has argued that the foreclosures themselves are illegal, so his clients have a right to repossession since they are still the legal owners of the homes.

In the application for inactive enrollment, Deputy Trial Counsel Brooke Schafer noted that in none of the cases in which Pines advised his clients to re-enter their homes in Carlsbad, Newport Beach and Simi Valley did they have a legal right to do so. Pines “acts with calculated purpose,” Schafer wrote in the petition. “He is harming both his clients and the public by advising clients to take the law into their own hands, and he uses his law license as a weapon. By his behavior, actions and freely offered statements he is a clear – and ongoing – danger both to his clients and to the public.”

The petition, which notes that Pines has been cited for contempt and criminally cited three times in less than a week, refers to three serious incidents involving break-ins and other criminal acts between October 2010 and February 2011.

On Feb. 18, he 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.

In October, Pines gave Newport Beach police advance notice that he and a client were going to take possession of a house the client had lost in foreclosure. Pines had claimed the foreclosure was illegal even though his client had not prevailed in court. For five hours, Pines “kept approximately seven police officers and an assistant city attorney wrapped up in his media circus” until Pines and his client were arrested, Schafer wrote in the petition.

Also in October, Schafer wrote, 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.