'Fugitive' Texas PI Lawyer Jailed on Bench Warrant in NM Civil Consumer Case; Bail Set at $1M Cash
A Texas personal injury lawyer was arrested Tuesday in El Paso and was being held without bail for potential extradition after police there learned a bench warrant had been issued by a New Mexico judge in a civil case brought against Michael J. Gopin by the state attorney general.
Gopin is considered a fugitive after being held in contempt earlier this year by a state district court judge in Las Cruces. Judge James T. Martin found he failed to appear at a May 16 hearing to discuss his assets and did not comply with a court order requiring him to post $500,000 bond after a multimillion-dollar judgment against him in the consumer case, the Albuquerque Journal (reg. req.) reports.
The newspaper reports that Gopin will be required to post a $1 million cash bond to win release once he reaches New Mexico. The state attorney general’s office said he was arrested at the El Paso airport as he returned on a private jet from a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
New Mexico Attorney General Gary King filed suit against Gopin in 2007 under the state’s Unfair Practices Act, claiming that the Texas lawyer misled hundreds of clients he represented since 2004, the Albuquerque Journal reports. Although Gopin himself is not licensed in New Mexico, he maintained offices in the state staffed by lawyers who were licensed there. However, the suit contended that clients often met with an attorney for the first time only to discuss a pending settlement with an insurance company for the defendant.
Gopin, who is appealing Martin’s damages ruling, was found liable by the judge in January for $1.6 million in civil penalties to 314 former clients, plus another $500,000 in restitution to 110 former clients and nearly $200,000, representing treble damages, to a dozen ex-clients represented by private counsel.
A Jan. 19 opinion (PDF) by the N.M. Court of Appeals approves a potential application of a lodestar formula to calculating an attorney fee award to the plaintiffs.