A former doctor who prosecuted and tried to kidnap and kill a lawyer in Newport Beach, whom he allegedly blamed for his legal and health problems, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Friday, March 19.
The root of the case lies in the anger between Richard Lee Austin, 69, and another San Diego driver in 2008 that led to Austin’s arrest.
Austin has settled a civil complaint from the driver. Then he turned and sued his own insurance company. He argued that his policy should have covered the civil law regime.
Lawyer Limor Lehavi successfully defended the insurance company against Austin’s lawsuit. She also prevailed in a second lawsuit that Austin filed directly against her. Austin was sentenced to pay legal fees for both civil cases.
According to prosecutors, Austin was “obsessed” with Lehavi, blaming her for his legal troubles and later for his cancer diagnosis.
In April 2017, Austin left his New Mexico home and traveled to Orange County. He took a supposed name and called Lehavi’s office, but a receptionist saw his real name appear on the caller ID. Lehavi let colleagues lead him to her car.
Austin arrived at the office with zip ties, tape and a loaded gun, prosecutors said, but was kicked out of the building because someone saw him wearing a wig and sunglasses and believed he was a suspect.
Lehavi’s employees later discovered a parking garage for him. He drove off in a rental car, said the prosecutor and almost met one of the employees. He was arrested in New Mexico.
Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Boyd told the jury during the recent Austin trial that Austin believed he had been “vigilante” and intended to kill Lehavi in revenge.
Attorney Karen Kenney, who represented Austin, said he was merely trying to fire her from a new law firm she joined because he believed it was “unethical behavior”.
During Friday’s conviction, Lehavi told Orange County Supreme Court Justice Michael J. Cassidy that Austin’s actions were “life changing” and encouraged her and others at her law firm to buy firearms. The lawyer added that she still had nightmares about “what could have happened to me”.
“He has stated that his regrets cannot end my life,” said Lehavi.
During the initial trial of Austin, he was convicted of stalking and attempted kidnapping by a jury that was bogged down in attempted murder. A second jury also failed to reach consensus on the attempted murder charge. A third jury eventually convicted Austin of attempted murder.