A former doctor was convicted Wednesday, Sept. 2, of attempting to kill a Newport Beach attorney he apparently blamed for his legal and health problems.
Richard Lee Austin, 68, was previously convicted of stalking and trying to kidnap the lawyer. But two separate juries had been unable to agree as to whether he was attempting to kill the woman at her Newport Beach office, leading to a pair of mistrials.
The latest Orange County Superior Court jury, though, did find Austin guilty of attempted murder.
This trial’s roots go back to 2008, when Austin and another driver got into a road-rage confrontation in San Diego that led to Austin getting arrested. He settled a civil lawsuit filed by the other driver, then turned around and sued his own insurance company, arguing his policy should have covered the settlement.
Attorney Limor Lehavi successfully defended the insurance company and won a second lawsuit that Austin filed against her directly. Austin was ordered to pay attorney’s fees for both civil cases.
Prosecutors allege Austin blamed Lehavi for his legal woes – as well as his later cancer diagnosis – and became “obsessed” with her.
Austin’s defense attorneys said he believed Lehavi had acted improperly and unethically.
In April 2017, Austin left his home in New Mexico and traveled to Orange County. He called Lehavi’s office under an assumed name, according to prosecutors, but a receptionist saw his real name come up on caller ID.
Concerned about the call, the attorney began having co-workers walk her to her car.
Austin showed up at the office with zip ties, duct tape and a loaded gun, Prosecutors allege. He was kicked out of the building after someone thought he was suspicious, they said, because he was wearing a wig and sunglasses.
The lawyer’s co-workers spotted him in a parking garage, and he drove off in a rental car, nearly hitting one of the co-workers.
He was later arrested in New Mexico.
During closing arguments earlier this week, Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Boyd told jurors that Austin believed he was carrying out “vigilante justice.”
“The defendant was not able to get his version of justice, so he came to Newport Beach, went up a stairwell and tried to kill his victim in an act of revenge,” the prosecutor said.
Attorney Karen Kenney, who represented Austin in the latest trial, told jurors that Austin had learned that Lehavi had moved to a new law firm, and he simply wanted to discuss with her new bosses what he believed was her “unethical conduct.”
“He wanted to get her fired,” the defense attorney said.
After the verdict, Kenney told the judge she plans to file a motion for a new trial, saying, “So this fight is not over.”
Austin, who has been in custody, is to be sentenced for the crimes at a later date.