A doctor was sentenced Friday to eight years to life for attempting to kill a Newport Beach attorney who successfully defended the insurance company he sued, and who he ultimately blamed for his pancreatic cancer.
Richard Lee Austin was convicted in September of attempted murder with sentencing enhancements for attempted premeditated murder and being armed with a gun in the commission of a felony.
It was Austin’s third trial on the charges.
A mistrial was declared Oct. 3, 2018, when jurors deadlocked on the attempted murder charge against Austin, 69, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Another jury deadlocked on the attempted murder charge in March 2018.
Austin’s attorney, Karren Kenney, filed a motion for a new trial because she said Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Cassidy prevented her from telling jurors about a deadly officer-involved killing involving one of the Newport Beach detectives assigned to the case that occurred while serving as a police officer in Antioch.
Kenney said Cassidy failed to disclose his background as a police officer.
“I wasn’t able to go into it and I think it was because Cassidy was a cop,” Kenney said after the conviction in September.
If the attorney knew about his background as a police officer, she said she would have moved to have him disqualified and sought another judge, Kenney said.
Kenney argued that video surveillance from the office building where the incident took place showed her client “never had a gun on him. Our argument was he never had a gun when he was in the building and his behavior in the lobby waiting wasn’t consistent with someone there to kill … He had a wig on, but he was undergoing chemotherapy and had lost a lot of his hair and it was patchy.”
Austin was convicted of attempting to kill attorney Limor Lehavi on April 4, 2017. In the prior trial, Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Boyd argued that the defendant was scared off at the last moment when he saw the victim with a co-worker.
“He had this weapon, it was loaded and he was ready to kill,” Boyd told jurors in closing arguments of Austin’s trial in 2018.
When Austin showed up at Lehavi’s office, he had “zip ties, duct tape and a wig” as well as “ammunition, a police scanner and binoculars,” Boyd said.
Austin also stole a license plate from a car at John Wayne Airport and put it on his rental car in hopes of evading detection, Boyd argued.
“He was dressed in a disguise to conceal his identity,” Boyd said. “Why? Because he wanted to get away. … This is a man on a mission, a man with intent.”
Austin spent 2 1/2 hours at a target range before going to Lehavi’s office, and he called the attorney’s office several times to “make sure she was there,” Boyd said.
But Austin “made a mistake” when he phoned Lehavi’s office from his own personal phone, tipping off the attorney to his presence and prompting her to ask co-workers to walk with her to her car, thwarting Austin’s plans, Boyd said.
Austin was convicted in March 2018 of stalking and trying to kidnap the victim following years of contentious litigation stemming from a road rage conflict in San Diego.
Jurors in that trial, however, acquitted Austin of assault with a deadly weapon and deadlocked 8-4 in favor of guilt on a charge of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation.
According to prosecutors, Austin’s troubles started in October 2008, when he got into a road rage confrontation in San Diego that resulted in his arrest on charges of carjacking, robbery and vandalism. He pleaded guilty to vandalism and was ordered to pay restitution to the victim, Cheryl Johns.
Austin settled a civil suit with Johns for $250,000, but later sued Farmers Insurance, alleging his policy should have covered the settlement. Lehavi successfully defended Farmers Insurance in the lawsuit and Austin was ordered to pay $60,000 in attorneys fees.
Austin appealed and then sued Lehavi, alleging a racketeering conspiracy. Lehavi won again and Austin’s attorneys fees swelled to $100,000.
Austin grew “obsessed” with Lehavi and “blamed her personally,” even later blaming her for his cancer diagnosis, prosecutors said.
During one settlement conference in the civil litigation, Austin “verbally accosted” Lehavi and a courtroom bailiff kicked him out of the building, prosecutors said.
When Lehavi got a new job at a firm in Newport Beach, Austin tracked her down and called her office, pretending to be a Chicago attorney named Robert Brown who wanted to meet with her.
On April 4, 2017, Austin traveled to Orange County, rented a car and again tried to contact Lehavi.
At one point during his calls, the defendant’s name appeared on the caller-ID function at Lehavi’s office, even though Austin was again calling himself Robert Brown.
A receptionist alerted Lehavi, who was so frightened she asked co-workers to walk her to her car, according to prosecutors.
Austin was spotted in the parking facility by the victim’s co-worker, prompting him to yell at Austin, prosecutors said.
That led Austin, who had a gun in his medical scrubs, to dash to his rental car, jump in and put the car in reverse, forcing Lehavi’s co-worker to jump out of the way — leading to the assault with a deadly weapon charge, prosecutors said.
Police later arrested Austin at his home in New Mexico.
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