A 66-year-old doctor was convicted of stalking and trying to kidnap a Newport Beach attorney following years of contentious litigation stemming from a road-rage confrontation in San Diego.
Richard Lee Austin, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was also convicted Wednesday of misdemeanor tampering with a vehicle for stealing a license plate at John Wayne Airport and placing it on his rental car, according to court records.
Austin, however, was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and jurors deadlocked 8-4 for guilt on an attempted murder charge that would have led to a life sentence.
Austin will return to court May 18 for a judge to consider sentencing and set a new trial date on the attempted murder charge.
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 eventually 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 he later sued Farmers Insurance, alleging his insurance policy should have covered the settlement. Attorney Limor 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,” prosecutors contended in a trial brief.
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 a year ago, pretending to be Robert Brown, prosecutors said. He claimed to be a Chicago attorney and wanted to meet with her while he was in town.
On April 4 of last year, Austin traveled to Orange County, rented a car and again tried to contact Lehavi, but without success.
At one point during his calls, the defendant’s name appeared in the caller-ID function at Lehavi’s office, even though Austin was 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, who had earlier been kicked out of Lehavi’s office because he looked suspicious wearing a wig and sunglasses, 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. He told investigators he had been to a shooting range before going to Lehavi’s offices because he wanted to be careful to not let the gun go off accidentally when he confronted her, prosecutors said.
His goal was to take Lehavi at gunpoint to her boss’ office to get her fired, prosecutors said, because he wanted to “hurt her like she has hurt me.”
Austin also blamed Lehavi for his cancer diagnosis, prosecutors said.
Messages left with Austin’s attorney Jack Earley were not immediately returned.