Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Venie, Vidi, Vici

An attorney's "myriad" ethical violations drew permanent disbarment from the New Mexico Supreme Court

Attorney D. Chipman Venie was permanently disbarred from the practice of  law on January 18, 2017 for actions arising from his representation of three clients.  In re Venie, No. S-1-SC-36175, amended order at 2 (N.M. Sup. Ct. Jan. 18, 2017) (non-precedential). Venie counseled the first client, L.A., to bribe witnesses and  offered to deliver the bribery payment to the witnesses. Venie also unnecessarily revealed confidential communications from L.A. in a fee dispute case between them, and made material misrepresentations to tribunals and the Disciplinary Board. In representing the second client, R.C., Venie converted money for his own use that was provided to him by R.C.’s parents for the sole purpose of posting a bond for R.C.   With respect to the third client, A.C., Venie filed a lien against the property of A.C.’s  mother to secure a fee owed to him by A.C...

We review the factual findings for substantial evidence and the Disciplinary Board’s legal conclusions and recommendations for discipline under a de novo  standard of review. See In re Bristol, 2006-NMSC-041, ¶¶ 18, 26, 28, 140 N.M. 317, 6 142 P.3d 905 (per curiam). We hold that the findings of fact are supported by  substantial evidence and that the recommendation of permanent disbarment is  appropriate in this case. We have chosen to write an opinion in this case primarily  to address Venie’s defenses rather than to catalogue his myriad violations.

In one matter

Venie represented L.A. on felony charges which alleged that L.A. engaged in incest, criminal sexual contact, and criminal sexual penetration of his granddaughter (Granddaughter). Venie recorded a conversation he had with L.A. on May 22, 2011 during which they discussed confrontations L.A. had with his son (Son), who is Granddaughter’s father, and Granddaughter, despite a court order prohibiting L.A. from having contact with Granddaughter and Son.

 The...excerpts from the transcript of the recorded May 22, 2011 conversation (emphasis added) provide sufficient evidence to support the allegations that Venie counseled L.A. to bribe witnesses and offered to assist him with delivering the bribe.

The court rejected a statute of limitations defense and quoted at length the evidence from the recorded conversation, e.g. 

Venie: Maybe you should think—maybe you should think about paying  them [Son and Granddaughter] both off, okay? Now, even me suggesting  (inaudible) gets me disbarred. But you see how far I’m willing to go—

L.A.: I am paying them off.

Venie: Do you see how far I’m willing to go to help you? I’m willing to put my own livelihood, everything you see around here, on the line to help you.

Venie: [A]ll I know is if you don’t kiss these people’s ass and make  them happy over the next year and a half or two while this case is  pending, they’re going to fucking fry you for it. Okay?

Venie: And what I’m—and what I’m telling you is—and I can’t believe  I’m saying this, but you might want to just pay [Son and Granddaughter]  off, and that’s it. I mean, you might want to start thinking about  (inaudible).

Venie: And (inaudible)—and if it’s something you want to do, I can make that happen for you and you would never have to give it directly to them. I would do it, and then that would be that.

False statements

Criminal defense attorneys are permitted to put the State to its burden of proof  and do not share in the State’s duty to present the truth in a criminal proceeding.  United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 256-58 (1967) (White, J., dissenting in part and  concurring in part). Because a criminal defense attorney has a duty to represent his  or her client whether or not the client is guilty, the attorney need not present any  knowledge that he or she may have about the truth. Id. at 257. A defense attorney  has the right to “cross-examine a prosecution witness, and impeach him if he can,  even if he thinks the witness is telling the truth, just as he will attempt to destroy a  witness who he thinks is lying.” Id. at 258. However, although attorneys should be  encouraged to be zealous advocates, their duty to provide diligent representation to  their clients “does not require the use of offensive tactics or preclude the treating of 13 all persons involved in the legal process with courtesy and respect.” Rule 16-103 14 NMRA, Comm. cmt. 1.

What is particularly disconcerting is that Venie could have impeached  Granddaughter with her initial statement to the police when she denied that she had ever had sexual relations with L.A. Instead, he sought to corroborate  Granddaughter’s initial statement to the police with an affidavit that Venie drafted for her which he knew was perjured.

There were also false statements in related civil litigation.

And when the representation soured, he broke the vow of confidentiality

In his response to L.A. and Wife’s petition for an accounting, application for  a temporary restraining order, and motion for a preliminary injunction, Venie stated that L.A. “is a child molester and fraud [who] enjoyed having sex with under-aged female relatives in his family (and other under-aged people), until he was finally  caught and charged with multiple counts of incest.” He also stated that L.A. “choked  [Wife] and tried to kill a witness to cover up his multiple molestations, including one  of the witnesses who directly saw him having sex with his granddaughter.” Venie  revealed that L.A. had told him he had engaged in “sexual intercourse with his grand-daughter, both by force and consensually.” Venie also revealed that L.A. had told  him “he had been having sex with multiple under-aged girls since at least 1966” and  “he had sex with other under-aged female family members as well.” Venie concluded  his response by stating that L.A. and Wife “should not be able to obtain equitable relief in this court when they have behaved as child molesting frauds for fifty years..."

He converted funds in a second matter.


Venie’s misconduct is indefensible and undoubtedly requires the most severe  possible sanction.

The Albuquerque Journal reported on unrelated criminal charges for which the attorney was found not guilty in February 2016.

The convoluted criminal case of Albuquerque attorney David Chipman “Chip” Venie ended today with a jury finding him not guilty in the shooting injury of a Stephen Biddinger.

Venie’s trial looped through numerous avenues of defense in each of the three attempts to previously try him. On the first, he successfully challenged a grand jury indictment, then a second attempt ended in a mistrial in the summer 2015 and now a trial ended with Monday’s not guilty verdict.

Venie, after the mistrial, was barred from representing himself against charges of aggravated battery.

Prosecutors said he shot Biddinger in 2012 after the man entered his law office. Venie has said he was protecting himself, his wife and colleagues from a man who was getting aggressive after being asked to leave.

Biddinger was shot in femoral artery but survived. He is now in jail on charges unrelated to the incident.

After seven hours of deliberation, including lunch provided by taxpayers, the jury found him not guilty Monday afternoon.

This story has been updated to reflect that Venie still practices law.

(Mike Frisch)

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