Residents were shocked to hear well-know El Paso personal injury attorney Michael Gopin spent six days behind bars earlier this month. So was Michael Gopin.
"We had no defense," said Gopin. "We had nothing. The case was just over and we lost because of the mistake an attorney made."
Since 2007 Gopin has been the target of a civil suit, claiming his office in Las Cruces and his famous advertisements, deceived and mislead consumers. Three former clients of his complained to a private attorney, who in turn involved the New Mexico Attorney General as a non-defendant. These clients complained Gopin advertised a free consultation. But when they arrived, a non-attorney met with them. According to documents provided by the New Mexico Attorney General's officer, they were under the impression they'd meet directly with Gopin. They also assumed Gopin himself would represent them, but then found out he wasn't a licensed attorney in New Mexico.
"As in any law office, clients meet with paralegals or attorneys," Gopin said. "We never charged any client upfront for any case. They had a free consultation. We didn't misrepresent anything to anybody. We didn't misrepresent anything to anybody. We had two licensed attorneys from New Mexico."
That was the defense he expected his attorney to use at his trial on January 5th, 2012 in New Mexico, Gopin said, only his attorney never made it. And by default, not only did the three clients win, but all 313clients his firm had ever represented were considered the winning plaintiffs And Gopin was going to have to pay each one of them $5,000 or about $1.5 million dollars. So, he appealed.
"After the procedural error, then they sought out every client we ever represented in Las Cruces and asked them if they wanted to get money because the ruling in the court," Gopin said. "So those people never actually had a complaint until they were told they could get money back."
Money, Gopin tells me, is the heart of the lawsuit, which has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars and his reputation. But he says, in a year the case will be decided and he believes he'll be redeemed.
"I'm very confident that we'll get justice," Gopin said.