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Lawyer Arrested on New Charges of Bilking Clients

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Times Staff Writer

A Costa Mesa attorney, already facing 20 felony counts of fraud and forgery, has been arrested on new charges of bilking clients out of lawsuit settlements.

James Michael Pichette, 34, of Mission Viejo was arrested Thursday and is being held in the Costa Mesa jail in lieu of $1 million bail, said Costa Mesa Police Detective Steven Labbitt.

Pichette’s attorney, who could not be reached for comment, argued unsuccessfully for a reduction of bail in Municipal Court, Labbitt said.

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The new case accuses Pichette of embezzling $253,000 from members of the Lakeshore Homeowners Assn., on whose behalf Pichette had received a partial settlement of $450,000 in a suit the association brought against a developer.

A year ago, Pichette was charged with defrauding 12 other clients in out-of-court settlements, and since then, Labbitt said, additional charges have been filed. None of these cases has come to trial.

It was only after a news story about Pichette appeared last month, Labbitt said, that members of the homeowners association realized what had happened to their own money.

“No parties involved in this (new) litigation knew that Pichette was in a pending criminal prosecution,” Labbitt said.

Only after offering “many excuses” and writing checks returned for insufficient funds totaling $412,000, Labbitt said, did Pichette turn over $197,000 of the $450,000 settlement.

Bail was set so high, Labbitt said, because of a provision in California law regarding the arrest of a person charged with a crime identical to the one for which they have already posted a bond.

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