IN THE MATTER OF D. CHIPMAN VENIE
Attorney Disbarred from the Practice of Law Before the Courts
of the State of New Mexico
Gagne for Disciplinary Board
Chipman Venie Respondent
L. CHAVEZ, Justice
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2017) (non-precedential).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.
The disciplinary charges against Venie were addressed in two
consolidated cases. The first is Disciplinary Board Case No.
04-2015-720 (Case 720) involving L.A. The second is
Disciplinary Board Case No. 01-2016-737 (Case 737) involving
both R.C.'s and A.C.'s cases. Each Disciplinary Board
hearing committee entered findings of fact and conclusions of
law, and recommended that Venie be disbarred. The cases were
consolidated, and the Disciplinary Board panel adopted each
hearing committee's findings of fact and concurred with
their recommendation that Venie be disbarred.
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, 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
In Case 720, Venie raises two defenses that merit discussion.
First, he asserts that the charge regarding counseling L.A.
to bribe witnesses is barred by the four-year limitations
period under Rule 17-303 NMRA (1994) because his alleged
violations occurred on May 22, 2011 and the charges were not
filed until September 9, 2015. Second, he contends that his
disclosure of earlier confidential communications with L.A.
in a fee dispute case was permissible to attack L.A.'s
credibility and to illustrate the difficult issues he faced
when representing him. We address these arguments in turn.
The procedural history of Case 720 is relevant to our
disposition of the limitations period issue. On April 20,
2015, the Disciplinary Board opened Case 720 and alleged that
Venie had disclosed L.A.'s confidences in a public
pleading filed in response to a lawsuit by L.A. L.A.'s
lawsuit primarily related to a dispute about accounting of
fees and property L.A. had provided as payment to Venie
throughout Venie's representation of L.A. The original
disciplinary complaint also alleged in the alternative that
Venie had filed frivolous pleadings and made
misrepresentations to both the district court and the
On September 9, 2015, disciplinary counsel amended the
complaint to include a count asserting that Venie had
counseled L.A. to bribe witnesses. The new charges were based
on a May 22, 2011 recording between Venie and L.A., which
disciplinary counsel obtained from Venie during discovery.
Venie contends that the amended complaint is barred by the
limitations period. Venie relies on the 1994 version of the
limitations period under Rule 17-303, which stated:
Except in cases involving theft or misappropriation,
conviction of a crime, or a knowing act of concealment, no
complaint against a person subject to these rules shall be
considered by the board unless a written complaint is filed
with or initiated by chief disciplinary counsel in accordance
with these rules within four (4) years from the time the
complainant knew or should have known the facts upon which
the complaint is filed.
argues that the limitations period ran on or about May 22,
2015, which was four years after May 22, 2011, when the
conversation between him and L.A. occurred. Venie contends
that the 2013 amendment to Rule 17-303, which eliminated the
limitations period defense, does not apply retroactively to
acts that occurred before the current rule's effective
date of December 31, 2013.
Contrary to Venie's assertions, none of the disciplinary
charges against him are barred. Before the amendment, Rule
17-303 provided a limitations period, which is not strictly a
statute of limitations, but even if we were to treat it as a
rigid statute of limitations, the 2013 amendment to Rule
17-303 eliminating the limitations period nevertheless
applies to Venie's conduct because Venie does not have a
vested right in the application of the former limitations
period. See State v. Morales, 2010-NMSC-026, ¶
1, 148 N.M. 305, 236 P.3d 24 (noting that the abolishment or
extension of a limitations period "cannot revive a
previously time-barred prosecution, " but "it can
extend an unexpired limitation period because such extension
does not impair vested rights acquired under prior law,
require new obligations, impose new duties, or affix new
disabilities to past transactions"). For Venie to have a
vested right in the 1994 limitations period, the facts giving
rise to the disciplinary complaint would have had to occur at
least four years before the 2013 amendment. Grygorwicz v.
Trujillo, 2006-NMCA-089, ¶¶ 20-21, 140 N.M.
129, 140 P.3d 550 (holding that an amendment providing an
extension of the statute of limitations applied to conduct
that occurred before the amendment was enacted because the
cause of action was not time-barred by the preexisting law,
and therefore the defendant had no vested right in a statute
of limitations defense). Venie's conduct occurred on May
22, 2011, nineteen months before the effective date of the
2013 amendment to the limitations period. Accordingly, Venie
had no vested right in a limitations period defense under the
1994 version of Rule 17-303, and therefore the amendment
permissibly extended an unexpired limitation period.
Morales, 2010-NMSC-026, ¶ 1;
Grygorwicz, 2006-NMCA-089, ¶ 20. We conclude
that the amendment abolishing the limitations period applies
to Venie's conduct, and that the charges against Venie
are not time-barred and can be properly reviewed by this
Court. We now turn to the merits of Case 720.
Counseling his client to bribe witnesses
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 following 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
Venie: But [Son] and myself are bending over backwards to try
and save you . . . . Page 2, lines 21-22
Venie: If you don't lay off [Son], you're going to
end up in prison, dying there, okay, and you're going to
end up probably getting raped to death in prison, all right?
Page 2, line 25 to page 3, line 3
Venie: [Son], right now, is in Arizona or on his way to
Arizona, and in his hand is paperwork that could get me
disbarred, okay? And he could get in serious trouble, as
well. And-and [another witness who had told the police L.A.
was having a sexual relationship with Granddaughter] could
get in serious trouble, as well. All three of us have decided
to put our lives at risk to save you, okay?
Page 3, lines 6-10
Venie: If [Son] turns sideways on us, you're going to die
in prison. If [Granddaughter] turns sideways on us,
you're going to die in prison.
Page 3, lines 12-14
Venie: Maybe you should think-maybe you should think
about paying them [Son and Granddaugh ter] 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. Page 12, lines 2-6
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.
Page 12, lines 8-10
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?
Page 15, lines 10-13
Venie: You know, all these people, every one of them could
sink your ass, and you're still antagonizing them.
Please, stop doing that.
Page 16, lines 7-9
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
Page 39, lines 12-16
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.
Page 39, lines 19-22
The above exchanges between Venie and L.A. support the
conclusion that Venie violated Rule 16-102(D) NMRA, which
states: "A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage,
or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is
criminal or fraudulent or misleads the tribunal."
Venie's advice to L.A. that he should consider paying off
his accusers and the State's primary witnesses against
L.A. unequivocally demonstrated Venie's intent to
convince his client to bribe witnesses. Not only did Venie
repeat his advice to L.A., he offered to help carry out the
bribery. Venie presciently told ...