Alamogordo, NM — New Mexico divorce lawyer and past Otero County Bar Association President Raymond Van Arnam has been jailed after pleading no contest for helping a client break into a house where her estranged husband was living.
At the time of the Oct. 28, 2011 incident, Van Arnam was representing Melissa Stonecipher in her petition for divorce from her husband. Stonecipher was separated from her husband at the time of the incident. A temporary domestic order posted on the front window of her estranged husband’s residence stated the client needed to schedule a time to get her belongings. The video shows Van Arnam arrive at his client’s former home with several people where he pounds and kicks the front door.
In a 911 call to the Alamogordo Department of Public Safety, the victim, Stonecipher’s husband, stated that his estranged wife, Stonecipher, and her attorney, Van Arnam, were attempting to forcefully enter into his personal residence. The surveillance video showed Stonecipher’s husband and a roommate leaving the residence. Van Arnam is shown rapping on the driver window with a lollipop and then speaking to the estranged husband.
After Van Arman is captured breaking down the back door, he unlocked the front door to allow two other men into the residence to remove numerous pieces of baby furniture and baby accessories from the residence, then loaded the items into a vehicle. Van Arnam is also seen on video surveillance footage removing the posted, “No Trespassing” sign located in the front window of the residence.
At a particularly touching moment, surveillance video captures Van Arnam telling his client during the break-in, “I need a hug… I need some relaxation.” During the subsequently delivered extended embrace, Van Arnem then says ”Shhh. Shhh. Shhh. Oh yeah.” Blech.
Predictably, Van Arnam’s attorney Todd Holmes said prior to the plea agreement and sentencing that – despite the posted notice and pesky court order – Van Arnam was in the right. Holmes said Van Arnam, “let Stonecipher’s husband get to him” because her husband had moved another woman into the residence while his wife was pregnant with their child.
“I think the law gave Stonecipher permission to get in the house,” Holmes said. “On the law, I think the law was on Van Arnam’s side. He admitted he could’ve done things different.”
Special prosecutor Matthew Chandler countered that it was a simple home invasion.
“Van Arnam gathered his crew of employees and his client, pulled up to the house in droves and demanded entry,” Chandler said. “When he couldn’t get in, he intimidated the victim into leaving his own property and then forced his way into the house where he and his posse cleaned this victim out. It was a planned attack against a person and his property, without any legal backing at all, and Van Arnam needs to be punished.”
Van Arnam entered a plea deal on four criminal counts including criminal damage to property, criminal trespassing, and larceny. Van Arnam will be placed on 334 days of supervised probation after he completes his 30 days in jail. He is subject to drug and alcohol testing. He must also have no contact with the victim in the case. Van Arnam will have to pay a total of $2,732 in court costs and fines along with $5,000 in restitution to the victim in the case. He will also have to do 100 days of community service by either pro bono work or through some other community service means.
Records show that Van Arnam had been temporarily disbarred for a possession of cocaine conviction back in 2003 but his license was reinstated. The New Mexico State Disciplinary Board had tried unsuccessfully to suspend Van Arnam’s law license earlier this year over this latest incident and provided a copy of the video to the State Supreme Court. Transcripts show the high court decided to allow Van Arnam to continue to practice law until he was sentenced, citing his right to due process. Van Arnam’s law license will be the topic of an upcoming hearing.
Melissa Stonecipher also pleaded no contest to criminal damage to property of a household member in Magistrate Court. Stonecipher was placed on 364 days of supervised probation for her part in the incident.