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Originally published Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 7:54 PM

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Man accused of illegally giving legal advice to desperate parents

Arnold "Arnie" Newman promised legal help for desperate parents involved in bitter custody disputes, but Federal Way police accuse him of taking clients' money without performing work that he's not authorized to do in the first place. Newman, 55, pleaded not guilty Thursday to two counts of unlawful practice of law and two counts of first-degree theft.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes Well it makes sense. He hasn't paid his child-support payments, so now he is advising... Read more
quotes What a sleaze! He makes real lawyers look bad! Actually, there are lots of Arnies... Read more
quotes Spot on, vagabonding. When in doubt, check them out: www.wsba.org takes you to their... Read more

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The Parents Against Parental Alienation website, CustodyDisputes.org, looks legitimate, offering help to desperate parents embroiled in child-custody battles. There's even a disclaimer: "We are not Attorneys, Lucky for you!" it reads. "We do not give legal advice, we are here to assist with your Pro Se court case."

Federal Way police say the man behind the website — Arnold "Arnie" Newman, also known as Michael Leonard, among other aliases — illegally gave clients legal advice and pocketed thousands of dollars in retainer fees without doing any of the work he'd promised.

Newman, 55, pleaded not guilty to two counts of unlawful practice of law and two counts of first-degree theft on Thursday, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. He remains jailed at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent on $25,000 bail.

Though Newman has been charged in connection with two alleged victims, Federal Way police Detective Annette Scholl has found 11 more and expects that number to increase once a search of Newman's computer is completed.

Newman first came to Scholl's attention in August, when a father of two who had recently moved from Pierce County to Idaho contacted her about a man he knew as Michael Leonard. The man said he paid Newman $3,000 for his services, but only got a supposed transcript from a court hearing that didn't even look like a court document, Scholl said.

At the time, she said there wasn't much she could do since it wasn't clear whether the Federal Way Police Department had jurisdiction to investigate.

Soon after the man contacted Scholl, the state Attorney General's Office received four complaints against Newman, including one from the Idaho father. That information was forwarded to the state's Practice of Law Board, Scholl said.

In a February letter sent to Newman, the board, which investigates unauthorized law-practice complaints, determined Newman was presenting himself as someone entitled to practice law and said the matter was being referred to prosecutors for criminal charges.

The board said Newman had promised to draft a final parenting plan and child-support order for the Idaho man and advised him to ignore court dates, according to the letter. He also promised to reverse a contempt-of-court finding "and get 'spectacular' results using strategies that most attorneys don't use," it says.

The criminal case returned to Scholl, who resumed her investigation after confirming Newman's business address was in Federal Way. But Newman's address was actually for a Mail Boxes Etc. location and the "suite" number he typically listed is the number on his mailbox, she said.

Scholl kept a printout of Newman's photo on her desk.

As she was driving home from work on May 5 she saw Newman getting into a car.

"It was just pure coincidence that I saw him," she said.

She jotted down the license-plate number and was able to get an address. Two patrol officers went to the house and discovered the homeowners had allowed Newman use of their home office, Scholl said. Newman, she said, was living in his car.

"They had no idea — they're upstanding citizens who just thought they were helping somebody out," Scholl said of the friends who let Newman use their office.

Newman was arrested and booked for unlawful practice of law, but prosecutors were unable to file charges within the 72-hour deadline, Scholl said.

Newman remained in jail on a contempt-of-court charge — for failing to pay child support for his two children — before a judge released him on personal recognizance on May 17, according to Scholl and jail records.

The next day, prosecutors formally charged Newman with unlawful practice of law and theft, court records show. By then, Newman had "grabbed his stuff and left," Scholl said. An arrest warrant was issued and Scholl contacted the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office after learning Newman had a relative in the Kelso area.

A deputy paid a visit to the relative but Newman wasn't there, she said.

Earlier this week, "somebody in Cowlitz County called 911 and said Arnie Newman was there," Scholl said. "Deputies showed up and arrested him."

Newman's alleged victims were all desperate "and by the time they contacted him, they were at their wits' ends," Scholl said. "He claimed he was a master manipulator of the courts."

According to Scholl, Newman met clients at restaurants or coffee shops, but a quick Google search would have revealed his business address wasn't an office at all, she said.

"They actually said ... he came across as brilliant and knowledgeable," Scholl said of the alleged victims she's interviewed.

Most have told Scholl that Newman has "done absolutely nothing" on their cases and would stall clients with myriad excuses when they'd press him for updates or refunds. "Then he'd just fall off the face of the Earth and would discontinue any contact," she said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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