AUSTIN (KXAN) — Attorney Omar Rosales, who filed hundreds of Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits against Austin businesses on behalf a single client and was suspended from practicing in the Federal Western District of Texas for three years, has been suspended in the State of New York as well, according to an August 21 order.
The New York suspension will last three years. It is a “reciprocal” disciplinary measure resulting from misconduct in the Texas ADA cases, according to the New York order.
This suspension is the latest of several measures, including sanctions and lawsuits, taken against Rosales since he began filing ADA cases in Central Texas in 2015.
Rosales’ attorney, Gaines West, said he couldn’t’ comment on the New York decision until he read the order. However, he said, the order stems from a local federal order that forms the basis of a State Bar lawsuit against Rosales that is on appeal with the Third Court of Appeals.
“I am confident that the Third Court of Appeals will apply the law properly in that appeal and dismiss the claims against my client,” West said in an emailed statement.
On behalf of a single client named John Deutsch, Rosales filed over 380 federal cases alleging technical violations of ADA law in 2015 and 2016. The violations were focused on parking lot issues, such as improperly sized handicap parking spaces, lack of signage, ramp inclines and the size of front-door thresholds, according to hundreds of cases reviewed by KXAN.
Each property and business owner said they had never seen Deutsch or Rosales prior to receiving a lawsuit in the mail. In two cases, KXAN obtained demand letters accompanying the lawsuits saying the businesses could fix the violations and settle the suit for $7,000, which was negotiable.
KXAN first reported on the serial litigation in 2016. At that time, Rosales was fighting several cases against Jim Harrington, a prominent civil rights attorney and founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project. Harrington opted to defend a handful of the ADA cases pro bono.
Rosales defended his actions in the past, saying the lawsuits he filed were meant to correct violations and help the disabled community.
Harrington said Rosales’ lawsuits would have a negative effect and undermine ADA law, and Rosales needed to be stopped. In six of the cases defended by Harrington, Rosales was ultimately sanctioned about $175,000 in federal district court for misconduct, fabricating an email, disparaging Harrington and acting in bad faith, according to a 2017 order.
A federal judge found Rosales had filed a frivolous restraining order and criminal complaint alleging Harrington made a terroristic threat. Rosales also made dozens of false and inflammatory statements about Harrington in multiple court pleadings, according to federal court filings and orders.
Rosales was sanctioned an additional $60,500 by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for filing a frivolous appeal to the sanctions.
Following the parking lot ADA lawsuits, Rosales began sending letters to healthcare providers throughout the state demanding $2,000 to settle unfiled lawsuits that alleged the providers’ websites were not ADA compliant, according to records obtained by KXAN and court filings.
The State Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline sued Rosales in September of 2017 in Travis County District Court for misconduct related to the website ADA letters. The district court dismissed the disciplinary commission’s case, handing Rosales a win in February of 2018. However, the disciplinary commission appealed to the Third Court of Appeals, the trial court’s decision was reversed and the case was remanded back down to district court to be continued, said Claire Reynolds, public affairs counsel with the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Adding another wrinkle to that case: the Third Court of Appeals found the Texas Citizens Participation Act applied to attorney disciplinary actions. (Rosales initially got the case dismissed through the TCPA.) The disciplinary counsel is filing a petition for review with the Texas Supreme Court arguing TCPA should not apply to these disciplinary cases, Reynolds said.
West said the appeals court had “correctly determined’ that the TCPA should apply to attorney discipline.
The disciplinary commission sued Rosales a second time in April of 2018 alleging other misconduct related to his ADA work. That case is also still playing out in court. Rosales filed a motion to have the second lawsuit dismissed, which was denied; now, he is appealing that denial to the Third Court of Appeals, Reynolds said.