The State Bar’s disciplinary committee has sued Austin ADA attorney Omar Rosales again in Travis County District Court, seeking disciplinary action for acting in bad faith in several of the hundreds of federal cases Rosales filed on behalf of a single client in 2015 and 2016.
In this latest lawsuit, the Commission alleges Rosales violated multiple rules of professional conduct. The lawsuit says Rosales filed frivolous pleadings, made baseless requests for sanctions and false or inflammatory statements against opposing counsel, and he fabricated an email that was offered as an exhibit in a federal case, among other issues, according to the lawsuit.
“The new lawsuit is regarding different misconduct than that alleged in the prior lawsuit,” said Claire Mock, spokesperson for State Bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel. “In short, the prior one involved the allegation that Mr. Rosales engaged in misconduct when he sent letters to businesses about alleged ADA violations. The new litigation involves allegations that Mr. Rosales engaged in misconduct in different matters during litigation.”
Rosales’ attorney, Gaines West, said the previous lawsuit against his client was dismissed under the “Anti-SLAPP law, the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act,” which allows for the quick dismissal of a baseless lawsuit that seeks to hinder a person’s First Amendment right.
“I believe that this lawsuit is in retaliation for what happened to the Bar in that first case they brought against my client,” said West. “My client is a veteran who is 100% disabled. He has done nothing but pursue his rights, and the rights of his clients, and does not warrant this wholesale assault against him by the Bar.”
Rosales’ ADA lawsuits and demand letters have resulted in significant blowback over the past year and a half.
In 2015 and 2016, Rosales sued about 385 local Austin businesses on behalf of one disabled client, John Deutsch, for technical violations of ADA law such as improper signage and handicap parking spaces not being wide enough.
Several businesses and landowners told KXAN they never saw Deutsch and never heard any complaints about ADA problems before they received a lawsuit and demand letter from Rosales seeking a settlement.
As a result of his conduct in several of the Deutsch cases, Rosales was suspended for three years from practicing in the Federal Western District Court of Texas and ordered to pay over $175,000 in sanctions, according to federal court records. On March 27, the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both the sanctions and suspension.
“Not only did Rosales make many inappropriate remarks, he perpetuated a fraud on the court,” states a 5th Circuit decision affirming the sanctions.
“The order imposing sanctions was exhaustive and specifically found bad faith based on facts that Rosales has not challenged,” according to the 5th Circuit decision upholding his suspension. “For example, Rosales fabricated evidence, presented it to the district court, and continued to lie about it when challenged.”
In a previous interview with KXAN, Rosales said he represented Deutsch to help the disabled community and because sometimes it takes a lawsuit to get a business to fix accessibility problems.
The Commission for Lawyer Discipline first sued Rosales in September of 2017 for professional misconduct. That suit, which was dismissed in February, came after Rosales sent dozens of letters to healthcare providers throughout the state demanding $2,000 to settle unfiled lawsuits alleging their websites violated ADA law, according to court records. The Commission was ordered to pay $65,872.50 in attorney’s fees to Rosales. The Commission is appealing that decision.
Rosales’ attorney said he “was glad that Omar was vindicated because he’s a hardworking advocate for disabled people, because he is one. He is a disabled veteran.”
Austin civil rights attorney Jim Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, represented several businesses pro bono that Rosales sued for parking lot ADA violations.
Harrington said it is important to note the 5th Circuit recently upheld the sanctions against Rosales and his suspension. The federal court’s decisions contained facts about disciplinary issues echoed in the Commission’s latest Travis County lawsuit.
“It means, as a practical matter, the facts are not going to be in dispute,” Harrington said. “It’s going to come down to what is the penalty.”
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