AUSTIN (KXAN) — Local attorney Omar Weaver Rosales, who filed hundreds of lawsuits against local small businesses alleging technical violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, has been suspended from practicing law in the Federal Western District for three years, according to an order filed Tuesday.
The court order appears to be the bookend to a saga of ADA lawsuits and litigation brought by Rosales and a single client, John Deutsch, who uses a wheelchair. The duo began filing lawsuits in 2015 and ultimately sued 385 Austin businesses in about a year.
Rosales “unquestionably acted in bad faith” in six cases defended by Austin civil rights attorney Jim Harrington, and in his “misuse and exploitation of the integrity of the judicial system,” said U.S. District Judge David Ezra, in the 86 page order.
READ our investigation calling the ADA suits into question
If Rosales seeks readmission, he must undergo a legal professional ethics training course, continue mental health counseling and participate in anger management classes. He must also give the order to the chief disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas and each of his clients, the order states.
In previous court filings, Harrington described the slew of Rosales and Deutsch lawsuits as a “broad money making scheme.”
According to the latest court order: “There is ‘clear and convincing’ evidence that Rosales has committed several disbarment offenses in bad faith, as discussed above, that – while in the singular might not have been sufficient to merit disbarment – in their totality, frequency, and severity, they lead the court to firmly believe that, at the very least, serious sanctions must be imposed to mirror the severity of Rosales’ bad faith misconduct.”
The final disciplinary report recommended Rosales be disbarred, but the court decided that based on the “entire record, including [Rosales’] PTSD from his time in the military – that a three year suspension, with the possibility to reapply for readmission” would suffice.
“This is the type of lawyer that you don’t want to have around, that abuses the profession,” Harrington told KXAN on Wednesday. “He is a bully. He uses litigation to bully people, and it caught up with him.”
The court found Rosales acted in bad faith, when he filed a restraining order against Harrington and fabricated an email he entered into the federal court’s record.
KXAN first reported on the Rosales and Deutsch lawsuits in late 2015.
The duo created a veritable ADA cottage industry in Austin. Defendants sued by Deutsch and Rosales said they were never initially asked to fix the incremental ADA violations that were noted in the lawsuits. Typically, the lawsuits pointed out problems with the height of wheelchair signage in parking lots, the width of handicap parking spaces and the height of the thresholds at the entrance of a business’ door, according to a KXAN review of hundreds of the lawsuits.
According to demand letters obtained by KXAN, Rosales would ask for $7,000 to drop the lawsuit, but the settlement was negotiable. The letters warned defendants that if they fought the lawsuits the cost of litigation could rise over $100,000. Many businesses settled quickly, court records show.
But not every business settled. Harrington defended several businesses pro bono. It was a change for Harrington, who founded the Texas Civil Rights Project. He was known to file some ADA lawsuits against offending businesses.
Harrington said TCRP’s approach was “night and day” different compared to Rosales’. Harrington said he would warn businesses of a lawsuit and ask them to fix the ADA problems. If the problems were fixed, Harrington would not sue on behalf of his client.
In previous interviews, Harrington said he took the cases against Rosales pro bono to defend the integrity of the ADA, which, if abused, could be eroded.
Harrington said he was doing it “on principle,” and he did not seek profits.
KXAN Investigation | Austin’s ADA lawsuit industry
Every business KXAN spoke with said they never received any warning from Rosales before the lawsuit arrived. None of the businesses with whom KXAN spoke said they saw Deutsch patronize their establishments.
The litigation between Rosales and Harrington quickly became contentious, and ultimately led to Rosales’ suspension.
In December of 2016, Federal District Judge Mark Lane slapped Rosales with more than $176,000 in sanctions. Lane said Rosales behaved in “embarrassing and shocking” ways during litigation with Harrington. Among the issues noted in Lane’s order, Rosales “used the system to create strife and perpetuate lies. He defamed opposing counsel with false and abusive statement.” Rosales has appealed the sanctions.
Rosales ultimately expanded the scope of his ADA lawsuit business.
Shortly after the sanctions, Rosales began sending letters last December to small health care businesses throughout the state, alleging their websites were not ADA compliant, according to court records and correspondence obtained by KXAN.
Concerned business owners said they had received letters from Rosales indicating their website had failed an ADA compliance test.
“Our initial Demand to settle this unfiled lawsuit is $2,000… should you refuse to enter into settlement negotiations, I will have no choice but to file the attached lawsuit against your company,” said a letter written by Rosales and obtained by KXAN.
It is not clear how many businesses received Rosales’ demand letter related to website ADA compliance. Since the lawsuits were unfiled, there is not an official federal court record. More than 15 businesses contacted KXAN about the website ADA letters.
The latest order does not reference any of the website ADA dealings. According to the latest order, Rosales was immediately suspended from practicing in the Federal Western District Court on Tuesday for three years.
Rosales sued KXAN News based on our previous stories. The lawsuit was later dropped.