A federal magistrate judge sanctioned Austin lawyer Omar Rosales and ordered him to pay more than $175,000 in penalties for fabricating an email he presented in court and for making offensive comments against a civil rights attorney with whom he’s embroiled in a disabilities lawsuit.
A 49-page order signed Wednesday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane says Rosales filed pleadings in which he accused Jim Harrington of being racist and anti-Semitic and also questioned his mental health.
Rosales’ punishment continues a nasty spat between the lawyers. Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, has long advocated for better disability access to businesses and public buildings in Austin. He says Rosales, who has sued several hundred small businesses over access for the disabled, is more interested in quick settlements and getting paid than fixing the problem.
Harrington is defending several businesses that Rosales sued. Lane’s order says Rosales took the courtroom rivalry way too far: “From his baseless and offensive attacks on opposing counsel, memorialized in over a hundred court filings, to his fabrication of an e-mail submitted as evidence to the court, Rosales has behaved in embarrassing and shocking ways throughout this litigation.”
The judge added he is referring Rosales to the local federal bar disciplinary committee about possible disbarment from the Western District of Texas.
Rosales said he will file an objection within 15 days and is prepared to appeal if U.S. District Judges Lee Yeakel and Robert Pitman uphold Lane’s order.
The monetary penalties, which come out to $175,673.78, are to cover attorney fees. Harrington will collect almost $33,000, while his lawyers, Charles Herring and Jason Panzer, will take the rest.
The quarrel between the attorneys began over what Harrington calls a “drive-by” lawsuit Rosales filed against 385 small businesses, alleging they aren’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The charges range from not having a proper entrance ramp to lacking van-accessible parking.
Many of the businesses settled with Rosales’ client, Jon Deutsch, for amounts from $5,000 to $7,000 rather than fighting back and incurring legal fees. Harrington called it a “money-making” venture that he wanted to end in order to preserve the power of the law Rosales was exploiting.
Rosales took issue with Harrington saying that he’s in it for the money.
“These are the same types of lawsuits Jim Harrington’s been filing for 25 years,” Rosales said. “It comes down to being a turf battle. He doesn’t like that somebody else in Austin is infringing on his turf.”
Harrington defended six businesses in the lawsuit, mostly restaurants and bars.
In July, he filed a motion requesting the court sanction Rosales for making abusive accusations. A hearing was held in September.
“In my 43 years as a lawyer, I have never seen a guy like Rosales engage in the fabrication of evidence and making all of these slanderous statements,” Harrington said Wednesday. “I’ve never seen it before. He should be sanctioned. We shouldn’t have any lawyers like that going around slandering people and fabricating evidence.”
Rosales declined to comment about the email the judge called a phony. According to the order, Harrington said that Rosales never responded to requests to set up depositions. Then Rosales submitted to the judge what appeared to be his emailed reply to Harrington. After scrutinizing the document, the judge concluded that Rosales had actually sent the email to himself, then altered the date and the recipient.
On May 20, Rosales filed an incident report with Austin police and obtained a temporary protective order, alleging that Harrington was stalking him because of a comment he made in court about Rosales’ expensive car. The County Court dismissed the order.
According to Wednesday’s filing, Harrington and his attorneys say Rosales made 113 false accusations in court documents. Among them is an accusation that Rosales said Harrington “treats Hispanics like servants and noble savages that need his superlative help and guidance.”
“Totally made up,” Harrington said. “This is just something he makes up in the recesses of his mind. He just makes this stuff up. That’s why he’s getting sanctioned. This guy is clueless about reality.”
Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project, announced his retirement from that position in 2015.