Michael Sawaya, a prominent personal injury lawyer, has been accused in a Denver court of sexually assaulting and sexually battering a client on five occasions over two years.
The founder and namesake of the Sawaya Law Firm pulled a resisting client toward him, forced his hand down the client’s pants and grabbed the victim’s penis, according to a lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that Sawaya carried on a relationship with an employee of his law firm.
Sawaya’s attorney has called the allegations of sexual violence against his client “unproven” and asked a Denver judge to shield the lawsuit from public view because it is “scandalous,” “offensive” and “graphic.” The claims were made, attorney Adam Aldrich alleges, with the goal of “causing damage to (the) reputations and business” of Sawaya and the Sawaya Law Firm.
Denver District Court Judge Stephanie Scoville is expected to rule on Aldrich’s request — which could prohibit the public from reading court documents and attending hearings — next month.
Meanwhile, mentions of Sawaya have slowly disappeared from the Sawaya Law Firm’s website.
In April, photos of the lawyer were prominent there, as seen in screenshots saved by the Wayback Machine, which archives websites. Sawaya and the firm’s managing attorney stood side by side in a large photo at the top of the site. He also appeared under the “Meet Our Team” section of the homepage and again at the bottom, in a group photo of the firm’s partners.
By May 16, he had been erased from the prominent image at the top of the website and from the “Meet Our Team” section but still appeared in the group photo. Two weeks later, he was sued by the former client. By June 8, his image had been scrubbed entirely from the homepage.
The Sawaya Law Firm declined to comment on Sawaya and the lawsuit because it is pending.
Sawaya’s attorney, Aldrich, also declined to comment on the lawsuit but said in an email that “Mr. Sawaya firmly believes that when the facts are presented he and the firm will prevail.”
In April 2019, Francisco Jaramillo contacted Sawaya for legal advice. The year before, Jaramillo and his company had bought a house at 1439 N. Franklin St. in the Cap Hill neighborhood for $1.1 million, with plans to refurbish it and rent it out as a luxury event space called La Mansión. But there was a dispute with the interior decorator, so Jaramillo needed legal help.
The Sawaya law firm — but not Sawaya himself, much to Jaramillo’s initial dismay — agreed to represent Jaramillo in his dispute with the designer, Watson & Company, and eventually sued it, seeking reimbursements for its allegedly poor work. (That lawsuit was settled in October 2021).
Jaramillo and Sawaya met in Sawaya’s office on May 3, 2019, according to Jaramillo. As they stood in the office, Sawaya kissed him on the lips, beginning their consensual sexual relationship. Three weeks later, they had sex at La Mansión, according to Jaramillo.
Just after the two had sex, Jaramillo says that Sawaya offered to loan Jaramillo $280,000 on a five-year note at 8.5 percent interest and take a 30 percent ownership interest in La Mansión as security for the loan until it was repaid. But Jaramillo claims Sawaya told him the loan wouldn’t actually have to be repaid, then handed him a gold and sapphire ring and called him his “spiritual husband.”
When they met in Sawaya’s office the following week to sign paperwork for the loan, Sawaya claimed that the law firm’s printer was malfunctioning and could only print the signature pages of the paperwork, not the pages that described the terms of the loan, according to Jaramillo. He signed anyway, “trusting Mr. Sawaya as his lawyer, confidant, financial savior and lover.”
“If he had seen the deed of trust before he signed the last page, Mr. Jaramillo would not have agreed to any of its terms,” his attorney, Parker Semler, wrote in the lawsuit last month.
Jaramillo alleges the deed is drastically different than what they agreed on after sex. It gave Sawaya a permanent 30 percent stake in Jaramillo’s company, which owns the Franklin Street house and another house, and prevented Jaramillo from receiving profits from the properties before Sawaya’s loan was paid off, according to the lawsuit. That left him without an income.
The two continued to date throughout the summer and into the fall of 2019. But Jaramillo says he learned Sawaya had other sexual partners, including an employee in the Sawaya law firm, and so he broke up with Sawaya over lunch at a Park Burger restaurant in November 2019.
After that, according to Jaramillo, is when the sexual assaults began.
The first time was Dec. 6, 2019, he alleges. Sawaya invited him to his office to discuss their loan dispute, asked Jaramillo for a hug, then squeezed Jaramillo’s butt and “began humping him with an erect penis,” the lawsuit states. Sawaya pulled a resisting Jaramillo back toward him by his pants, reached into those pants and grabbed Jaramillo’s bare genitals, the lawsuit claims.
Other sexual assaults occurred in April 2020, June 2020, October 2020 and November 2021, according to Jaramillo. He says he left Colorado for extended periods of time in 2020 to get away from the lawyer, who “commingled overtures of affection, angry remonstrations about enmeshed business dealings, lack of progress on the Watson lawsuit and sexual assaults.”
It is unclear if any of the alleged sexual assaults were reported to or investigated by police.
Jaramillo, through his attorney, declined to be interviewed, citing the ongoing litigation. In addition to sexual assault, his lawsuit accuses Sawaya of breach of fiduciary duty.
In April of this year, Sawaya requested that the two houses once owned by Jaramillo’s company, Master Key Investments, be sold in a foreclosure sale. That legal dispute is ongoing.
A week later, Sawaya sued Jaramillo and Master Key, alleging Jaramillo has defaulted on the $280,000 promissory note. The following month, Sawaya dropped his lawsuit.
Jaramillo’s lawsuit, meanwhile, asks Judge Scoville to stop the foreclosure sales and to declare the business agreements between Sawaya and Jaramillo — including the promissory note and deeds of trust — void. Jaramillo also seeks an undetermined amount of money for damages.
“The complaint makes numerous scandalous allegations about (the) defendant Sawaya and the Sawaya Law Firm,” Sawaya’s attorney, Aldrich, wrote in a court filing June 16, “to paint them in a negative light, cast aspersion on their professional reputations as attorneys and members of the professional community, with the end goal of causing damage to their reputations and business and avoiding plaintiffs’ financial obligations to defendant Sawaya.”