A Denver man who has accused the prominent personal injury lawyer Michael Sawaya of repeated sexual assault and sexual battery in a civil lawsuit is asking a judge to reject Sawaya’s attempts to hide that lawsuit and future court hearings from the press and public.
Francisco Jaramillo, who says he is a former client and ex-boyfriend of Sawaya, sued Sawaya on May 31, alleging that after the couple split in 2019, Sawaya sexually attacked him on five occasions over two years and used unethical tactics to take control of property Jaramillo owned.
On June 16, Sawaya’s attorney, Adam Aldrich, filed a motion asking Denver District Court Judge Stephanie Scoville to immediately suppress all court documents and hearings in the case. Aldrich alleged Jaramillo’s lawsuit was “scandalous” and filed “with the end goal of causing damage” to the reputations of Sawaya and the Sawaya Law Firm, which he founded in 1977.
On June 30, Jaramillo’s attorney, James French, urged Scoville to reject that motion.
“Mr. Sawaya complains that Mr. Jaramillo’s allegations are ‘unproven,’ but he cannot prove the allegations without first pleading them. Notably, although Mr. Sawaya refers to Mr. Jaramillo’s allegations as ‘offensive and graphic,’ he has yet to deny that they are true,” French wrote.
“Allegations that an attorney has engaged in unethical behavior in the course of representing his client do not implicate purely private conduct which might justify suppression of files or closure of proceedings,” he added. “The public has a right to know of Mr. Sawaya’s transgressions.”
While court documents and hearings are generally open to the public, judges can block access in some cases, to protect underage victims of sex crimes, safeguard national security or maintain the anonymity of juvenile defendants, for example. Aldrich claims his client’s sexual history and unproven allegations about his sexual impropriety should similarly be shielded.
“It is expected that testimony during depositions, court hearings and trial will include references to the alleged sexual relationship between Mr. Jaramillo and Mr. Sawaya,” Aldrich wrote in his motion June 16. “Documents disclosed and filed in this case will include confidential and private information, including private correspondence between these parties. Accordingly, there is a paramount need to suppress access to all court papers, to court hearings and the trial.”
Scoville has not yet ruled on Aldrich’s motion. Aldrich has until the end of Thursday to respond to French’s June 30 request that she reject the motion. Scoville will decide sometime after that.
The Sawaya Law Firm, which is also a defendant in Jaramillo’s lawsuit, has not told the judge whether it supports Sawaya’s motion to suppress. Jason Melichar, an attorney for The Sawaya Law Firm, did not respond to a request for comment about its position Wednesday. Images of Michael Sawaya were scrubbed from the firm’s homepage between April and early June, according to screenshots saved by the Wayback Machine, which archives websites.
French said the public should be allowed to watch the case unfold, in part because the ethical rules that Sawaya and his firm allegedly violated are meant to protect members of the public. French also notes that it was Sawaya, not Jaramillo, who first took legal action, when he sued Jaramillo earlier this year to collect on a debt and foreclose on properties they co-own.
“If he wished to keep his history of sexual misconduct private,” French wrote of Sawaya last week, “he should not have sued his victim.”