A Denver judge has denied a request by well-known personal injury lawyer Michael Sawaya to hide a civil lawsuit against him, and future court hearings in the case, from the public.
Denver District Court Judge Stephanie Scoville ruled Monday that the press and public can continue accessing documents and hearings. Sawaya has been accused of sexual assault, sexual battery and financial improprieties by a former client and ex-boyfriend.
“Access to court records promotes confidence in a court’s actions, and transparency should be suspended only in extraordinary cases,” Scoville wrote.
“While some of the claims in this action surely involve matters of a personal nature,” she added, “Defendant Sawaya has not met his burden to demonstrate that his privacy interests are sufficient to overcome the presumption in favor of all public access to court records.”
The ruling is a victory for plaintiff Francisco Jaramillo, whose attorney James French had argued the public should know of Sawaya’s alleged transgressions. Sawaya’s attorney, Adam Aldrich, had urged Scoville to place a veil over the case because it involves sex lives.
“If there is a public interest, it is far outweighed by Defendant Sawaya’s interest in protecting his personal and confidential information,” Aldrich wrote to the judge July 6. “And it merits repeating that (the) plaintiff’s allegations are unproven, but can cause serious reputational and financial harm to (the) defendants.”
The Sawaya Law Firm is also being sued by Jaramillo.
Scoville wrote Monday, “Sawaya argues that he has a privacy interest in his sexual history. But the court has located no Colorado authority holding that allegations of sexual activity or even sexual assault are sufficient to warrant closing an entire case file to public view.”
French and Aldrich did not respond to requests for comment.
In the lawsuit, the founder and namesake of the Sawaya Law Firm is accused of sexually assaulting and sexually battering Jaramillo on five occasions over two years, after the couple split in 2019. Jaramillo claims Sawaya forced himself on a resisting Jaramillo, shoved his hand down the man’s pants and grabbed his genitals without consent in Sawaya’s law office.
Jaramillo also claims that while the two were still a couple, Sawaya persuaded Jaramillo to take out a $280,000 loan from Sawaya and convinced him to sign misleading contracts that gave Sawaya control over Denver property that Jaramillo rents out as luxury event space.
Jaramillo’s lawsuit asks Scoville to declare those agreements between Sawaya and Jaramillo void. Jaramillo also seeks an undetermined amount of money for damages.
Meanwhile, settlement talks continue outside of court. French told the judge last week that an all-day mediation hearing will take place Wednesday and that further court filings “may not be necessary if this case settles on Wednesday.”