Lawyer who sued Texas abortion provider faces 3-year suspension

  • Gomez sent threatening emails to other lawyers -Ill. officials
  • Gomez said he has dropped abortion lawsuit against Texas doctor

(Reuters) - A Chicago attorney who sued a Texas doctor under that state's controversial abortion law, and who is trying to dismiss that lawsuit, is facing a potential three-year suspension after Illinois officials said he sent threatening and harassing emails to lawyers at law firms Barnes & Thornburg and Fox Rothschild.

A three-person hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission on Friday said Felipe Gomez sent other lawyers in multiple cases insulting emails and accused them of violating federal law.

The board cited an April 2019 email from Gomez to Steve Badger, an Indianapolis partner at Barnes & Thornburg, that said the firm and one of its partners are "are scum of the Earth and need to be abated."

"His language caused the recipients of his emails to feel embarrassed, harassed, and fearful for their safety," the board said. Gomez harassed seven attorneys, the board found.

The board said Gomez denied engaging in misconduct and asserted his statements were protected by the First Amendment in a filing. Reached for comment, Gomez said he hadn't looked at the board's recommendation but noted the board didn't ask for his disbarment.

The Illinois Supreme Court suspended Gomez on an interim basis in April 2021. Friday's recommended three-year suspension must ultimately be accepted or rejected by the same court.

In September, he sued a San Antonio doctor under a provision of the Texas abortion law, also known as Senate Bill 8, that deputizes private citizens to bring civil complaints against abortion providers and those who aid or abet abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Gomez is a critic of the law. In his lawsuit against Dr. Alan Braid, he said the law was "illegal as written" and asked the court to declare it unconstitutional.

Gomez in December moved to dismiss his Bexar County state court lawsuit against Braid. However, a spokesperson for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Braid, said the court has not accepted his motion.

The hearing board's suspension recommendation focused on emails and voicemails Gomez sent in 2018 and 2019 to opposing counsel in different cases.

Gomez told Trace Schmeltz, the co-chair of Barnes & Thornburg's financial and regulatory litigation group, in an April 2019 email to "Resign and plea to FBI and i [sic] don’t name and flay you on a public pillory for all to see so as to discourage scum like yourself."

Badger and Schmeltz in a joint statement said they were "grateful for the hearing board’s careful consideration of the matter."

The board said Gomez, who represented himself at an August hearing before it, at one point threatened to sue a witness and then refused to testify, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The board said it does not think Gomez "recognizes his behavior was wrongful or intends to reform his communications in the future." However, the board said the evidence did not warrant Gomez's disbarment.

(NOTE: This story has been updated to add details about the Illinois disciplinary process.)

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David Thomas reports on the business of law, including law firm strategy, hiring, mergers and litigation. He is based out of Chicago. He can be reached at d.thomas@thomsonreuters.com and on Twitter @DaveThomas5150.