Lawyer accused of sending harassing emails to BigLaw opponents had previously filed abortion lawsuit
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A Chicago lawyer who was previously in the news for filing a lawsuit against a Texas abortion doctor is facing ethics charges alleging that he sent harassing and threatening emails to the opposing counsels from Barnes & Thornburg and Fox Rothschild.
A hearing board is recommending a three-year suspension—which would continue until further order of the court—for lawyer Felipe Gomez, Reuters reports. The board said Gomez’s conduct was “extreme and egregious,” and it caused lawyers to fear for their safety.
The hearing board declined to recommend disbarment, however.
Gomez is accused of ethics violations in suits in which he was a plaintiff against the Charles Schwab Corp. and Cubesmart, a storage facility, according to the Jan. 7 report and recommendation by the hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. He also is accused of violating ethics rules in a third case involving Chicago’s top lawyer, the report said.
Cubesmart was represented by Christina Sanfelippo of Fox Rothschild, while the Charles Schwab Corp. was represented by Vincent P. Schmeltz III of Barnes & Thornburg.
More lawyers got involved as the lawyers raised concerns about Gomez’s emails, including Barnes & Thornburg’s deputy general counsel, Steven Badger, and Fox Rothschild’s Chicago managing partner, Jeffrey Widman.
The hearing board cited evidence that Gomez:
• Sent an email to Schmeltz on Easter 2019 that said, “You sir are despicable and unfit to practice law and I pledge to bring the full weight of justice down on you.” Gomez allegedly sent the email after Schmeltz told Gomez that a subpoena was premature because the parties had not yet conferred.
• Sent a second Easter email calling Schmeltz “Shmuchs” and telling him that he is “engaged in active tampering and obstruction.” The email said Gomez considered Schmeltz and his law firm “an active criminal.”
• Sent another Easter email calling Schmeltz “scum” and telling him to “resign and plea to FBI.”
• Sent an email to Badger asserting that Schmeltz and Barnes & Thornburg “are scum of the Earth and need to be abated. Under RICO I am private AG and doing the abating.” The email was sent after Badger asked Gomez to stop making improper personal attacks in communications.
• Sent an email to Sanfelippo saying he intended “to RICO you, personally, your firm, and your client.” He sent the email after Sanfelippo filed a motion for sanctions.
• Sent an email to Sanfelippo and Fox Rothschild’s managing partner that said: “Liars will be prosecuted. Sanfelippo is a Target … with your firm. I am dead serious.”
• Sent an email to Widman in May 2019 that told him to “get ready for judgment day.”
• Left a voicemail with Chicago’s chief assistant corporation counsel, Amber Ritter, in September 2018 in which he sang “99 Bottles of Beer of the Wall.” Gomez left the voicemail after seeking city records.
• Sent dozens of emails to Ritter demanding that she resign and accusing her of police misconduct. Gomez sent the emails beginning in September 2018 after Ritter refused to shake Gomez’s hand in court because she considered prior emails and voicemail disturbing.
Gomez had denied misconduct, had contended that attorney ethics rules don’t apply to his conduct as a party, and had asserted that his statements were constitutionally protected speech.
The Illinois Supreme Court had suspended Gomez on an interim basis in April 2021, according to Reuters. The same court will decide whether to accept the hearing board’s recommendation.
Gomez said in a press release the board report is a loss for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission’s litigation counsel, who had sought a penalty of disbarment during her closing argument.
The panel evidently rejected the request, “which is what the headline should be,” said the press release forwarded to reporters.
The press release said the ethics complaint did not mention any disbarment and is generic in its relief request.
“It is ironic that the discipliner feels it need not obey the rules while it pillories someone for emails that violate no rules but rather subjective ‘sensibilities’ of persons whom the emails were not intended for, not to mention the content is clearly ‘speech,’ not ‘conduct,’” the press release said.
The board report “is only a recommendation, to be parsed and then considered as part of a larger picture by [the Illinois Supreme Court], then SCOTUS if and as needed,” the press release said.
Updated Jan. 10 at 4:55 p.m. with information from Gomez’s press release.