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Man suing Noho's is a lawyer from Puerto Rico

Mail Tribune - 2/8/2020

Feb. 7--A Florida man who has filed multiple lawsuits against Oregon restaurants over alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations is a licensed lawyer from Puerto Rico, according to court documents filed by lawyers defending a Medford restaurant.

Jose Velez of Orlando, who is suing Noho's in Medford, is lawyer Jose Carlos Velez-Colón, who practices law in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, according to court documents filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Oregon.

"We've recently discovered that Velez is an attorney with an active law practice in Puerto Rico," wrote lawyer Ara Sahelian on Monday in a U.S. District Court filing.

Sahelian argues that despite Velez's insistence that he have documents mailed to his UPS Store mailbox, he "undoubtedly has" an account giving him electronic access to court filings, citing a court filing from less than two weeks ago out of Puerto Rico for one of Velez's clients.

The Jan. 20 court filing out of U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico shows that Velez has an office on the 10th floor of a building in Hato Rey, plus the same mailbox address at a UPS Store in Orlando as listed in Velez's lawsuit filed against Noho's in Medford.

In September, Velez filed a lawsuit as an individual against three unrelated Medford restaurants: Jasper's Cafe, Rosario's Italian Restaurant and Noho's.

In the suit, Velez self-identified as suffering from "morbid obesity" and argued he's legally disabled under the ADA because of mobility issues stemming from his weight. He listed a variety of ADA violations ranging from counter height and parking to accessible seating. In November, Velez amended his lawsuit, naming only Noho's, and Sahelian -- one of the restaurants' lawyers -- as an individual.

Records show Medford lawyer Ryan Vanderhoof also is representing Noho's, as well as restaurants in Cottage Grove and Yoncalla hit with similar suits.

The Medford lawsuits surrounded Sept. 10 visits to the three restaurants, according to earlier news reports.

Sahelian Monday highlighted that Velez' Jasper's receipt showed he paid with a Visa under the name "VELEZ COLON / JOSE."

On the same September date that Velez filed the Medford suits, he filed similar suits against Jack Sprats Restaurant in Cottage Grove, Alexanders Greek Cuisine in Roseburg and The Ranch Restaurant in Yoncalla, according to previous news reports.

Vanderhoof filed Sahelian's 26-page statement Monday in the recent case to argue that those unrelated restaurants should be split into separate lawsuits. Sahelian has referred to Velez in earlier news reports as a "serial filer" who "prefers to settle cases -- quickly."

Sahelian's document filed Monday alleges that when "push comes to shove, and Mr. Velez must make a court appearance, he is nowhere to be found." Sahelian pointed to a Southern California filing from November 2018, when courts sanctioned Velez $250 because he failed to appear for a hearing that two his two defendants attended.

"He did not even have the courtesy to let the opposing attorneys, or the court, know that he had no intention of appearing," Sahelian wrote Monday.

In an interview last fall, shortly after the Medford lawsuit was filed, Sahelian said his firm was the first to have an ADA lawsuit filed by Velez dismissed without the restaurant paying him.

The following month, Velez refiled the Medford lawsuit, dropping Rosario's and Jasper's Cafe, but seeking $100,000 from Sahelian based on claims Sahelian communicated with him "unprofessionally and uncivilly" during an earlier lawsuit.

Velez included portions of screen shots from emails Sahelian allegedly sent to Velez in March 2019 that called Velez "Mr. El Gordo" or "the fat man." Sahelian denied the allegation.

"I was referring to the attorney representing a famous restaurant called El Gordo, in San Diego, which Velez had sued," Sahelian wrote in a December email. "That attorney refused to cooperate, and went on to pay ransom money to Velez."

Records show that Velez's Southern Oregon lawsuit still is pending, seeking $100,000 from Sahelian and $200 per ADA violation at Noho's.

The most recent filing was Jan. 22, when Velez alleged that he had not yet received paper copies from Vanderhoof surrounding November and December filings -- despite saying he'd received electronic versions from the law firm.

"It is not my intention to disregard the procedural rules of the court, i.e. rules for filing oppositions to motions. Yet, I must review and study the papers filed with the court in order to properly file a response," Velez wrote. "This is particularly true because the defendants are likely demonizing me for filing an ADA lawsuit -- despite that the only remedy under federal law is ADA compliance (injunctive relief) and there is no demand for attorney fees because I am proceeding pro se (as an individual).

"The ultimate purpose of the defendants is to maintain the status quo of non-compliance."

No further hearings have been scheduled in Velez's Medford lawsuit, but a routine report on efforts to settle the case out of court is due Feb. 13, court records show.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

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