Joseph O. Onwuteaka gives Texas Attorney General's Office headaches in enforcement action stemming from massive venue violations by Onwuteaka in debt collection suits filed in the name of Samara Portfolio Management, LLC against Texas consumers.
Houston-based attorney Joe Onwuteaka should be nominated for some sort of “survivor” award. He is a frequent tax-suit defendant, having been sued by local taxing authorities more than a dozen times (many of which resulted in nonsuits), and a veteran of the attorney disciplinary system, with three suspensions on the State Bar profile page, which he has not updated since 2006.
The Harris and Fort Bend County court records paint an even more colorful picture.
In 2012 speedy Joe got caught driving erratically on the Southwest Freeway, and had his license suspended for refusing to submit what would likely have been an incriminating specimen. That suspension involved his driver’s license only, not his license to practice law. According to the arresting officer, Onwuteaka identified himself as a licensed attorney, but he was hauled off with hands secured behind his back for processing and booking anyhow, after not cooperating in the field sobriety test and refusing to blow at 2AM in the morning while emitting tell-tale fumes. So the officer had sufficient other indicia of probable cause, as detailed in the police report.
Apparently he still has it. -- His bar card. And apparently, he is still practicing law. But there are clouds on the horizon.
THE SAMARA PORTFOLIO SCHEME
Unlike other collection attorneys busy in mass litigation, many of who don’t last long because they either get canned by the collection lawfirm that hires them, or by the client if they work for a creditor directly, Joe developed his own business model for making the most of a chunk of the bad-debt after-market.
Rather than hiring himself out to financial institutions or to debt buyers, he would buy the bad debts himself (in the name of a limited liability company owned by him and his wife), and would then retain himself to collect on these debts. Technically he and his SAMARA PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT LLC are legally distinct. But both are debt collectors, and both are being sued by the Texas Attorney General for debt collection violations committed by Onwuteaka on a massive scale and as a pattern of practice: Filing collection suits against consumer debtors in a court convenient to Onwuteaka (Harris County Justice Court Precinct 1, Place 2 in Downtown Houston) even though the defendants did not live in Harris County and their cases had no connection to Harris County. Suing consumers in the wrong venue violates both federal and state law. --> FDCPA
ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY RAP SHEET
Onwuteaka has drawn the attention of the attorney disciplinary system on numerous occasions. The Commission on Lawyer Discipline sued him no less than seven times in Harris County District Court, and before that it was the District Grievance Committee of the State Bar of Texas. In 2007 and 2009, he was under (probated) suspension for part of the year. The most recent disciplinary case in Harris County (2010-10545) is shown as pending, but a joint motion to dismiss it has been on file since 2010. In 2008, Onwuteaka agreed to a public reprimand and payment of $2,000 in attorneys’ fees to the Commission.
Like I said, he is a survivor.
THE TEXAS AG’S ENFORCEMENT ACTION AGAINST ONWUTEAKA AND SAMARA PORTFOLIO
In 2013 the Attorney General's Office, then still headed by Greg Abbott, sued Onwuteaka, his law firm, LAW OFFICE OF JOSEPH ONWUTEAKA, and his company, SAMARA PORTFOLIO MANAGEMENT LLC, under the Texas Debt Collection Act (which is the state-level counterpart to the FDCPA) and the DTPA, alleging that he had sued hundreds of consumers in the wrong county.
Cases filed with the Harris County District Clerk are randomly assigned to one of the many courts serving the same jurisdiction. State of Texas v Samara Portfolio Management, LLC, et al ended up in the 80th District Court, presided over by Judge Larry Weiman, a Democrat elected in 2008 as part of the Obama sweep in Harris County, and re-elected in 2012. This is a civil case. When it is over and done with, Onwuteake won’t go to jail (unless he is found in contempt or prosecuted for any criminal offenses separately.)
The State’s Original Petition and Application for Temporary Injunction and Permanent Injunction was filed on June 14, 2013. Assistant Attorney General Rick Berlin signed it as attorney in charge.
Another Assistant Attorney General, Rosemarie Donnelly, is also on the pleadings, as Tommy Prud'Homme, the Chief of the Consumer Protection Division.
The AG action seeks damages, restitution, and injunctive relief. The petition alleged that the defendants violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Texas Debt Collection Act ("TDCA") and asks for hefty penalties of $20,000 per violation, and other relief.
The petition has since been amended.
A DRAWN-OUT BATTLE
Bad Boy Onwuteaka has put up a helluvo a fight. Perhaps he got the sense that this is the fight of his life; -- his professional life as a debt company owner and collector anyhow. As of May 2015, the online docket sheet for his case is 8 pages long, and mostly reflects filings related to telephonic and video depositions of consumers sued by Onwuteaka, and discovery disputes. This includes multiple successive motions to compel and for sanctions brought against Onwuteaka for failure to comply with discovery requests.
This is a big case because so many people were the target of Onwuteaka’s debt collection abuses.
|First 25 names of more than 900 people sued in wrong county, with place service shown in |
in column marked yellow. (Attorney General's Exhibit)
Onwuteaka also filed counterclaims against the Attorney General. But he lost on those by way of summary judgment, along with having impermissible defenses struck from his answer.
|April 10, 2015 Order dismissing Onwuteaka's counterclaim|
After four continuances, trial on the Attorney Generals’ claims against Onwuteaka and his law office and company is now set for October, 26. 2015.
FOURTH MOTION FOR CONTINUANCE
|Motion for Continuance (to reset trial to a later date)|
SUMMARY: This blog post provides an update on the enforcement action filed by the Texas Attorney General's Office in the name of the State of Texas in 2013 against debt collection attorney Joseph O. Onwuteaka aka Joseph Osochukwu Onwuteaka, his law firm, and his company, Samara Portfolio Management, LLC. It also offers information on this attorney's disciplinary history.
CASE STYLE: State of Texas v Samara Portfolio Management, LLC et al; Cause No. 2013-35721 in the 80th Judicial District Court of Texas (Harris County)