On July 5, 2023, the United States District Court for the District of Maryland suspended attorney Tristan Gillespie for six months for filing hundreds of lawsuits against hotels under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
On June 30, 2023, a three-judge panel issued a report and recommendation in the disciplinary case against Gillespie related to his conduct in filing over 600 ADA lawsuits on behalf of clients Deborah Laufer and Saim Sarwar. The panel found that Gillespie violated rules of professional conduct concerning candor to the court and fairness to opposing counsel.
The report stated that Gillespie filed boilerplate ADA lawsuits against hotels for failing to provide sufficient accommodation information online. He immediately pushed for settlements that would award him high attorney fees. Gillespie routinely exaggerated time spent drafting near-identical complaints, billing over two hours for work that took minutes. He omitted that he simultaneously worked as a prosecutor when petitioning courts for higher fees due to the supposed undesirability of ADA cases.
The panel found that Gillespie failed to reasonably inform his clients about the litigation under retainer agreements that were confusing regarding the payment of his fees. The agreements were made with Thomas B. Bacon’s law firm, which employed Gillespie. Gillespie admitted he never reviewed settlement agreements with his clients that extinguished their right to pursue claims. The agreements misled the defendants into believing the plaintiffs owed Gillespie fees when they did not.
Additionally, Gillespie allowed false testimony from Sarwar that mischaracterized his relationship with the firm’s paid investigator, Daniel Pezza. Gillespie allegedly dismissed over 100 active ADA cases involving Laufer and Sarwar without consulting them after the court initiated disciplinary proceedings.
The panel concluded that Gillespie’s lack of candor and pattern of dishonesty were aggravating factors. Mitigating factors were Gillespie’s clean disciplinary record and that he acted at Bacon’s direction, from whom he has since separated.
The panel states:
“Perhaps the single greatest mitigating factor is that Gillespie appears to have acted largely at the direction of his boss, Thomas B. Bacon and that he has since cut ties with Bacon. In this panel’s view, Gillespie joined a pre-existing scheme that raises serious ethical concerns— including repeat clients, a compromised investigator, and a method for extracting unwarranted attorneys’ fees from targeted hotels based on a well-worn settlement script.13 Gillespie was not the driving force behind this operation, and he appears to have extricated himself from Bacon’s firm.”
The panel recommended that Gillespie be suspended for six months. According to the panel, the recommended sanction serves to protect future clients and the courts while recognizing Gillespie’s misconduct arose from the problematic ADA litigation model devised by Bacon.
On July 5, 2023, Chief Judge James K. Bredar of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland issued an order adopting the report and recommendation of the panel. Chief Judge Bredar fully concurred with the panel’s findings of misconduct and agreed that a six-month suspension was the appropriate sanction. The judge’s order immediately suspends Gillespie from practicing law in the District of Maryland for six months. Gillespie may petition for reinstatement after the suspension period ends.
Gillespie is a member of the bars of Georgia, Maryland, Washington DC, New Jersey, and New York State. Mr. Gillespie is also licensed to practice law in the US Supreme Court and 27 different US District Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeal.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.