Harris County state district judge Larry Weiman recently rejected a Houston debt buyer’s plea for a new trial, according to court records.
In June, a state district court jury imposed $25 million in civil penalties against Joseph Onwuteaka and the companies he controls for unscrupulous collection practices that included suing people who live far from Houston and were unlikely to show up in court to defend themselves.
Onwuteaka and his affiliated companies, including Samara Portfolio Management, asked for a new trial, arguing in court pleadings that the verdict is “grossly disproportional” to the gravity of the alleged offenses and that the excessive financial penalties violate both the U.S. and Texas constitutions. Weiman’s ruling did not specify why he rejected Onwuteaka’s request for a new trial.
Houston lawyer Michael Essmyer, senior, is representing Onwuteaka. He said he plans to appeal Weiman’s ruling.
Onwuteaka, a lawyer who operates out of an office near Sharpstown, sued individual consumers to obtain default judgments and orders to freeze bank accounts, according to the civil complaint filed by the Texas Attorney General.
The jury, which deliberated for two days after a two-week trial, found Onwuteaka violated state consumer protection laws that require debt collection lawsuits to be filed in the county where the person lives or the loan documents were signed. In many instances, Onwuteaka, who bought old debt for pennies on the dollar from banks, retailers and payday lenders that had already written it off, did not meet these standards, according to court records.
The first sign of a problem for many consumers only came when they tried to use their debit cards and discovered their bank accounts had been frozen.