Those public service lawyers are at it again — they're out "protecting your rights" — in this case they're enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Lawyers complain the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret in West Palm Beach, Fla., violates the act, because among other things, a stairwell in the club prevents people in wheelchairs from getting a lap dance upstairs.
No matter that you can get a lap dance downstairs. He says that room isn't good enough. It's still "discrimination," says the suit, causing "emotional distress." And the club must pay "damages" … and Anthony Brady's legal fees.
Brady has filed more than 80 disability suits. He's sued my employer, claiming some Disney World counters were too high.
Brady has also sued Dave and Donna Batelaan. Now, the Batelaans are odd people to sue. They sell wheelchairs, and are disabled themselves. Having so many disabled customers, they didn't think they really needed a special handicapped parking sign. So Brady sued them for that.
Donna asked, why didn't he just ask us to get a sign? The sign would have cost less than $50. But she and Dave ended up paying Brady $1,600. "It's the settling of the lawsuit that's going to cost us money," Donna said.
Lawyers like Brady can demand such fees because the Americans with Disabilities Act invites disabled people and lawyers (like bounty hunters) to enforce the law by suing (without giving businesses any notice.) Now Brady wrote us that a substantial percentage of the time businesses are notified of violations. But he didn't notify the Batelaans before suing them and a few years ago, I confronted Brady about it.
I asked him why he didn't just call someone who didn't have the required sign and tell them to get one. I told him I thought that would be the decent thing to do if you weren't just looking to run a shakedown racket.
Brady said he's not required under the law to make such a phone call, and he objected to my characterization of his work as a "shakedown racket."
"Shakedown, is that really fair?" he said, "Is it a shakedown in a personal injury case where the lawyer says if you don't settle for $10,000, I'm gonna go to a jury?"
Maybe. What would you call it if I came up to you in a parking lot and said: "Give me money, or I'll smash your car?"
Small businessmen who were sued told us the suits felt like someone was coming after them with a bat. Settle for a smaller amount now or you'll feel more pain — (imagine what a trial would cost).
Lawyers and lawsuits are so expensive that even if I did smash someone's car with a bat, repairing that would probably cost much less than what the "public service" lawyers charge.
Florida business owners who have been sued by Brady or the William Tucker law firm are bitter about the lawsuits. "Legal extortion is what it amounts to," said John Day, co-owner of Mangos Restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale.
Some of the suits complained about minor things like paper towel and soap dispensers at the Peter Pan Diner being placed just a little higher than the law requires. Owner Peter Kourkoumelis had to move them.
Yet the renovations were cheap compared to what went to Tucker and the other law firm that sued — $3,500.
"These lawyers, what they do — they take a pencil and they stick it up to your head and they take the federal regulations and they say to you this is a holdup," Kourkoumelis said. "You have no choice. You have to give 'em the money," he added.
Of course, what the lawyers do is not called a holdup, extortion, or a shakedown, because it's completely legal. They say they're getting businesses to comply with the law, helping disabled people get parking spaces — maybe even lap dances. So you could say these lawyers are dedicated to helping the disabled, right? But even that's not always so clear.
The local newspaper pointed out that the Tucker firm has an office in a building that violates the ADA.
We asked a county ADA coordinator to check and sure enough … he said the office entrance wasn't legal, and the law firm didn't have the legal handicapped parking space.
"I don't know what you call that but it's not an accessible parking space," said county ADA coordinator John Batey.
Willam Tucker told us that he is in the process of moving his firm to a wheelchair-compliant building.
Give Me a Break!