Advocacy Group Fires Back After Attorney General Steps Into ADA Lawsuit Controversy

By  Will Stone
Published: Friday, August 26, 2016 - 2:44pm
Updated: Friday, August 26, 2016 - 4:38pm

Will Stone - KJZZ News
AID attorney Peter Strojnik and former executive director Jennifer Rogers

A local advocacy group responsible for more than a thousand lawsuits against Phoenix businesses says Attorney General Mark Brnovich is on "the wrong side of history."

That comes after Brnovich's office filed a motion to intervene in the cases brought by the group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID), asking the cased be dismissed.
In court documents, the state alleges AID is abusing the judicial system and engaging in trolling tactics meant to coerce defendants to settle quickly for money.

“It is now political. The attorney general has to take a side," AID's attorney Peter Strojnik told KJZZ. “I believe he has decided to side with the law-breaking defendants, that is despicable.”
 
The attorney general's opinion argues AID is circumventing the proper channels for handling ADA enforcement. Strojnik says the state has done little to ensure businesses follow the law and private ligation is critical for enforcement.
 
"They haven't been able to do anything in the past 20 years while we have been very effective at enforcing the ADA law," Strojnik said.

"Those who can, do, those who can't criticize. That's the attorney general with all due respect," he said.
 
According to AID, the group has filed about 2,000 lawsuits in Maricopa County and plans to file thousands more. The cases typically focus on parking lot violations like the height of a sign or the width of a van space. The plaintiff usually does not visit the business, and the attorney general's motion raises concerns about whether the plaintiff has even reviewed all the cases with his signature.
 
The complaints tend to demand the violation be fixed and anywhere from $5,000 to $7,500 in attorneys fees. Strojnik says he gets paid nothing and all the money goes to support donations for people with disabilities.
 
While the settlements are confidential, the group claims the majority of cases are resolved without any payment. Many of the businesses KJZZ contacted, however, said they did have to pay money and never saw anyone come back to check whether their entire business is accessible.

In general, businesses try to settle the cases, rather than hire an attorney to litigate the case. None of the suits have gone to trial yet, but a defense attorney said a group of businesses he represents plan to in the near future.
 
Frustration in the business community has grown recently with many people accusing the group of running a scam. The executive director recently resigned.
 
"If this was filed by the civil rights division, their mandate is to investigate complaints of discrimination on behalf of persons with disabilities. Not to intervene on behalf of a business," J. J. Rico, director of the Arizona Center For Disability Law said. "That would be concerning."
 
Rico said he doesn't know Strojnik or his group, but he worries this controversy overshadows the real challenges people with disabilities encounter everyday.
 
"What I hope is not lost in all this is the person with the disability who is encountering these barriers," Rico said.
 
The attorney general's office said it cannot comment on pending litigation. AID has until early September to respond to the motion.
 

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