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    Letters to the Editors

    Disabilities act protects all of us


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 31, 2002

    Re: Big winners in disabled crusade? Lawyers, March 24.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act was created to protect the rights of all Americans -- any one of us can become disabled -- and President George Bush has said that signing the act in 1990 is the achievement he feels most proud of. Those citizens who seek compliance are not on a "crusade," but are just trying to see that U.S. law is enforced and the right of the people to be free from discrimination is protected. Their lawyers are not perpetrating a "racket" but are following the legal procedures necessary when businesses fail to voluntarily obey the law. These businesses are not "targets" any more than any other lawbreaker is a target for law enforcement.

    Despite the obvious antidisabled rights slant of the article, it at least puts businesses on notice that the ADA is the law of the land and ignoring it can be costly. Where I live, one prominent cafe has been making changes that actually decrease its accessibility for wheelchair users. Perhaps after reading your article, the owner will realize that following the law makes more business sense than waiting to be sued and paying lawyers' fees.
    -- Neil Scheck, Clearwater

    Principle takes back seat

    Re: Big winners in disabled crusade? Lawyers.

    As an individual who has been involved in the investigation and advocacy of civil rights for people with disabilities, and provided training for thousands of corporate personnel on the subject, I read your article on the Americans with Disabilities Act with great interest.

    Despite the advance represented by the ADA, members of Congress made three critical errors, in my view, in promulgating the law. First, they established yet another accessibility design standard, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines when there already existed the perfectly acceptable Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. One year after the enactment of the ADA, the Government Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, issued a critical report stating that the ADA's requirements were confusing and that many entities were spending time and money removing barriers that did not, in fact, exist.

    Second, they opted to use a broad definition of what constituted a "disability" that the U.S. Supreme Court has since used to effectively limit the law's scope. Third, in an effort to encourage lawyers to take ADA related cases, they provided for lawyer's fees but not for any punitive damages.

    Beyond this, however, it says something about our society to understand that litigation has become so prevalent, and the costs of pursuing legal action so substantial for both sides, that "settlement" is almost a knee-jerk reaction.

    It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that principle has taken a back seat to "the bottom line." I believe it is this recent development that not only threatens the ADA, but most other important civil rights legislation, as well.
    -- Mark S. Alper, New Port Richey

    Don't just settle

    Re: Big winners in disabled crusade? Lawyers.

    I read the article about John Mallah's attorney fee mill suing businesses while pretending to be concerned about the disabled. I'm a lawyer and I'm sure most other lawyers join me in condemning this kind of thing. The practice of stirring up litigation has long been condemned in the law by lawyers and courts and can be the basis of a claim against the lawyer.

    But -- even ignoring a direct action against Mallah -- it is not the law that he is entitled to any fee he demands for filing a lawsuit. Assuming he is entitled to a fee, it is a "reasonable" fee that the court awards. That fee is determined by the judge after considering a variety of factors including the novelty and difficulty of the issues, the time expended, a "reasonable" hourly fee and the result obtained for the client. From what I read, the result obtained is pretty much limited to a benefit for the lawyer, and the client has no idea of even why he filed the suit. A judge will take careful note of those facts. And, if the defendant contests the fees, the judge will be assisted in his or her determination of a reasonable fee by the defendant's lawyer.

    Yes, litigation is expensive. It's especially expensive when a lawyer files these kinds of cases and then milks them for what they may be worth. But it can be considerably less expensive if his bluff is called and he is required, for example, to travel to Pinellas County for trial. My suggestion? Consider the options more carefully. If appropriate, make him prove his case to a judge or jury. Make him prove the reasonableness of his fees to a judge. Even though there is no warning period required by law before the action is filed, make him prove that what he did in simply filing was reasonable in the circumstances. It may not win the case but it likely will reduce the fee award once a judge sees what's going on.

    Don't just complain about lawyers privately. Do something. If you need help and don't have a lawyer, call the local bar association for a referral to a lawyer. But letting this guy get away with it with nothing more than whimpering complaints is not the way to solve the problem.
    -- Howard C. Batt, Clearwater

    Bradley qualified for PSC

    Re: Color-blind patronage, editorial, March 24.

    Your editorial on Rudy Bradley's Senate confirmation to the Florida Public Service Commission reflects the St. Petersburg Times' ongoing campaign to disgrace our prominent black leaders and public officials who are in positions of authority. It is unfortunate that the editorial did not acknowledge these changing times and new political realities in a positive light. It is clearly apparent that the Times is actively engaged in racial pandering when it labels our leaders and promotes a climate of distrust, disunity and misinformation in the black community.

    Rep. Bradley is a man of principle with courage and vision, and he represented African-Americans well in the Legislature with little or no support from the media, particularly the Times.

    There has been little mention of color-blind patronage when others have received gubernatorial appointments as political payoffs. It's the way the system works and has been that way for decades. The governor obviously looked at Bradley's credentials and qualifications before nominating him for the commission. The man has several degrees and extensive legislative experience which certainly qualifies him for the position. What he does not know, he can learn.

    Rudy Bradley will make an excellent public service commissioner and deserves the full support of Florida voters.
    -- Alvino Monk, Tampa

    It is moral to question

    Re: Religion at risk of losing its moral authority, March 24.

    Thanks to Philip Gailey's column, I am reassured that not all religion is losing its moral authority. Bravo to the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and to the other organizations and individuals quoted in article, who realize that a truly moral response to the Sept. 11 attacks is inconsistent with our leaders' actions.

    It takes the same courage and integrity for Christian churches to offer compassionate alternatives to the escalating violence and violation of rights perpetrated by our country's leaders as it does for Jewish leaders like Rabbi Michael Lerner, whose son serves in the Israeli army, to call for a compassionate alternative to the escalating violence in the Middle East.

    In my opinion, it is both moral and patriotic to question the actions of authority when those actions appear inconsistent with the spiritual basis of one's religion. Isn't that what democracy is about?
    -- Lisa Raphael, St. Petersburg

    Remember the terrorists

    Re: The outrages of secret evidence by our government continue, by Robyn E. Blumner, March 24.

    As usual, Blumner is jumping on the bleeding-heart bandwagon. She must have forgotten that thousands of innocent American citizens were attacked and killed in an act of war. Perhaps it would be better if we publicly announce to our enemy all evidence collected against further suspected terrorists? Why err on the side of caution? Do not forget, Ms. Blumner, that there are many more terrorists hiding under the very blanket of freedom that our country provides.

    Our president has been a pillar of strength and honor during this time. To question his decisions regarding issues of national security is not only foolish, but traitorous. "Are you with us, or against us?" applies even to reporters in their air-conditioned offices.
    -- Claire E. Milliot, Seminole

    Floridian by choice

    Re: There's no place like the South, by Bill Maxwell, March 24.

    Thanks to Bill Maxwell for sharing an informative and charming trove of Southernisms. As a Yankee by birth and a Floridian by choice, I'd like to add one more nugget. As I tell inquisitive Southerners: "You can't help where you're born, but you can help where you end up."
    -- Marie R. Hickman, Clearwater

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