Make Them Go Away



From Chapter 11: The Hearing.

Access consultant Fred Shotz had spent time on his flight from Florida, he said, doing something none of the media covering Eastwood's story seemed to have bothered to do: He looked at the legal papers filed in the Eastwood case, which he had gotten from the plaintiff's attorney. The papers revealed that Eastwood had indeed been sent an initial letter about the violations -- three months after zumBrunnen had visited the resort, long before the lawsuit.

mission ranch sign Watch Clint Eastwood perform at the May 2000 Congressional hearing -- and see his Mission Ranch resort access problems -- in this 10-minute film clip edited by CasaGlozier Productions. ALSO: Rep. Mark Foley talking about lawsuits, fellow House members speaking out for or against the ADA Notification Act. This is a LARGE QuickTime file -- 10MG.

"Clint Eastwood did not tell you about the certified letter that was sent to him -- that he refused to sign for, and that got returned to the plaintiff's attorney. That, I believe, is called 'notice,'" Shotz told the hearing.

"Nothing stopped Mr. Eastwood from building a ramp or widening his bathroom doors at anytime during the lawsuit, including the day he got served with the complaint," Andrew Levy was now telling the hearing. "Had he done so, the plaintiff's fees would have been in the hundreds of dollars, rather than the hundreds of thousands." Eastwood would tell Crossfire viewers later that evening that he had already amassed $576,000 in legal fees.

Eastwood's fees "could only have grown to the size they did because of his refusal to comply with the law voluntarily, and the scorched-earth manner in which his lawyer conducted the defense," Levy went on. "I've been trying cases for a long time, and I can't ever recall amassing a bill the size that Mr. Eastwood is complaining about in a relatively simple ADA case."

What it suggested, Levy said, was "that Mr. Eastwood vigorously contested his obligation to comply with the ADA"; that his attorney had "engaged in a great deal of pre-trial maneuvering"; and that "opportunities to settle the case at an early stage were ignored.

"This was certainly their right," he continued. "But defending a case in that manner has consequences" -- and one of them was that you ended up with a big bill.

"That is a function of Mr. Eastwood's conduct, not some flaw in the ADA." . . .

Shotz agreed that there had been a lot of lawsuits over access in Florida. "A lot of people who are disabled live in Florida. We have a flat state. We do not have snow and we do not have ice. We have probably one of the oldest populations on average in the country."

He thought it quite likely that there had been a thousand or more lawsuits over access. And yet, he said, it was also likely that fewer than one business in 10 was compliant with the law.

The Batelaans' parking lot, which had occasioned the original lawsuit that had started the chain of events that had led to this hearing, "is half paved and half gravel," he told the hearing. "I have tried to park on the gravel part of their lot and push my wheelchair across it. I am a former wheelchair racer, but I could not push across that parking lot."

The Batelaans had been quoted in the Palm Beach Post as saying they had "six employees that are disabled and qualified to park in accessible parking spaces." But even now, after the lawsuit, there were still "just two parking spaces for people who are disabled."

"There's been an undercurrent much of the testimony that somehow people should be embarrassed about filing lawsuits trying to enforce the law of the land," Andrew Levy had said earlier in the hearing.

"Congress intended private litigants to enforce this law. That is the whole structure of this statute." The fact that lawsuits were beginning to be filed simply meant that after a decade the law still lacked widespread compliance. If businesses bothered to comply with the law, they wouldn't have to worry about lawsuits, he added.

"Lawyers who bring ADA cases already assume the risk that they will lose and be paid nothing, with their only upside being that they simply get their normal hourly rate if they win," Levy had told the Subcommittee. The bill the Subcommittee was considering, "by making it even more difficult to get paid for enforcing the ADA" would "build into the statute more disincentives to enforcement, resulting in less compliance and accessibility.

"Just as cutting a horse's hay with straw eventually kills the horse, continuing to water down the incentives for enforcing the ADA will eventually kill it." | BOOK ORDERING INFO |

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