Disabilities act lawsuits pile up

San Diego lawyers cash in, despite law to prevent abuses

According to the Desert Sun, Coachella Valley businesses, particularly hotels, are being hit with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits. San Diego attorney David Wakefield is filing many of those suits.

Wakefield is a former law partner of Theodore Pinnock, who filed multiple ADA suits over the years and was disbarred in 2012. Many small businesses and their lawyers believe that a lot of ADA suits are essentially shakedowns. Lawyers agree that there are multiple abuses of a law that was passed (signed by president George H.W Bush) with good intentions.

The Contra Costa Times had a story earlier this year about multiple ADA lawsuits there. One lawyer filing suits in that area is Ray Ballister Jr. He lives in Altadena but files suits in conjunction with San Diego's Center for Disability Access, which is a part of the local law firm of Potter Handy, LLP. From 2004 to 2012, Ballister filed 586 ADA lawsuits in Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego state courts. More than two-thirds of them were filed in conjunction with the Center for Disability Access.

In late 2012 and early 2013, a state law went into effect with the intention of curbing abuses of Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits. The law put in place such reforms as limiting minimum statutory damages to $1000 (down from $4000) and banning "pre-litigtion demand letters" in which plaintiffs and their lawyers wanted a settlement without filing a suit. Legal experts at the time questioned whether the law would significantly slow down ADA suits.

On December 13 of last year, the State Bar of California filed a notice of disciplinary charges against Mark Potter of Potter Handy and Ballister. They were charged with using computer-printed facsimile signatures in four lawsuits. The charges were dismissed on April 25 of this year. Potter, Wakefield, and Ballister are all active members of the bar.

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eastlaker: Yes, a needed reform created an opening for rapacious lawyers. The California Bar has a problem: so many of these suits conform with the law. However, the government should stop the shakedowns. Best, Don Bauder

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