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Lawyer creates fear in business community

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POSTED June 14, 2014 1:42 a.m.

Paranoia strikes deep

Into your life it will creep

It starts when you’re always afraid

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

 

– Buffalo Springfield, “For What It’s Worth”

 

All that Brad Peters was trying to do was drum up support for Manteca’s businesses in the fight against a serial litigator that has already claimed one South County business.

But the reception that Peters – a quadriplegic that requires the use of a motorized wheelchair to get around – has gotten just on first glance hasn’t exactly been the most welcoming.

More than once Peters has had a door slammed in his face because businesses have mistaken him for Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson – who has already filed federal suit against more than 30 Manteca businesses and has upwards of a dozen more on standby notice.

Even though Peters has been one of the most vocal opponents of Johnson’s – saying from the very beginning that he does not speak for the entire handicapped community and that most Manteca businesses have gone out of their way to make life easier for those with access issues – and has out trying to gather signatures on a petition that will be delivered to congressman Jeff Denham’s office, the looks have at times been icy from those who don’t know that he isn’t the man responsible for upending the business community and putting owners on a knife’s edge as they wait for the other shoe to drop.

Welcome to the fear-induced climate that has some business owners afraid to even open their doors, and others ready to slam them shut at the first sign of Johnson or anybody looking to serve up his whirlwind brand of social justice.

Earlier this week longtime Highway 99 staple The Barnwood Restaurant announced to its employees that it would have to close its doors after the end of business on Sunday.

“I think that they are very fearful about what is going on right now,” said Manteca Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joann Beattie. “It’s like what we were told by Dawn Anderson last week at that session – once it has been publicized, they know who to hit. And just because you got one lawsuit doesn’t stop another person from coming along and filing another lawsuit.

“People can actually file multiple lawsuits – one day after another after another. People are very fearful right now.”

Take, for example, a family-owned business along a busy Manteca street that has already been hit with a lawsuit.

The information – the name of the business and the nature of the lawsuit and any other additional details – are all cards that he wants to keep close to his chest. But in the grand scheme of Scott Johnson lawsuits, he’s holding a strong hand.

At least one of the allegations is the docket is purely frivolous, and the other, while mildly costly, is an easy repair.

But while the money hurts, what the money represents hurts even more. Knowing that somebody out there can simply show up at your front door, demand money, and have a legal leg to stand on, he said, is what is really upsetting.

“He wasn’t my customer, I was his customer,” he said.

Those that have yet to get slapped with a lawsuit, especially those mom-and-pop businesses that fear that an expert can find something within their walls that constitutes a violation, are even more afraid than those that already have.

At a Chamber of Commerce meeting co-organized by one of those small business owners – who has gone so far as to lock up his doors out of fear that either Johnson or one of his “recon operatives” will show up – one local business representative was willing to talk about the work he needed to complete in order to be compliant, only that work had to be confidential.

It could be talked about but it couldn’t be talked about. Hushed tones. No disclosure.

The cost of everything was staggering, and like most that hear about their friends and neighbors getting letters and lawsuits, the man was scared.

Worried.

Afraid.

“What are we supposed to do when somebody comes up to us and sticks a notice in our face and demands all of the money we’ve somehow managed to save?” said one small business owner that asked to remain anonymous. “A lot of us have everything we have put into this. What are you supposed to?

“Waiting for the other shoe to drop just isn’t going to work.”

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