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Legal hyena has one big handicap

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POSTED June 14, 2014 12:32 a.m.

Scott Johnson has the worst handicap of all.

He has no heart.

The legal hyena preys on the weakest of the business world.

He works over a community craftily separating the weak from the strong and then pounces. Once he gets his teeth into his prey he won’t let go until he’s got his pound of flesh.

Most of his victims he just severely cripples. Others he kills. Donner Lake Kitchen in Truckee? Dead. Ford’s Real Hamburgers in Sacramento? Dead. The Dairy Queen in Davis? Dead. The Barnwood Restaurant in Ripon? It’s taking its last breath on Sunday.

Johnson has managed to make sure others pay for his personal tragedy. A drunk driver in 1981 left him a quadriplegic. He took the lemon that life tossed him, added American with Disabilities Act laws and the court-embraced concept of punitive damages for perceived civil rights violations and made decadent lemon meringue pie to feast on at $5,000 to $60,000 per legal serving.

ADA parking logo on pavement faded? $5,000. Handicapped space large enough for a van but marked for a car? $5,000. Accessible table for wheelchair user one-tenth of an inch too high? $5,000. Toilet paper holder half an inch too low? $5,000.

Johnson personifies everything that the public perceives is wrong with the legal profession — self-serving, arrogant, heartless, more concerned about the law than justice, and more vested in their bottom line than righting wrongs.

In fact, his trail of 3,000 plus ADA compliant lawsuits shows his bottom line is about lining his pocket and not making sure violations are corrected.

Johnson says his rights are being violated and that he’s been humiliated because his paid aides’ measurements may show a bathroom stall is a quarter inch shy of complying with current ADA laws.

Yes, Johnson has rights. He has the right to take a law put in place to assure ADA compliance and use it first and foremost to extract money from those who day-to-day deal with handicapped customers and make them feel they have dignity because a tape measure shows a small fraction error or paint has faded slightly in their places of  business.

It’s easy to say that businesses and landlords know the law. Do they? The City of Manteca when they went to remodel the nearly 30-year-old council chambers that was ADA compliant when it was built was stunned to find out there were ADA rules that they weren’t even aware of. It cost the city close to $400,000 to make the council chambers ADA compliant. This coming fiscal year they plan to spend well over $100,000 to provide ADA compliant restrooms for those using the council chambers.

The city has a $30.1 million annual budget and it can’t afford to become compliant with newer ADA rules that change overnight for a structure built in the 1980s. 

That’s why those who have no empathy for small businesses slapped with one of Johnson’s ADA suits because they believe they should have known and can afford to make the ADA changes are wrong.

Johnson steers away from large corporations with ADA compliant officers, legal teams, and lots of money.

Just like a hyena stalking its prey and carefully culling the herd for the weakest, so does Johnson.

A solution that would advance ADA compliance and not cripple small businesses has been languishing in committee back in Washington, D.C., for over a year. 

House of Representatives Bill 994 by Congressman Ken Calvert would not make business immune from ADA lawsuits. Instead it would give business owners and landlords 60 days to provide the aggrieved person with a description outlining the improvements that they will make to address ADA violations. Then they would have 120 days remove or fix the violation. If landlords or business owners fail to meet the terms, only then will a lawsuit go forward.

Congressman Jeff Denham (4701 Sisk Road, Suite 202, Modesto, CA, 95356) is one of 13 cosponsors of the bill.

It sounds reasonable. But that’s the problem. It is reasonable.

The nation’s capital, just like Sacramento, suffers too much from legal inbreeding. The No. 1 trade or discipline of elected leaders, key staff members, and bureaucratic hot shots evolves around having secured a law degree,

Simply, straight-forward language with no wiggle room isn’t something they advocate. If it was, they’d be reducing the need for lawyers.

It also doesn’t help that this is a problem plaguing Main Street and not Wall Street.

Some merchants and landlords are cowering in fear, afraid to make themselves a target.

Wrong move. By not banding together and finding a way to get the law fixed they are making it possible to be the next victim of Johnson or some other enterprising lawyer who has the level of scruples need to make a living via serial ADA lawsuit litigation.

Very few, if any, businesses in Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon could survive the microscopic scrutiny of Johnson on the hunt for even the smallest violation of the law amid the constant upgrading of ADA rules.

Businesses should at least have a chance to comply and survive. Calvert’s bill provides that chance.

Meanwhile one hopes Johnson will check state unemployment offices to make sure they are ADA compliant given the huge influx of clients he is sending their way as he shuts down one business after another and costs hardworking hourly wage people their jobs.

 

Disclaimer

 

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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