California’s busiest disabled-law enforcer

by Walter Olson on August 12, 2003

“Must a rustic winery pave country lanes and a parking lot to welcome visitors in wheelchairs? … Facing off against the wineries is George Louie, the controversial head of the Americans with Disabilities Advocates in Oakland, California, who has sued hundreds of wineries, banks and stores to improve access for the disabled. ‘We hunt you down … We really do you in,’ he said in an interview. … Kathleen Finnerty, who has defended firms in many such cases, said difficult-to-meet rules to give access to the disabled have bankrupted some firms. A diaper shop in Oakland, a Berkeley winery, a Sacramento restaurant and a root beer stand have gone out of business following the suits, she said. … ‘Guys like George Louie who abuse the system, you know, create a problem for us with public perception, they create a problem with the courts,’ Wolinsky said [Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation of Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates]. ‘I’m totally opposed to that.’ Louie, who is black, said some of such criticism is fueled by racism.” (However, Disability Rights Advocates’ own more respectable uses of the ADA may prove equally or more damaging to the California economy: in a lawsuit going to trial this week, it’s trying to force the big clothing discounter Mervyn’s to uncrowd its merchandise displays so that wheelchair users can freely navigate between clothing racks, a step that if successful would markedly raise the cost of doing business.) (“California lawsuits test obligations to the disabled”, CNN, Aug. 8)(via Legal Reader).

“Virtually without exception, Louie’s defendants settle out of court by paying legal fees for both parties and the cost of facility upgrades. Bills commonly reach $10,000 — sometimes up to $100,000 — including at least $4,000 per case in awards to Americans With Disabilities Advocates. Last year alone, Louie said, revenues for Americans With Disabilities Advocates easily topped $500,000, mostly from out-of-court settlements.” Louie “likes to compare his organization to a well-oiled business” but claims not to draw a salary from AWDA. “In 1968, he was convicted of interstate transport of counterfeit checks and served more than six years in federal penitentiaries. He also said he served time in a state prison in the early 1980s for robbing a drug dealer.” (Mike Lee, “Disability activist sets sights on state’s wineries”, Sacramento Bee/Contra Costa Times, Jun. 8)(more on disabled-rights filing mills)(& welcome Reason “Hit and Run” readers).