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Schwartz Zweben

After questions are raised about the timing of her claimed visits, a serial ADA plaintiff — represented by a law firm we’ve had occasion to mention before, Schwartz Zweben & Associates — drops complaints against several restaurants and other small businesses in Pennsylvania [Sunbury Item]

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Three years ago we noted (following reporting by Ed Lowe and J.E. Espino of the Appleton, Wis. Post-Crescent) (more) that

Representatives of the Hollywood, Fla.-based law firm of Schwartz Zweben & Associates have played a substantial role behind the scenes in helping organize, promote and support the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant and some of its state affiliates. And lawyers with the firm have filed more than 200 lawsuits in at least seven states and the District of Columbia on behalf of at least 13 pageant participants, “including state and national titleholders, state coordinators and pageant judges”.

Now the Birmingham, Ala. News follows up on the case of Colleen Macort, Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2002, who has filed more than 73 disabled-accessibility actions in Alabama “but has never spent a day in court because of settlements”. Local law provides that Macort cannot be compensated for filing the lawsuits, but the Wisconsin paper reported that the firm of Schwartz Zweben had engaged her as a consultant on other cases. The reporter is kind enough to quote me and mention this site (Liz Ellaby, “Bessemer woman crusades to address disability act violations, provoking critics”, Birmingham News, Jul. 3).

In the state of Washington, Ms. Wheelchair Washington 2005, Michelle Beardshear, has teamed up with the Florida firm to file 15 lawsuits, of which twelve have been settled, against enterprises in Clark County (Kathie Durbin, “Advocate for disabled not hesitant to sue for access”, The Columbian, May 27 courtesy Chamber ILR). And in March, Schwartz Zweben & Slingbaum (as it is now called) swooped down to sue twelve defendants in the Tucson area, including a number of well-known restaurants, alleging ADA violations. (Josh Brodesky, “12 Tucson businesses facing suits alleging Disabilities Act problems”, Arizona Daily Star, Mar. 28).

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The Appleton Post-Crescent has now completed publishing its investigation of the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant, including the pageant’s apparent role in client recruitment strategies for the Florida-based law firm of Schwartz Zweben & Associates (see “Behind a pageant, busy lawyers”, Jul. 21). The overall series roundup can be found here; among the more topical stories in the series are “Law firm’s ties to pageant”, Jul. 16 (firm filed 54 lawsuits on behalf of Jaclyn Kratzer, Ms. Wheelchair Pennsylvania 2003, and 37 lawsuits on behalf of Jeri Wasco, coordinator of the Ms. Wheelchair Washington D.C. pageant); J.E. Espino, “Businesses settle suits out of court”, Jul. 17, and Ed Lowe, “Local lawsuits trigger debate over ADA compliance”, Jul. 24 (quotes me on the question of whether serial complainants were just really unlucky or went out in search of reasons to sue).

Representatives of the Hollywood, Fla.-based law firm of Schwartz Zweben & Associates have played a substantial role behind the scenes in helping organize, promote and support the Ms. Wheelchair America pageant and some of its state affiliates. And lawyers with the firm have filed more than 200 lawsuits in at least seven states and the District of Columbia on behalf of at least 13 pageant participants, “including state and national titleholders, state coordinators and pageant judges”. Among them: more than two dozen filed in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley since December on behalf of local coordinator Gina Hackel. In March, Janeal Lee of Appleton was stripped by pageant authorities of her title as Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin; she believes it is because she was critical of the pageant’s role in lawsuit-promotion, although pageant coordinators deny that and say she broke a rule against being photographed out of her wheelchair.

Schwartz Zweben “also conducts seminars instructing contestants on pursuing their legal rights under the disabilities act. Lee remembered a lawyer flying in to give the Wisconsin contestants such a talk at the January pageant in Green Bay.” “The people that are the lawyers, I really like them. We got along,” said Lisa Wartchow, Lee’s 2003 predecessor as Ms. Wheelchair Wisconsin. “But I got the feeling they were there specifically to see if any of us … could bring them to our town and find cases for them.”

To verify Hackel’s claims of ADA violations in the Fox Valley, the law firm retained Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2002 Colleen Macort as a consultant, and she visited the businesses last fall, Zweben said.

Macort, who was named as a plaintiff in 63 ADA accessibility lawsuits filed in Florida by the firm over the past three years, also helped prepare the Wisconsin pageant won by Lee.

The Appleton paper (which is kind enough to quote me as part of its coverage) promises a four-part investigation, of which this is Part 1. (Ed Lowe and J.E. Espino, “Pageant, law firm closely linked”, Appleton Post-Crescent, Jul. 17). For more on mass filings of suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act and parallel state and local statutes, see Mar. 18, May 31 and many other entries on our disabled-rights page.