The Awkward Impotence of the Justice System Regarding ADA Accommodations
When "Their Honor" isn't honorable at all.
I’m training my first class of ADA Advocates, and we are getting ready to head into week 8 of training. I had them do something that Dr. Karin Huffer had me and my other class-mates do during our training in 2017. She tasked us with going to talk to our local ADA Coordinator for the local courts.
Since that time, I’ve dealt with a lot of court ADA Coordinators, and judges pretending to be ADA Coordinators, and I’ve never met one that truly took their job as seriously and performed it as fairly as Jeremy Wolff of the Multnomah County Circuit Court.
I met Jeremy during class, and it was before I really had any interaction of importance with the Multnomah County court. We had a very pleasant discussion in his office.
Soon afterwards, I began the cycle of intimidation, harassment and threats due to my inability to pay for a place to park. Soon thereafter, the court dates were set, and I worked with Jeremy concerning my requested modifications for equal access to court. All of my requested modifications were granted.
So, why am I telling you this story in an article that is titled “The Impotence of the Justice System Regarding ADA Accommodations?” Because this was the exception to the rule in 4+ years of doing Advocacy in court cases.
I was therefore eager to have my students report back to me concerning their experiences, and as I would have predicted, they also are experiencing the rule of status-quo in approaching the court systems,
The first thing I do when approaching a court ADA Coordinator is to go to the state or local court site and search for the terms “Accessibility” or “ADA”. Many times, these are available as contact links and yet there are also many courts that have no hint of a mention on how to submit ADA modification requests.
In these instances, my next step is to call the court. Since my disability is mitigated by recording, in states that are two-party consent states, I inform them that I am calling on a recorded line. (This changes the dynamic greatly, and reduces the amount of red-tape and shuffling back-and-forth between court employees.)
When I ask to speak to the “designated responsible employee,” there is almost always a silence on the other end of the phone for 5-10 seconds. This is usually followed by “I don’t know who that is, let me ask someone.”
Many times, I’m finally given to someone who has been immediately appointed to field my call, and they have no clue how the ADA works. I proceed to make sure I get their email, so that I can put my request in writing.
Then there is the barrier of what happened today. I sent an email yesterday to someone who was a supervisor, covering for the ADA Coordinator, who is in vacation for a week. I called him back this morning, because I had received no response, and he didn’t get my email. Based on experience, I’ve learned that many governmental systems restrict their email servers so that unsolicited or uncommon email addresses/origination sources do not make it through to the users who can unwittingly click on something that could import a virus or malware and corrupt the entire system. So, today, I had to tell the supervisor to check with IT and ask them to release my email. This is only a problem because the court does not have a standardized contact for the ADA Coordinator.
One of the most incompetent ADA Coordinators I have dealt is John Cooperrider of Oakland Circuit Court in Michigan. Seriously he had absolutely no clue how to handle ADA requests. He is not an attorney.
The reason I’m naming names is because these things happened to me, and I am ringing a bell to hopefully change this.
Court systems usually slap the title of ADA Coordinator on someone that is already overworked. Often, this title is added to the role of the Trial Court Administrator’s (TCA) office. I’d venture a guess and say that 60% of TCAs are attorneys.
When an attorney is an ADA Coordinator, I’ve experienced that this is a much more workable interaction. The main difference between an attorney ADA Coordinator and a non-attorney ADA Coordinator is that the attorney has to take the ADA seriously, because they have been trained and tested (Bar exam) to get where they are. Any training that an ADA Coordinator has claimed to have is very minimal. Usually, there is no training on how to perform, this job.
When an ADA Coordinator is afraid to deal with the submitted requests for modification, they pass this off to the judge in the case. This exponentially devolves the situation because the judge believes they are immune and can do whatever they want, and they hate to have their protocol changed in any way. There is always a fair amount of hubris involved in court personnel believing that they can do whatever they want, and whomever is requesting the modifications is presumed to be approaching in bad faith.
That’s where the hostile work environment comes in. I regularly find myself in situations where I am telling a judge - “You have to give the client ADA equal access, and you can’t threaten, intimidate, coerce, or interfere with this request or the exercise and enjoyment of ADA rights of my client or my aid and encouragement of their exercise of rights. Oh, and you don’t have any immunity concerning this…”
This is why lawyers won’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. Their oath to be admitted to practice often contains the agreement to “demean themselves” as an attorney, and 7 Corpus Juris Secundum (“CJS”) says that an attorney has a duty to the courts and the public that is no less significant [at least equal] than his duty to his client, which CJS refers to as a “ward of the court.”
The last duty in the hierarchy of attorneys is to the client. So if you’re expecting an attorney to get in between their duty to you, and their duty to the court, that is just NOT going to happen in an ADA case, from my experience. I’ve seen attorneys abuse disabled clients, and when I come in and demand that they stop, they start screaming that I’m practicing law, and that I’m not authorized, or that I’m threatening them, or a host of other gaslighting techniques. They will do anything but take responsibility for equal access, and I’ve not seen one attorney that I am intervening against that corrects course. Sometimes they run, leaving the client better off, but unrepresented for the at-law portion of their case.
I think we can all agree that attorneys are NOT going to tell the judge the things I have in bold above. I think we can all agree that for an attorney to do so would be a career detriment, or plausibly end the career of the attorney. Since William Goren has admitted that courts “fight back hard” and that attorneys are afraid to hold judges accountable, [«LINK] it’s clear to me that the ADA, while it is a brilliant set of parameters, is something that courts hate, and usually fight against being compliant.
Ironically, societal constructs have created many disabilities that are simply buried and not acknowledged. There are many things that substantially limit one or more major life activities for some individuals. For instance, people with invisible disabilities such as COPD or ASD or TBI or Rhett’s Syndrome, or almost any immunocompromised person, and others, were affected severely and negatively by the implementation of COVID-19 countermeasures. State and local governments notoriously do not consider how their actions affect persons with rights under the ADA. And, why should they? Even though they are required to be non-discriminatory, and provide equal access, their only incentive to be compliant with ADA is that they may get sued. Circling back to the earlier information in this article, with no punitive damages hanging over their heads (for ADA violations) and with attorneys being afraid to hold them accountable, and attorneys not having a financial interest in doing so, there is little chance that Title II entities will change course, until someone wins a case in federal court for these transgressions, and does so without the help of an attorney.
It’s daunting. The obverse side of the coin is to do nothing.
I believe that training advocates, and growing awareness for these issues can create awareness and embarrassment for the “honorable” abusers of the disabled.
The only option that gives us our voice is to call out the nakedness of the legal industry while they are professing their honorable titles.
I’m thankful to have experienced positive outcomes to several cases that I have worked with attorneys. These attorneys are the exceptions, however, and not the rule.
If, however, you’re an attorney that is not afraid of learning how to use the ADA in your field, reach out.
As Certified ADA Advocate, P.D., JAY V SHORE
adarights [at] protonmail [dot] com