Epstein on the ADA
The bucolic town of Julian, California, has had a rough decade. Tucked away in the hills above San Diego, Julian has an historic ambience that has long made it a regional tourist attraction. In 2005, it was still rebuilding from a forest fire that had destroyed 500 homes when tragedy struck again—this time in the form of a San Diego attorney named Theodore Pinnock.
Paraplegic and wheelchair-bound, Pinnock threatened most of the businesses in Julian with lawsuits if they did not quickly install accommodations for the disabled, in compliance with Title III of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He also demanded that they reimburse him for certain “research fees” averaging about $2,500 per business. Pinnock had his legal tactics down to a science; by the time he was disbarred last year (for unrelated reasons) he had filed more than 1,000 lawsuits in Federal court and hundreds more in state court.
Little Julian got busy giving its gold-rush-era storefronts a massive architectural makeover in keeping with Justice Department dictates, spending buckets of money and destroying buckets of quaintness and appeal in the process. Many of Julian’s mom-and-pop storeowners were stunned by Pinnock’s flurry of demand letters. Harry Horner, owner of a pizza parlor who later testified to Congress on the abuses of the ADA, said that Julian’s businesses had long served customers in wheelchairs: “They seem to be accommodated and there’s never even been a complaint.”