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Disabled attorney defends his 1,000+ ADA lawsuits

11:47 PM, Feb 24, 2010   |    comments
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Disabled attorney Scott Johnson has filed more than 1,000 ADA lawsuits

SACRAMENTO, CA - A quadriplegic attorney who has filed more than 1,000 federal lawsuits claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act says he's an agent of change.  But his critics choose different words.

Scott Johnson, 47, was disabled by a hit and run drunk driver in 1981.  For the past six years, Johnson has been on an ADA enforcement crusade that has potentially earned him millions of dollars.  He operates out of his home in Carmichael with a team of legal assistants.

A News10 analysis of federal court records in the Eastern District of California indicated Johnson has been the plaintiff in at least 1,079 ADA lawsuits since 2003.  Johnson said he hadn't kept count, but did not dispute the number.  He said his average settlement with business owners has been between $4,000 and $6,000.

"I'm an attorney and I enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act," Johnson explained outside the federal courthouse in Sacramento.  "It's been a law on the books now for 20 years."

The owner of a Rocklin restaurant who became one of Johnson's more recent targets contacted News10 to complain about the fairness of the lawsuit he was served with in November.

Chris Rubino said he spent $700 to repaint hash marks on the side of a disabled parking spot in front of Rubino's Ristorante.  He acknowledged it took him a year to do so after receiving Johnson's first warning letter

"It's not a lot of money, but with the economy the way it is, it's just hard to come up with that extra cash right now," Rubino said.

Johnson said he gave Rubino more than enough time to comply before filing the lawsuit.  He said all of his lawsuits have come only after business owners are given written notice making them aware they are in violation of the ADA.

"I give them time to fix it. When they choose not to fix it, I seek the assistance of the court," Johnson said.

Johnson agreed to meet with Rubino to inspect the repainted parking space, but said he would still likely seek monetary damages.

Two Sacramento radio talk show hosts who've been following Johnson's activities have launched a campaign to stop him.

"It's bold-faced extortion masquerading as trying to help the handicapped," said KSTE host Joe Getty.  "It's legalized crime.  And if the authorities won't do anything to stop it, we will."

Getty's partner, Jack Armstrong, said the pair are meeting with lawyers to devise a strategy.  "We're assembling our own dream team of lawyers who are really into getting Scott Johnson declared a vexatious litigant," Armstrong said.

Armstrong and Getty said nothing they've spoken about on the air has generated as much discussion as the ADA lawsuits issue.

Under federal court rules, a person deemed to be a vexatious litigant must receive prior court approval before filing any new claims.  Johnson said he's already been told by a federal judge that he doesn't meet the criteria.

"There's a difference between filing a lot of lawsuits and being a vexatious litigant," Johnson insisted.  "In order to be a vexatious litigant, your cases must lack merit."

Johnson offered no apology for making a handsome living suing businesses both large and small, even if it makes people hate him.  "I bring change.  People resist change," he said.

by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net 

News10/KXTV

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