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Disability activist in town

Lawyer: Businesses violating ADA act

An Americans With Disabilities (ADA) activist has swept into La Jolla, leaving his calling card: threats of lawsuits or an offer to settle out of court.

At least two businesses, WindanSea Veterinary Clinic at 6911 La Jolla Blvd. and Kathleen Buoymaster Inc., an interior design studio at 6933 La Jolla Blvd., received letters from Theodore Pinnock, a disabled African-American attorney. The letters allege they were not complying with provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the act is a wide-ranging law intended to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities, according to the Job Accommodation Network (JOB) website. The act has typically led public and private entities to comply by physically adapting their facilities putting in disabled ramps, rails in restrooms, etc.

Thomas Christy, the attorney representing WindanSea and Buoymaster, said he could not discuss details of the cases, which were both settled out of court, because of a confidentiality agreement.

Dr. Bruce Lindsey, owner of WindanSea, said he received a communication from Pinnock in April alleging ADA non-compliance for an incident that happened last summer. Lindsey said he did what a lot of others have done in similar dealings with Pinnock: He didn’t go to court.

“This guy’s found a loophole in the law where anybody who’s disabled can sue anybody,” he said. “My advice from my attorney was, ‘Try to settle. Get it done. You don’t want to go to court and spend thousands of dollars proving you’re right.’ ”

Lindsey said he’s gone public about his experience with Pinnock because “I just want to get the word out there so this doesn’t happen to other people.”

Lindsey said he is now ADA compliant, noting that “we now have five parking places instead of six, and one of them is a blue disabled space.”

Buoymaster could not be reached for comment.

Pinnock has cerebral palsy and a speech impediment. In a recent phone conversation, in which an aide assisted him, he said he presently does not reside in San Diego County though he has property in Ramona.

He described his efforts: “For me this is a job. I am not a crusader. I am a lawyer. People hire me to file a lawsuit to get them (businesses) to comply (with ADA).”

Asked how he chooses which businesses or areas to check for ADA non-compliance, Pinnock replied, “I do not pick anything. Normally, I’m not the plaintiff at all. The clients, they go there. I represent clients.”

Regarding receiving out-of-court settlements in his legal actions, Pinnock said that’s nothing unusual.

“Probably 90 percent of all cases that are filed in California are settled out of court,” he said. “If that wasn’t true, court would be a nightmare.”

Pinnock said government should be held accountable for ADA-compliance.

“We want all the laws to be enforced,” he said. “I am a lawyer representing clients with problems with accessibility. They have a right to file a lawsuit to enforce the law, and they have the right to monetary damages.”

Pinnock added, if those in the private sector want to do something to avoid ADA lawsuits, they should take advantage of SB 1608 and hire a certified access specialist to ensure they’re ADA compliant.

He has been following a pattern for several years in far-flung spots in San Diego County. Four years ago in Julian, numerous merchants in that town’s small commercial center faced similar complaints.

That experience has had a lingering impact.

Dick Thilken, treasurer of Julian’s Chamber of Commerce, said Pinnock changed people’s perceptions.

“We’re all kind of aware when anybody’s building something that we’re adhering to them (ADA conditions),” he said.

“About 60 people were threatened and at least six settled,” said Michael Hart, co-publisher of the Julian News and vice president of the Julian Chamber of Commerce, about the Pinnock situation. “The rest of the town got together with lawyers against lawsuit abuse and tried to turn the table on Pinnock, sued him accusing him of a slap (frivolous) suit.”

After that, Hart said Pinnock “kind of went away.”

There’s been one other “holdover” from the town’s experience with Pinnock.

“There are some people now, when they see a wheelchair coming — they lock their doors,” Hart said.