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WINERIES PUT ON NOTICE THAT TASTING IS FOR EVERYONE A maverick disability rights advocate has proven more than a match for winery giants in the Bay Area. George Louie — executive director of Oakland-based Americans with Disabilities Rights Advocates — has filed 149 federal suits alleging that California wineries are not in compliance with state and federal access laws. “We hit them where it hurts,” said Louie, who uses a wheelchair. Defendants who have settled so far include giants such as Mondavi, Beringer, Kendall-Jackson and Fetzer as well as some smaller winemakers. Suits are still pending against wineries such as Nevada City’s Iron Mountain Vineyards. Louie’s group (not to be confused with the Oakland public interest law firm Disability Rights Advocates) uses a network of solo practitioners and firms to file the suits. The cases settle for anywhere from a few thousand dollars up to more than $100,000, he said. Violations spotted by Louie include inaccessible tasting rooms, bathrooms and gravel parking lots. “Have you ever tried to operate a wheelchair on gravel?” Louie asked. Robert Carrol, a Littler Mendelson partner who represents wineries, said the suits stun most owners. “I have not been contacted by a client who wasn’t surprised that they weren’t in compliance,” he said. Often, business owners erroneously rely on an architect’s advice and are unaware of complex legal requirements, Carrol said. Handicapped parking spots require more than a blue marker — they need to have special striping, space clearances and signs. Carrol said he has a “philosophical” difference with Louie, and thinks the Oakland group should work with businesses to get them in compliance before heading to court. Louie’s lawsuit mill has made him a lightning rod for criticism, and critics have pointed fingers at his rap sheet — Louie said he did time in federal prison for transporting counterfeit checks. Others say he doesn’t check to see whether businesses comply with the law after settlement ink dries. Louie said he does. Louie’s nonprofit group has offices in New Orleans, Seattle and Las Vegas. Surrounded by a computer, fax, copy machine, boxes of lawsuits and bulk food containers, Louie runs the group’s Oakland headquarters out of his Lake Merritt apartment. Settlement money is used to bankroll more suits. To prove his point, the 55-year-old whipped out his utility bill, checks to attorneys and a trust fund statement. Louie and his 10-year-old son live on an allowance from a life insurance trust account established after his son’s mother died, he said. Wineries aren’t Louie’s only targets. He has sued banks and homebuilders. And, he says, he probably alienated some people when he sued disability rights attorney Paul Rein for having an inaccessible bathroom. Louie, who eventually dropped the suit, sued because of a spat over consulting fees. Louie had this advice for people on his list: Fix the violations and settle quickly. Don’t let defense lawyers drive up fees by fighting the suit. “We’re like quicksand,” Louie said. “If you wiggle, you’ll go down quicker.” — Jahna Berry HELPFUL HINTS 1) It’s not a good idea to flee the long arm of the law if you’re appealing a hefty judgment against you. 2) Your fate’s pretty much sealed if your lawyer tells the appellate court that the judge who awarded the judgment was duped. What all this adds up to is the latest court loss for Stephen Cohen, once the purveyor of the Web site with the lucrative, but unfortunately purloined, address — Sex.com. Cohen, who said he is under house arrest in Mexico (though that is a matter of dispute), was hit with a $65 million judgment by U.S. District Judge James Ware last year. Ware also issued a bench warrant after Cohen missed a court date. Gary Kremen, from whom Cohen fraudulently obtained the domain name, celebrated the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, which came only a few weeks after the appeal was argued. The 9th Circuit ruled that fugitives from the justice system can’t appeal judgments through the justice system. But the court’s critical decision remains to be made: whether VeriSign, formerly Network Solutions Inc., can be liable for turning over ownership of the domain name without verifying that Kremen wanted to relinquish the name. To reach that conclusion, the 9th Circuit, in all likelihood, will have to decide whether Internet “real estate” is subject to the same laws as traditional real estate. Ware ruled that it was not. — Jason Hoppin WARM WELCOME Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel officially swore in Howard Lloyd, San Jose’s newest magistrate judge, last week. Lloyd, 60, was first selected to fill Magistrate Judge Edward Infante’s position and has been handling calendars since June. But Thursday was an opportunity to celebrate the event at the San Jose Stage theater. Chief Magistrate Patricia Trumbull was there. Several of Lloyd’s former colleagues from his days at San Jose’s Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel were also there, including U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte and Scott Mosko, now a partner at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner. Allen Ruby of San Jose’s Ruby & Schofield was also present to say a few words about his former courtroom adversary. Lloyd was a partner at Hoge, Fenton from 1969 to 1999. His litigation practice emphasized intellectual property, employment and business litigation. In 2000, Lloyd founded Mediation Works, a network of independent mediators. Lloyd graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1968. He will serve an eight-year term. — Shannon Lafferty

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