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LOS ANGELES – The county of Los Angeles has agreed to make its courthouses more accessible to the disabled under a settlement agreement signed by a federal judge Tuesday. The agreement calls for the county’s court system to spend an unspecified amount of money on modifications, including restructuring bathrooms and moving furniture to allow wheelchair users to more easily move around the courtroom. “Overall, we made a significant difference in terms of making the courthouses truly accessible to people with mobile impairments,” said Peter Eliasberg, a lawyer with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California who, along with the Disability Rights Legal Center, brought the suit on behalf of people with physical mobility and manual dexterity disabilities. “We made major strides.” The suit alleged problems at most if not all 51 county courthouses and highlighted examples of violations at seven, including the Downtown Central Los Angeles County Courthouse, the Pasadena Courthouse and the Santa Monica Courthouse. Among the violations were inaccessible entrances and exits to the courts and jury boxes that do not comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The changes will be made starting immediately, although there are different deadlines depending on the complexity of the tasks. “We did a comprehensive look, and it was a hard-fought negotiation,” Eliasberg said. “We pushed hard and made major strides so that there’s realistic access for people.” The county would not say how much money the improvements will cost, but attorney Brenton Goodrich said “it’s certainly substantial.” “The county is pleased that we’re able to put this behind us and resolve it without burdening ourselves and others with substantial litigation,” said Goodrich, a partner at Parker, Milliken, Clark, O’Hara & Samuelian. The Los Angeles Superior Court, which was also named in the suit, was represented by Greenberg Traurig. Among the three named plaintiffs in the class is attorney David Geffen, who has paralysis due to a spinal cord injury. He has practiced law for 15 years in the county, and said his ability to advocate for his clients had been significantly hampered by the facilities at Los Angeles courthouses. Plaintiff Deborah Miles, a mental health care worker who is unable to walk or use her hands, said the court’s inaccessibility problems caused her to be late for court, hurting her clients. “In order to arrive at the sixth floor of the courthouse, I had to use a separate security elevator since the standard elevator does not accommodate my wheelchair or go up to the sixth floor. The process is incredibly frustrating,” she said in a statement. “I need the same access to the courts as anyone else.” The exact number of people in the class is unclear, Eliasberg said, though he pointed out that the Los Angeles Office of Affirmative Action Compliance pegs the number of mobility disabled people in the county at 300,000 in its 2000 estimate. Under the settlement approved by U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr., the county will pay $300,000 in attorneys fees to the ACLU, the Disability Rights Legal Center and two outside law firms.

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