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LOS ANGELES-A legal rights organization has filed a class action against California’s San Bernardino County alleging that its courthouses fail to provide access to disabled litigants, witnesses, jurors and attorneys under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit is the second of its kind filed by the Disability Rights Legal Center, which obtained a settlement this year over similar issues at Los Angeles County courthouses. The center’s lawyers expect to file more suits against other California county courthouses. Old and aging The litigation comes as the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency that provides guidance on ADA requirements, is expected to make updated recommendations this month for new and altered courthouses. “A lot of courthouses are old, they’re aging and they don’t address access issues because they were built long before the ADA came into being,” said Peter Perkowski, an attorney in the Los Angeles office of Chicago’s Winston & Strawn, which is handling the San Bernardino case pro bono. [NLJ, Oct. 9.] In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004), that access to a court is a constitutional right under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The case involved disabled residents of Tennessee who could not access top floors in state courthouses. “ Tennessee v. Lane was a large, notable case,” said Shawna Parks, director of litigation for the center, which cited the case in its suit charging violations of the ADA, the due process clause and several state statutes. The center alleges that five of the 11 courthouses in San Bernardino County have inadequate parking and raised witness stands, jury boxes and filing windows that are inaccessible to the disabled. Ruthee Goldkorn v. County of San Bernardino, No. 06-cv-00707 (C.D. Calif.). Also, the bathrooms and the entrances are inaccessible. The suit seeks relief for a potential class of more than 100,000 disabled people in San Bernardino County and an injunction and damages against San Bernardino County, San Bernardino County Superior Court and the court clerk. David Wert, public information officer for San Bernardino County, said the county has not been served with the lawsuit but remodeling projects scheduled to begin next year would include ADA-related changes, such as accessible restrooms and entrances. In January, the center, which is located on the Loyola Law School campus in Los Angeles, settled a similar case against Los Angeles County, which agreed to renovate its 51 courthouses at an estimated cost of $4.5 million. Deborah Miles v. Los Angeles County, No. 02-cv-03932 (C.D. Calif.).

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