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Michelle Duprey’s bones are delicate, but her convictions are tough. The 3-foot-4-inch tall Farmington, Conn., lawyer was the most forceful presence in the room Feb. 1, at a press conference in the offices of Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. A 1993 graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Duprey was there to graciously accept a victory in her battle with the state over a $5 premium the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles used to charge for dashboard placards which enabled people to legally use “handicapped parking” spaces. Beginning in 1992, about 100,000 Connecticut drivers paid the extra price, which Duprey contested as discriminatory and illegal under the Americans With Disabilites Act of 1990. Blumenthal, announcing a settlement of the federal case Duprey launched against the DMV, noted that the agency asked for legislative permission to stop charging the fee, without success. It stopped charging after U.S. District Judge Charles Goettel ruled in November 1998 that the fee violates the ADA. Initially, the DMV had argued that the fee was not discriminatory, and that people who were not covered by the ADA, but simply had difficulty walking, also had to pay the fee. Goettel ruled that the state could not charge a fee to people who are defined as people with disabilities under the ADA. Duprey, who was represented by Gary Phelan of New Haven’s Garrison, Phelan, Levin-Epstein, Chimes & Richardson, received class-action status for the case. The case paralleled cases in 16 other states challenging the fees for placards. The settlement of $100,000 from the state allocates $50,000 to the University of Connecticut School of Law Foundation to support a disability rights law clinic, and $25,000 to the ADA Coalition of Connecticut, which promotes compliance with the act. The remainder goes to Duprey ($2,500); the governor’s Connecticut Youth Leadership Forum; the state bar foundation; and the UConn Law School, earmarked for disability rights programs. BATTLE WON, WAR RAGES Blumenthal spoke of Duprey as an ally, noting that the settlement was crafted to further the ends of the ADA at a time when it is under attack. Blumenthal joined attorneys general in some 16 other states in an amicus curiae brief opposing Alabama’s challenge to the ADA, currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Speaking before television cameras, Duprey said she’d attended the arguments in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11 last year, and that she “was proud to be under the sign for Connecticut, knowing the attorney general was supporting disability rights.” The U.S. Supreme Court case of Alabama v. Garrett contends that Congress violated the Constitution when it removed states’ traditional Eleventh Amendment immunity from suits from private individuals when it authorized such actions under the ADA. Section five of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article,” so the question is whether allowing individuals’ suits under the ADA is appropriate legislation. Seven states joined Alabama in the Garrett case, which has yet to be decided. In announcing the settlement with Duprey, Blumenthal said it “sets a national model” and goes beyond the bare minimum of legal compliance, “by knocking down this fee and this barrier.” The agreement also included legal fees, with $60,000 for Phelan’s firm, and $30,000 each for two Florida firms, co-counsels in the case, that fielded class actions in 16 states.

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