APRIL 5, 2017
Fraud and fabrication -- A controversial “advocacy” group filed more than 1,700 disability lawsuits as part of a multimillion-dollar fraudulent scheme and more hearings are needed to investigate, according to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.
In a series of new court filings, the Attorney General’s Office asked a judge to grant evidentiary hearings and discovery against Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) in order to sanction the group for its conduct.
“Plaintiffs and their counsel perpetrated a fraud on this Court through the mass-mechanical filing of over 1,700 copy-and-paste complaint containing false claims and false statements, all as part of a fraudulent scheme to make money,” state attorneys wrote.
Why the change? – Every now and again, I search state business records to see if anything has changed with AID’s entities.
Recently, something has.
AID Foundation director David Ritzenthaler’s name was removed as director from Arizona Corporation Commission records. It was replaced with Alex Callan, who AID has called a “de facto representative.”
I’m not sure what it means exactly. (AID has vowed to never answer my questions again)
Maybe Ritzenthaler wants out because of the heat or the financial hit he could take if he’s held responsible for legal fees and sactions.
Billed together – There was a pair of competing bills down at the Arizona Legislature to try and curb these frivolous serial ADA lawsuits.
We’ve done a few stories about those efforts before.
But now, those bills are being combined into a single bill: Senate Bill 1406.
It would mainly do two things: (1) Empower courts to discipline and sanction attorneys who engage in questionable serial ADA litigation; (2) Give businesses a 30 day cure period before a disability lawsuit could be filed.
The second provision is controversial and will draw the ire from disability-rights groups.
We’ll see if it passes. My guess: It will.
MARCH 2, 2017
Ruling is in -- It took about two weeks, but Judge David Talamante’s official ruling has been posted.
On Feb. 17, Talamante dismissed more than 1,000 of AID’s cases because there was “no palpable and distinct injury.” Basically, they got dismissed because AID sued business after business without actually having a person with disabilities actually visit.
Go for broke? – Businesses sued by AID in the dismissed lawsuit can now petition the court to recover their legal fees.
I checked the docket, and it looks like a few dozen businesses have already applied -- many for thousands of dollars.
If granted, all these fees will get very expensive for AID.
The real question: If the fees are granted, will AID pay? The controversial group has already stiffed an outside law firm -- that it hired to battle the media and Attorney General -- of more than $70,000 in legal fees, according to this lawsuit.
Moving bills – A trio of bills are moving through the AZ legislature related to these ADA lawsuits.
The most controversial of the bills, SB1198, passed through the Senate this week. It would give businesses a “cure” period to fix issues before a lawsuits could be filed.
Disabitlity-rights organziations are strongly against it. Business groups strongly for it. Hard to say what will happen. But it’s a Republican-sponsored bill heading into a Republican-majority House of Representatives. So passage is a possibility – and my gut feeling says a probability.
Will the Governor veto? That’s another question.
California has passed similar legislation to curb their flood of lawsuits. The U.S. House and Senate also have bills circulating to do the same thing at the federal level.
FEBRUARY 17, 2017
Dismissed! (x1000) - A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed more than 1,000 lawsuits filed by the controversial group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities.
The unexpected decision was delivered by Judge David Talamante from the bench at a hearing on Friday.
It caps a months-long legal battle between Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which intervened in all of AID’s open cases because of an ABC15 investigation.
New lawsuits, new states - The people behind a controversial group that sued more than 1,700 businesses in Arizona are connected to new lawsuit-filing operations in at least three other states, an ABC15 investigation discovered.
Top employees for Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) did not return requests for comment.
When approached outside a court hearing, AID’s lead attorney also refused to answer questions.
“You are a liar,” said attorney Peter Strojnik to an ABC15 reporter. “I don’t give interviews with fake news, which what your outlet is.”
ABC15 worked with its sister station Denver7 to review court documents, business records, and website registrations across the western United States. Reporters found the people behind AID are connected to multiple new entities, which have filed federal ADA lawsuits in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
As of February 17, the total number of lawsuits was more than 250.
Websites down? Suspended? - While we're on the topic of those new groups filing lawsuits in new states, I discovered the day after reporting the story that two of the associated websites are now down.
On NewMexicoADA.com and ADAJustice.com, the message on screen shows "Account Suspended."
I first noticed the change on Saturday morning.
FEBRUARY 14, 2017
Similar lawsuits, different names – I’ve been working with reporters in other states to track big bunches of new ADA lawsuits.
So far, a couple hundred have been filed in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico since the beginning of December.
It turns out, they are connected to the people behind AID. And since a judge barred AID from filing new cases in Arizona since late summer, it makes sense that AID wanted to expand to other states.
Ryan Luby, an investigative reporter for ABC15’s sister station in Denver, did a great report on the new cases in the Denver area.
I’m also working on my own report that will fully lay out how these out-of-state lawsuits are linked to AID. It should be out within the next week.
New bills – After our investigation, lawmakers are trying to figure out how to curb all of these “drive-by lawsuits.”
Three new bills have been introduced at the capitol. Some people like. Some people HATE.
Here’s two different reports I’ve done on the bills so far:
Unp(AID) bills – And now for some news about a different type of bill. The type you have to pay, and AID did not.
Below are the first few paragraphs from my report.
The controversial group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) filed more than 1,700 lawsuits in the Valley last year alleging disability rights violations.
Now, AID is being sued for not paying $72,652.72 in legal bills.
JANUARY 31, 2017
*Note: Multiple updates to share*
It’s been a few weeks since my last update. I’ve been working on another project involving a convicted felon who’s been playing doctor (he’s not). I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t seen it: ABC15.com/fakedoctor
As for AID, not much has been happening in Arizona while the group waits for a hearing to argue why a judge shouldn’t dismiss all of their cases.
That leads to our first update…
Dismissal discussion – Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Talamante has scheduled a hearing for AID and the Attorney General’s Office to argue why or why not all of AID’s cases should be dismissed.
The oral arguments are set for Friday, February 17 at 11 a.m.
The hearing should be interesting, and I’ve already gotten approval from the judge to have a camera in the courtroom.
At stake are roughly 1,000 of AID’s open lawsuits.
Whatever Talamante’s decision, it’s pretty fair to say that there will be an appeal from the losing side. And that means this will likely drag out for another several more months, at least.
A losing game(manship) – Another federal judge has ordered AID and its attorneys to pay up after a lawsuit.
Judge John Tuchi had some harsh words for AID in his ruling and ordered AID to pay about $7,000 to cover the sued business’s attorney fees.
Here’s a taste of Tuchi’s ruling about AID’s conduct:
“Plaintiff therefore caused a waste of every dollar expended by Defendants in pursuing what as a useless removal, and of every minute of this Court spent addressing same, including the time it is taking right now to address this request for attorney’s fees and expenses. The court holds Plaintiff responsible for this gamesmanship.”
The specific facts of this case are convoluted for the non-lawyer among us. But it’s similar to two other cases in which federal judges also criticized AID’s attorneys, Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta.
In those ADA lawsuits, the judges found that Strojnik and Zazueta acted in “bad faith” and used “bait and switch” tactics.
Expansion? – I’m seeing some big batches of new ADA lawsuits popping up in other neighboring states.
They have the look and feel of AID lawsuits. Even though the lawsuits are filed under the names of different groups, I’ve obtained records and information that appear to link the people behind AID to these other groups.
I’m currently nailing all of this down (and so are reporters I know in other states). There will a story soon about all of this.
JANUARY 5, 2016
*Note: Multiple updates to share*
Hearing transcript – Back on December 12, a federal judge ordered AID’s attorneys into court to explain themselves.
I wrote about that hearing in my December 13 notebook entry below.
Specifically, Judge Neil Wake wanted more information from attorneys Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta about why they demanded so much money in AID lawsuits. The transcript for the hearing is below.
Even though it’s long and might seem dry for the non-lawyers among us, there were some interesting moments at the hearing. And one of the most interesting can be found on page 51 of the transcript in the third paragraph:
“And for the media, and we've heard this expression before, the dishonest media, there's no good copy unless you say something bad about a lawyer. And all you have heard, I'm sure you have heard, there's one fellow out of Channel 15. I could just slap him around.”
People have certainly said worse about me and my reporting before – but not unprompted in open court to a federal judge.
Here’s one of our first stories about AID that focuses specifically on Strojnik, mistakes he’s made in AID cases, and an open State Bar investigation.
Rapid rejection – Last month, AID tried to appeal another decision made by Judge David Talamante – and again that appeal was unsuccessful.
In fact, AID attorney Peter Strojnik filed a final reply on Friday. On Tuesday, the appeals court decided to decline jurisdiction. And since Monday was a holiday, the court pretty much made a decision in a single business day.
I’ve spoken to a few Valley attorneys, and they say they’ve NEVER seen a decision that fast.
So what was AID appealing? I’ll save space here and direct you to my December 13 and November 28 entries.
But the end result could have a big impact on Judge Talamante’s decision about whether or not to dismiss all of AID’s open lawsuits.
DECEMBER 19, 2016
Who the heck is Dan West? – Recently, while researching AID, I stumbled on a Facebook profile for a guy named “Dan West.”
His profile says he’s “Community Outreach Manager at AID Foundation.” The profile was linked to AID’s Facebook page, and it also has a couple of posts that tout positive news about AID.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think Dan West exists. The profile appears to be a fake. Here’s a link to West’s profile. (In case it gets deleted I’ve saved screengrabs)
I did a reverse google search on Mr. West’s profile picture, and I found it’s a stock photo from Getty Images that’s been used in dozens of websites. The cover photo showing two men mountain biking is also ripped off. I found the same picture on a blog for a mountain biking club. When I checked with the blog’s author, he said he didn’t know anyone named Dan West. The profile was created March 4. The last post was made on March 21. West also doesn’t have many Facebook friends – just 21 of them – and some of those profiles don’t seem real either.
So, now the big question is who created Mr. West? And why?
AID is claiming no responsibility. Alex Callan, AID’s “de facto representative,” sent me an email saying, “I have no knowledge of a Dan West and whoever he is, he is not employed with AID.”
But AID and Mr. West seem to think alike. Or at least their Facebook profiles do. AID’s first Facebook post was made on March 4 – the same day West’s Facebook profile was created.
On March 21, there was also an identical post shared on both AID’s Facebook page and West’s page. It read, “We had a big week last week at AID Foundation, check out this article from our favorite part! #motivationmonday.”
Was it the same person posting the same message on both pages? Or, did someone outside of AID learn about their new page, create a fake profile, see their post and then copy it?
I guess we may never know.
DECEMBER 13, 2016
*Note: A lot has happened in the last week. Multiple updates to share.*
Time to explain: Yesterday, AID’s attorneys appeared in court to answer a series of questions from a federal judge who wanted answers about the way the group operates.
More information about why Judge Neil Wake ordered the hearing can be found in this story.
The hearing did not appear to go well for AID or its attorneys Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta. In fact, some legal observers told ABC15 it was a massacre.
With methodical questioning and an even tone, Judge Wake parsed AID’s claims by repeatedly asking Strojnik and Zazueta to explain why their lawsuits are legitimate, ethical and legally sound.
Wake wanted AID to explain how it can ask for damages if a person with disabilities never visited the businesses. For the same reason, Wake also sharply questioned how AID can claim proper legal standing to bring a lawsuit.
At one point, Strojnik suggested that a “Sherpa in Tibet” can sue an Arizona business if they become “aware” of an ADA violation.
Wake did not seem satisfied with many of AID’s explanations after a variety of questions. Here’s a sampling of the judge’s comments:
- “I need something more than your proclamation.”
- “You haven’t given me any authority whatsoever.”
- “Don’t slip out of my question. Answer my question.”
- “You’re going to be held to everything you say here. I’m here to get answers.”
Wake also questioned the “reasonableness” of AID’s settlement demands. (Something ABC15 has reported a lot.)
Strojnik also lost his cool at one point in open court. It came at a moment when he was condemning media reports about him and AID. Strojnik told Judge Wake he wanted to “slap around” the reporter from ABC15. Of course, he means me – Dave Biscobing.
I’m working to get a full transcript of the hearing. Once I do, I’ll probably post the whole thing on this website and then dive deeper into all of the information that came out.
(Another) special action – Consider this another complication in the already complicated case involving AID and the Attorney General’s Office.
What is AID appealing? A decision made last month by Maricopa Superior Court Judge David Talamante. (See the November 28 notebook entry)
Here’s a recap:
AID tried to fix potential deficiencies in more than 1,000 lawsuits by filing a single amended complaint. But in a new ruling Talamante denied a move by AID that would have added new plaintiffs to the vast majority of its lawsuits. AID filed most of their lawsuits without listing an individual as a victim or plaintiff. In fact, a person with disabilities never visited the vast majority of the places AID sued. AID sued businesses by listing itself, an organization, as the plaintiff. The Attorney General’s Office and some federal judges have challenged AID on that fact. And Judge Talamante won’t let them amend all of their lawsuits given everything that’s happened. “The Court finds this to be particularly inappropriate given the procedural history and posture of this litigation,” Talamante wrote in the ruling.
AID filed the special action on December 9.
That’s one day AFTER the Attorney General’s Office filed a motion to dismiss all of AID’s open cases in Superior Court – about 1,000 lawsuits total.
Why did AID file this new special action?
They won’t talk to me anymore. But its clear AID wants to fix big potential deficiencies in nearly all of its cases. Also, some have suggested that it could be a stalling tactic.
Right now, attorneys representing businesses say AID is having a “fire sale,” trying to settle as many cases as it can before Judge Talamante rules on the AG’s motion to dismiss. I’ve been told settlements are now going for hundreds of dollars.
Lawyer change – Outside lawyers that were helping AID battle the Attorney General’s Office and handle other legal issues are no longer representing the group.
In an email, John Wilenchik told ABC15 his representation of AID has “concluded.”
DECEMBER 12, 2016
AID sues AG -- A controversial group that’s flooded the Valley with disability lawsuits is now suing the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, claiming that the state has failed to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) filed the lawsuit on December 7. It’s a direct challenge to the Attorney General in response to the state’s intervention in more than 1,000 of AID’s open lawsuits.
Strojnik refused to answer questions about the Attorney General’s lawsuit from ABC15 outside of court Monday. He called ABC15 the “worst media outlet ever,” and told a reporter “I don’t talk to lying reporters like yourself.”
DECEMBER 8, 2016
Motion to dismiss -- The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion to dismiss more than 1,000 disability lawsuits filed by a controversial “advocacy” group.
The motion is the latest and most significant move in a months-long legal battle between the Attorney General and Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID).
“Abusive litigation practices harm our community,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “These shakedowns strain our collective resources and damage our faith in well-meaning laws and public institutions.”
NOVEMBER 28, 2016
Denied, again –Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) tried to fix potential deficiencies in more than 1,000 lawsuits by filing a single amended complaint.
But a judge had none of it.
Why did AID try doing that?
It’s because they filed most of their lawsuits without listing an individual as a victim or plaintiff. In fact, a person with disabilities never visited the vast majority of the places AID sued.
AID sued businesses by listing itself, an organization, as the plaintiff.
“The Court finds this to be particularly inappropriate given the procedural history and posture of this litigation,” Talamante wrote in the ruling.
With this ruling out, the case is about to get really interesting.
In the next 10 days, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office will file a motion to dismiss more than 1,000 of AID’s lawsuits. Once that happens, AID can respond, then the AG’s Office can reply back, and then there will probably be an oral argument in court.
I’ve written about some of this before (read the October 25 and November 4 notebook entries below).
Also, here are links to previous reports covering this topic:
- Controversial ADA suers hoping judge approves one-size-fix-all legal move
- ADA serial suer drops plan to add felon to cases
NOVEMBER 22, 2016
Name game – A while back, I reported that AID was posting job opportunities on internet sites for positions in other states.
It looks like they still are. EXCEPT -- they’ve removed any mention of their name from the job postings.
Instead of AID, they are now listing themselves as “ADA Litigation Management Services. “
On Indeed.com, I’ve watched the job postings evolve over the past several weeks. As of this entry, I see they’re listing attorney positions in Seattle, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Las Vegas and Albuquerque.
Before the jobs were listed under “Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities.”
On Oct. 31, this was the company description:
“AID.org is a one of a kind champion for the equality and civil rights for individuals with disabilities. Our goal is to help millions across the country. We are 100% self funded. We make frequent life changing contributions to individuals with disabilities.”
Now, the name is “Litigation Management Services.” Here’s the latest description:
“Litigation Management Services provides a full range of legal support. This includes: Paralegals, negotiations, drafting, and all aspects of managing a heavy case load through customized software. Although expert in ADA and Civil Rights law, Litigation Management Services can provide the needed legal support for all areas of law.”
NOVEMBER 18, 2016
Explain yourself -- A federal judge is ordering two attorneys for the controversial AID Foundation into court to explain why their actions don’t constitute professional unethical conduct.
Judge Neil Wake issued the order Thursday citing news media accounts that he said raise questions about Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) that must be explored.
The two AID attorneys are Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta.
“The circumstances raise the question whether Mr. Strojnik has used these cases to abuse people with unethical fee demands that are more economical to pay than defeat,” Wake wrote.
NOVEMBER 15, 2016
Charity clarity – In a new press release, Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities is now describing its charity and how it makes money a little differently.
AID’s new charity clarity coming after this ABC15 report last week.
Here’s what AID is writing about itself today:
“Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit company was formed in January 2016 to receive contributions/distributions/benefits/services from the operating entity Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities, LLC. These entities often collectively or individually referred to as AID or AID.org by many, operate as Civil Rights Champions with combined goals of improving the lives of individuals with disabilities through charitable gifts, opportunities and the removal of equal access barriers for the over 43 million Americans who live with disabilities caused by one or more conditions.”
And here’s what AID wrote two weeks ago:
“Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities - Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit company was formed in January 2016 as Civil Rights Champions in order to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities through charitable gifts, opportunities and the removal of equal access barriers for the over 43 million Americans who live with disabilities caused by one or more conditions.”
In our report, we showed that AID didn’t tell the IRS anything about all of the lawsuits it would be filing or how it would be funded through the cases in its official non-profit application.
NOVEMBER 10, 2016
Taxing questions -- Valley attorneys and business owners are raising questions about the non-profit status of a controversial group that’s become the nation’s most prolific filer of disability lawsuits.
Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) has filed more than 1,700 lawsuits in the Phoenix area since February.
Almost all of the lawsuits are filed over signage issues in parking lots and allege violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In those lawsuits, AID prominently touted its status as an official 501c3 charitable foundation.
But in its application for non-profit tax-exempt status, an ABC15 investigation found that AID didn’t tell the IRS that it would be filing lawsuits or funding itself through litigation.
NOVEMBER 4, 2016
What’s the status? – There’s a lot of moving parts in the AID / AG case right now.
This week, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Talamante held a status conference to set deadlines and get both sides in line for what’s to come.
Here’s a rundown:
- In late October, AID filed a motion for a one-size-fix-all approach to amend more than a 1,000 of their previous lawsuits. That motion asked the court to add new plaintiffs onto AID’s cases in an apparent attempt to fix legal standing issues. Judge Talamante said he was inclined to deny that motion.
- AID also had asked the court to force the Attorney General’s Office to conduct periodic inspections. The judge said that he’s unlikely to allow that and told AID they would need to file a separate lawsuit.
- It’s clear the Attorney General’s Office is going to file for some sort of mass dismissal of AID’s consolidated cases (more than 1,200 of them). When? Well, the judge needs to officially rule on the first two bullet points above. After those rulings, the AG will have 10 days to file their motion to dismiss. No matter what happens, expect appeals.
- It’s also clear the Attorney General’s Office is going to file for sanctions against AID. What are sanctions? Basically, legal discipline handed out by the court. In this week’s hearing, state officials said they plan to file for a variety of sanctions later on in the case based on AID’s conduct. If you’ve been following our coverage, AID’s attorneys (Peter Strojnik and Fabian Zazueta) have been sanctioned before – by the federal court – for “bad-faith” conduct and “bait-and-switch” tactics.
NOVEMBER 2, 2016
New map – Want to see what more than 1,700 lawsuits look like?
We’ve mapped the addresses for every case AID has filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.
In the interactive map, you'll find details about each lawsuit, including case numbers, filing dates, addresses, and links to AID audit reports.
NOVEMBER 1, 2016
Legal wrangling – The Arizona Attorney General’s Office has responded to new motions recently filed by AID that attempted to correct possible deficiencies with 1200+ of its lawsuits and force the state to periodically inspect businesses.
Late last month, AID filed a motion to try and add new defendants to the case. (The newest plaintiff they want to add is a man named Fernando Gastelum)
There’s a status conference in the AID / AG case on Thursday, Nov. 3. We should have a better idea of where things stand after the hearing.
OCTOBER 29, 2016
Flip-flop -- The country’s most prolific ADA serial suers are now backing off on plans to add a pair of new plaintiffs to more than 1,200 of their lawsuits.
Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) filed a motion with a court last week, seeking to add two brothers to their cases in an apparent attempt to try and approve the group’s legal standing.
AID said the brothers, Jason and Danny Thomas, were also going to re-inspect businesses that the group already sued.
OCTOBER 28, 2016
Settle up – We’ve learned that Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) is sending out some new (lower) settlement offers to businesses wrapped up in the 1200-case intervention by the Attorney General’s Office.
ABC15 has heard the new offer is about $1,750 .
Could this be that AID is looking to collect on as many of these cases as possible before the AG’s office files for a mass-dismissal of the lawsuits? The cases will also likely be tied up for months.
AID attorney Peter Strojnik told me yesterday he will no longer communicate with me. He also said that I’m “expressly forbidden” from reaching out to his clients.
OCTOBER 26, 2016
Guest opinion – In light of all the news surrounding ADA serial lawsuits, ABC15 published a guest editorial from Phil Pangrazio, President of ABILITY360, a leading disability organization.
Here’s an excerpt:
Businesses feel extorted by a disingenuous plaintiff and attorney who never actually intended to patronize the business. It appears that AID is driving from one zip code to another, photographing parking lots at shopping centers, strip malls, small property owners, and other “mom & pop” types looking for ADA violations.
This is a real dilemma for the disability community. Yes, we want more access to business, so ADA enforcement is a good thing, especially for businesses that have ignored compliance for 26 years. Alternatively, the high volume of lawsuits is giving the ADA a black eye and businesses are shamelessly fighting back.
OCTOBER 25, 2016
One-size-fix-all --The controversial group that’s filed large batches of disability lawsuits is re-inspecting businesses and hoping a judge will allow a one-size-fix-all approach to correct potential deficiencies in more than 1200 cases.
Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) is also pushing back against the Attorney General’s Office by seeking a court order to force the state agency to conduct periodic inspections for compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
OCTOBER 20, 2016
Who’s who? -- ABC15 has been investigating Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities for months. Our “Cash for Compliance?” investigation includes a lot of players and attorneys.
To help keep the names and faces straight, we are providing the pictures and bios for the people connected to AID.
Check the right column on the front page of our special section.
OCTOBER 19, 2016
Money man -- A controversial “advocacy” group filing huge batches of disability lawsuits has received substantial funding from a Valley entrepreneur with a complicated past, involving personal tragedy and multiple investigations for consumer fraud.
His name is Gregory Crane, and he did not want to be named by ABC15.
The 52-year-old Scottsdale man has provided more than $600,000 and office space to Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID). Crane said he also provides advice to the group.
OCTOBER 18, 2016
Arguing both sides -- A controversial “advocacy” group that’s filed more than 1,700 disability-access lawsuits has hired an outside law firm to handle unprecedented legal challenges from the Attorney General’s Office and some federal judges.
ABC15 learned the law firm has also represented businesses sued by the same group and another serial plaintiff before.
OCTOBER 17, 2016
Incoming! – With legal challenges mounting and more than 1,000 of their cases currently frozen by a judge, Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) said it plans to re-inspect businesses involved in open lawsuits.
In a press release, AID said: “AID is actively and aggressively assisting a growing number of its 3rd party association members who are now in the process of first inspecting the same addresses of the 1,289 consolidated cases which AID previously discovered external ADA violations and have continued to fight AID against becoming their locations compliant. These new inspections by 3rd parties using improved practices are being performed by individuals with strong “standing” will NOT just be limited to exterior parking compliance but will also include a thorough interior inspection for all ADA violations.”
“I know AID, its association members and or associates etc. will never give up. They are not quitters and this is NOT about money, it’s about compliance,” according to Alex Callan, who the release refers to as AID’s de facto representative.
Callan has previously identified himself to ABC15 as a legal assistant. In the release, AID claims he is a volunteer.
So, why is AID doing this? It’s probably because a federal judge said AID didn’t properly bring a lawsuit in federal court. The Attorney General also has challenged AID’s cases and is working to get them dismissed.
***ALSO – TUNE IN TO ABC15 NEWS AT 6:30 TONIGHT (OCT. 17) FOR A NEW STORY ABOUT AID.
OCTOBER 14, 2016
Federal judge lays down law -- In a new decision, a judge ruled that a controversial group filing huge batches of disability-access lawsuits does not have standing to bring cases in federal court and scolded the group’s attorneys.
Judge Murray Snow issued the order Thursday.
It’s a decision that could have broader implications as Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) fights unprecedented legal battles in state and federal court.
Read the full story: Judge tosses ADA serial suer's case out of federal court, sanctions attorneys
OCTOBER 10, 2016
Who’s at the top? – AID is not only facing pressure from the Attorney General (see below entries), they’re getting pushback from federal judges to prove why it is allowed to file ADA lawsuits.
Without getting too complicated, AID has filed a lot of lawsuits without listing a person as a plaintiff. Instead, AID is suing on behalf of itself. Example: Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities vs. Business X.
Can an organization be harmed by a parking lot sign that’s too low? Does that give AID the right to sue? In legal terms, does AID have “standing” to bring a lawsuit? That’s what a few federal judges are asking AID to prove by issuing what’s called an “Order to Show Cause.”
I went to a recent hearing (Sept. 29) when AID was arguing why it should be allowed to bring cases. In the hearing, I heard something that caught my attention.
On the stand, one of AID’s in-house lawyers, Fabian Zazueta, was being questioned by Judge Murray Snow. Snow asked him who are AID’s shareholders.
Zazueta claimed he didn’t know.
Judge Snow hasn’t ruled yet about AID’s standing to bring these cases. I’m told it could happen any day.
OCTOBER 5, 2016 (second update)
‘Judge shopping’ request denied -- The Arizona Court of Appeals denied a “judge shopping” request filed by a so-called advocacy group that’s flooded the Phoenix area with disability-access lawsuits.
Presiding Judge Kent E. Cattani issued the ruling Wednesday.
To see the full report: Court rejects 'judge shopping' move by ADA group
OCTOBER 5, 2016
Document dump – We’ve learned “Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities" (AID) went to the Attorney General’s Office last week and dumped about 20 boxes filled with thousands of alleged ADA complaints.
Why did AID do it? To send a message.
Let’s just say AID and the Attorney General’s Office don’t agree about how the ADA should be enforced. AID has filed at least 1,700 ADA lawsuits this year and considers itself a “private attorney general.” Attorney General Mark Brnovich disagrees. He believes AID is “abusing” and “misusing” the legal system to get quick settlements.
Brnovich believes it’s his office’s official responsibility to enforce ADA law not some self-appointed entity. Right now, AID and the AG are also locked in an unprecedented legal battle to decide just that.
So far, the AG’s office successfully got a superior court judge to let the state intervene in AID lawsuits and consolidate more than a thousand of them into a single case. It’s setting the stage for a possible dismissal of all AID lawsuits. The judge also barred AID from filing new cases until legal issues are all worked out.
As for the boxes of complaints, the AG’s office is currently reviewing them. We’ll check back with the state in what’s going on with all of this soon.
Is AID expanding? Hiring? -- If you caught the end of one of our stories last week, we reported that Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) posted some job opportunities in neighboring states. The postings were posted on indeed.com, seeking office staff, advocates, and attorneys to bring ADA cases in Denver, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas.
We also found similar job posts on craigslist that appear to be from AID as well.
The jobs are being posted as Arizona officials increase scrutiny of AID. Not only has the Attorney General’s Office stepped in; state and federal judges have made several recent rulings and orders that have curbed AID’s lawsuits.
Is AID getting out of Dodge? Or are they simply following through on their promise to grow into a national operation? That’s what AID has said before.
AID’s lead attorney, Peter Strojnik, told us months ago that they planned to bring cases all across the country. He even threw out a huge number of anticipated cases -- 100,000 lawsuits.
It looks like AID isn’t only posting jobs online, they are also going to local events and handing out fliers. Someone also sent us a copy of a flyer (below), which was handed out at a recent event in the Valley. The flyer promises up to $65,000 per year.
OCTOBER 4, 2016 -- **First entry**
Wow! A LOT has happened in two months.
In early August, we launched our investigation into a controversial group flooding the Valley with disability-access lawsuits. Since, it’s been hard to keep up with all of the official action, public reaction, and developments.
I’ve heard from many of you: business owners, attorneys, viewers and readers. Many of you want to know what’s happening now and what’s going to happen next.
That’s why I’m setting up this page.
Consider this a rolling blog, where I’ll post updates, new interesting details, recent court decisions impacting the issue, and my latest reports.
If you need to catch up on our investigation, all of our stories can be found at ABC15.com/lawsuits.
Here’s a very brief breakdown of what’s happened so far:
We broke a series of stories about a group called “Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities,” or AID. So far, they’ve sued more than 1700 businesses in the Valley, alleging violations in parking lots under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They cruise parking lots looking for violations and the majority of their lawsuits target signage issues. A sign inches too low? AID sues and demands thousands to settle. We exposed an ironic surprise about AID and uncovered how some of their statements don’t add up – literally. Our investigation also revealed mistakes in their cases. Some AID officials have resigned. The Arizona State Bar is investigating AID’s lead attorney. In response to our reports, the Attorney General’s Office got involved and is taking steps to stop these lawsuits. U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake also introduced a bill to curb “trolls” from “abusing” the ADA. State lawmakers are also working to craft a bill to address issues in Arizona law.
As always – if you have any questions, concerns, thoughts, or updates - contact me at email@example.com.
Check back regularly for new posts, and thanks for reading.
ABC15 Investigative Reporter