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.
Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) hired attorneys with Wilenchik and Bartness.
The firm is fighting back against the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which convinced a superior court judge to consolidate all of AID’s open cases and intervene as a defendant.
In an interview with ABC15, Attorney John Wilenchik also said his firm is handling pushback from federal judges, who have asked AID to prove why it has the right to file these lawsuits. (AID lost one such decision last week.)
“AID has to file a lot of lawsuits because there is a lot of ADA non-compliance,” John Wilenchik said. “All I’m getting frankly is that people want them shut down. Until the ADA gets changed, that’s not going to happen.”
John Wilenchik is representing AID along with his father Dennis Wilenchik and Brian Hembd, court records show. The firm's arguments oh behalf of AID could impact how ADA lawsuits are handled in Arizona and across the country.
AID has filed all of its lawsuits since mid-February. The cases allege violations in business parking lots under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In many cases, the lawsuits are filed over signage issues, an ABC15 investigation found.
AID has demanded thousands to settle, with initial offers often starting at $7500.
“These are not frivolous lawsuits,” Wilenchik said.
AID officials have told ABC15 they are fighting rampant discrimination. Wilenchik also compared disability-access issues to the Civil Rights Act.
“If these businesses were segregating against colored people, would that be OK?,” Wilenchik said. “Is there a big difference between that and only having steps , making your restaurant inaccessible to the handicapped.”
ARGUED BOTH SIDES
John Wilenchik told ABC15 that he represented businesses sued by AID earlier this year.
He said that although it’s “ironic,” it’s not a conflict of interest.
“I think that’s given me a unique perspective on why this is a problem,” said Wilenchik, who said he got waivers from his previous business clients before representing AID.
ABC15 discovered other attorneys in Wilenchik’s firm currently representing AID also recently defended a business against another lawsuit filed by a different ADA serial plaintiff named Damieon Mosley, court records show.
Mosley, who has sued a few dozen Arizona businesses, filed an ADA case against a Valley restaurant named Sushi Brokers late last year. The case settled in June.
In response to Mosley’s lawsuit, Wilenchik’s firm filed a motion to dismiss that challenged the rights of people with disabilities to file batches of cases.
“Plaintiffs such as this are a plague on the judicial system – exploiting a good intentioned law for their own (and their lawyer’s) personal gain,” the motion said.
It also stated, “Fortunately, however, courts across the country have spotted this exploitation and dismissed such cases that are fueled by greed and not by an actual dispute raised by a legitimately damaged plaintiff.”
The federal court docket in the Mosley case lists John Wilenchik, Dennis Wilenchik and Brian Hembd as attorneys representing the restaurant. However, John Wilenchik told ABC15 he had no involvement on that case and didn’t write that specific motion to dismiss.
The motion was written and signed by Dennis Wilenchik and Brian Hembd, who have both been listed on court records as attorneys for AID.
John Wilenchik said his firm doesn’t see any issue arguing on both sides of this issue.
“As a lawyer speaking in court, you represent the clients,” Wilenchik said. “You say what they want you to say. You say the position they need you to argue. That’s what I’m doing here, and that’s what I’ve done in previous cases. “