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Suit claims courthouse violates ADA

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Four defendants in cases pending before the St. Joseph Superior Court have filed a lawsuit claiming that county's courthouse is inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Filed Monday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, the plaintiffs in Victoria Means, Tonia Matney, and Stephen and Margaret Hummel v. St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, et al., No. 3:10-cv-00003, allege the St. Joseph County Courthouse and Mishawaka County Services Building don't comply with federal rules and standards to ensure access to public facilities for people using wheelchairs and those with visual impairments. The plaintiffs claim the buildings violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the federal and state constitutions.

Means and Matney use wheelchairs and the Hummels have limited mobility because of health issues. The four are parties in two separate cases that have been or are in the process of coming before the St. Joseph Superior Court. The plaintiffs' attorney, Kent Hull, also has a disability that requires him to use a wheelchair.

The plaintiffs claim the courthouse and services building lack accessibility in the restrooms, elevator, witness stands, counters used by the clerks, water fountains, and in other areas. They also claim parking is an issue at these buildings.

The suit alleges the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, St. Joseph Superior Court, and the city of South Bend have been notified of the problems but haven't done anything to remedy them.

Means and the others are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions preventing further violations, compensatory damages, and the appointment of a special master to oversee implementation of changes to make the buildings and parking lot compliant with regulations.

Attorney Greg Fehribach, of the Fehribach Group in Indianapolis, often works on issues dealing with the ADA. He is not involved with the case against the St. Joseph County Courthouse but has mediated cases like this in the past and said this type of case is nothing new in Indiana or around the country.

"As a lawyer who's been practicing since 1986 and a wheelchair user, I've seen quite a change in physical access to courthouses and government buildings. It has absolutely improved," Fehribach said. "The interesting thing, the part that's most concerning is any time there's a case regarding a courthouse ... if someone feels that they have been denied access to a government building or courthouse in 2010, I find that very disturbing."

He said the ADA will be 20 years old soon and there are still buildings that aren't up to date, which he said is far too long for nothing to be done.

There's no grandfather clause for older buildings not to comply with the ADA, and Fehribach said limited resources are often cited as the reason why they aren't up to date. Other issues like security often are in the forefront of people's minds when updating the courthouses, but Fehribach doesn't want officials to "hide behind the veil when you don't want to accept the issue that all men and women are created equal."

"That means access to government," he said.

He's not looked at this Northern District case, but he said if the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge could order a timeline in which to remedy the inaccessibility, order it done immediately by an outside contractor and have the county pay, or other outcomes.

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

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  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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