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Hearing On Courts' Lack Of Accessibility Held In Non-Accessible Courtroom
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 17, 2003

TAUNTON, MASSACHUSETTS--Attorney Joseph F. deMello testified Wednesday before a legislative panel that is addressing the need for a new court complex in Taunton.

DeMello was not able to testify in the courtroom where the Special House Committee on Courthouse Construction and Funding was holding their hearing -- because it is not accessible to him. Instead, he testified from a first-floor office of Superior Court.

According to the Taunton Enterprise, all three Taunton courts -- District, Probate and Superior -- are not accessible to deMello and other people with disabilities who cannot climb stairs.

"The stairs prohibited me from getting to the courtrooms," said deMello, past president of the Taunton Bar Association. "I've had cases in this building involving handicapped people that had to be heard in the basement, in janitors' rooms."

Panel members said deMello's testimony was the most compelling of the day.

DeMello and fellow attorney Miles Herman, who uses a wheelchair, filed a federal lawsuit in October 2001, calling for the courts to meet accessibility requirements under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. That suit is still pending.

"We have to arraign handicap defendants in the parking lot," Judge Kevan Cunningham, presiding justice of Taunton District Court, told the panel.

DeMello concluded: "I am confident that the legal result of this action will result in accessibility. However, there is no question that this matter must be addressed immediately so that all citizens of Bristol County have complete access to all courthouses, as one would expect in the year 2003."

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