Massachusetts Court Accessibility Case Settled
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 20, 2004
TAUNTON, MASSACHUSETTS--Bristol County court buildings will be made accessible to people with disabilities under last week's settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by two attorneys who use wheelchairs.
Attorneys Joseph F. deMello and Miles Herman filed the class-action lawsuit in October 2001 against the Bristol County Commissioners, the administrative office of the Trial Court, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the state's Trial Court. The two men claimed that 6 out of 11 Bristol County courthouses and all three registries of deeds were not accessible to them under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Mr. DeMello, a Taunton city attorney and past Taunton Bar Association president that has multiple sclerosis, said that he has had to try cases in courthouse basements, janitors' rooms, boiler rooms, and parking lots because of the lack of ramps and elevators.
Mr. Herman claimed that he has not been able to practice law in most of Bristol County and has had to turn down clients because he can't get into the buildings or courtrooms.
Under the settlement, the county will make an estimated $6 million in improvements, including the installation of elevators, ramps and accessible restrooms. The Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance indicated the state would be able to provide the funds required under the settlement.
"It's a wonderful feeling," Herman said after the settlement was announced. "This lawsuit was for all the people who have been denied access and for the future. It was a question of equal opportunity."
"It truly is a historic victory," he added. "This is not about us. It's about opening the halls of justice for jurors, witnesses, plaintiffs, defendants and employees."
Neither man accepted monetary damages as part of the settlement, according to a statement they released.
"Disabled lawyers get cool reception" (The Enterprise)