A New Birth of Freedom

MARCH 14, 2012 11:59AM

"The ADA Doesn't Apply in this Town!"

Rate: 19 Flag

I am an attorney and do a lot of municipal court work.

One day I was at court and it was very cold outside. Raining, in fact, and the temperature was hovering around the freezing mark. 

Many people were thus cramped into a small waiting room, waiting for the courtroom doors to open. There were only a limited number of chairs in this waiting room. Meanwhile, there were a large number of unused chairs behind the courtroom's still-locked doors. The time for court to commence came and went and an hour and a half went by, and still, the doors to the courtroom didn't open. 

Anyway, there were many elderly people and two handicapped people among the throng in the lobby. The elderly people were complaining vociferously that they couldn't stand anymore. One was shaking on her walker and nobody would give her a seat. It looked like she had a bad case of Parkinson's.

One handicapped man, in braces and on crutches, was almost in tears, because nobody would give him a seat, either.

I made a little bit of a scene in the lobby and told people they should really give up their seats for the elderly and handicapped, but nobody did anything. The seats were taken by selfish, self-absorbed types and they had no intention of giving them up. 

Anyway, I went to one of the courtroom police officers and told them about the situation. I mentioned the fact that there were elderly people and some handicapped people who were being forced to stand and had been standing for over an hour and that maybe extra chairs should be brought out for them, due to ADA concerns or what have you. 

Anyway, the officer gave me a dirty look, put his hand on his large leather belt (not far from his holster) and said "I don't know what they taught you in law school, son, but the ADA doesn't apply in this town."

I looked at him and said, huh? He then started a conversation with another police officer, as if to show me that he wasn't concerned in the slightest with the plight of elderly folks or handicapped people in the lobby. He had the demeanor of somebody who considered the people there as "guilty" and not worthy of consideration. Of course, many of the people there were family of defendants, victims, witnesses, etc... Regardless, the officer truly didn't seem to give a damn. 

I mentioned this to the prosecutor, but he shrugged it off and smiled, as did the desk seargent on duty.

The doors soon opened, to the great relief of everybody in the lobby. That said, I was disturbed by the officer's response. 

Although the vast majority of the officers I have met in municipal court have been wonderfully professional and decent people,there have still been a large number of arrogant, cocky and authoritarian officers who seem to love abusing their power. Although their numbers are small, they are still a problem, because they can totally use their immense power to give somebody a hard time in a way no one else can.

For example, one day I saw an officer give an attorney a hard time at a courthouse metal detector. Normally, attorneys don't have to go through metal detectors if they have their Bar Association Attorney ID card. But this officer didn't seem to care and made him go through it anyway. Then, the officer went through the attorney's wallet, fingered through his money and credit cards, counted his money out loudly and went through a zipper compartment in the wallet. It seemed as if the officer was using the courthouse weapons check as a pretext to engage in a drug-contraband search on an attorney, and she did so in an unnecessarily arbitrary and random manner, since she didn't conduct a similar such check on all other visitors to the court and did so on the attorney with nothing approaching reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause. Even if she had found drugs, such an event might not have resulted in a conviction, because numerous courts throughout the nation have overturned similar such contraband searches at courthouse metal detectors. As such, the officer was conducting a search outside of her authority. 

Nothing came of this incident, except undue embarassment. And yet, I don't recall hearing anything about the officer being disciplined. 

I am thinking of writing a formal letter of some kind, chronicling my interactions with them. Some courts have wonderfully professional officers. Others have notoriously unprofessional officers, some nothing more than bullies behind a bronze badge. 

While the liasion officers one meets in a prosecutor's office are some of the most tactful, politically astute and personable officers one could ever hope to meet, the ones I have met in court itself have sometimes been polar opposites. 

And if this sort of thing happens to civilians and even attorneys in a courthouse, imagine what these officers do outside, on the streets, when nobody is watching?

It makes me shudder just to think about it. 

 

 

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Comments

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Do you think the officer you spoke to even knew what the ADA was? And, am I mistaken, or does the ADA, being a federal law, not apply to all towns in the United States, especially when it comes to public buildings?

Certain people with authoritarian mindsets seem to be attracted to the profession of police officer, and let what little bit of authority they do have get completely out of hand. Not all, of course, but a sizable percentage.

I think you should put your concerns in writing.
Most officers are anti-social personalities, so the badge gives them validation and authority to carry on with such behavior. God forbid that attorney whose money was counted out loud be mugged upon leaving the courthouse.
I hope you follow up with a letter. So many bad officers abuse their power and give the rest of the officers a bad rep! R
I filed a complaint against an officer and after an IA investigation he only received a verbal warning. The police dept. wrote me a letter stating "appropriate action was taken"...whatever the hell that was I won't ever know. It's apparently a privacy issue we civilians aren't privy to.

There is a constable working for a county sheriff's department who is under investigation for assault and he still receives full pay and he is allowed to carry a gun, even though the complaint filed against him alleges he threatened a property owner/debtor with coercive actions. What's worse is the people in this town, when interviewed by an investigative reporter, stated "we don't care if he [the constable] broke any laws. He got the debtor to pay up!"
Dashiell Hammett--who was a Pinkerton's detective--was the last American author who got the police right: mostly criminal types themselves, with one or two halfway decent ones, if you're lucky enough to run into them. Ever since then it's been bullshit and apologism. Of course, Hammett ended up blacklisted.
rate
I think it's important to write the letter. Did you have a witness? Yes? Indicate so and let the witness know first.
Didn't have a witness? Do you have time to stage it again? Bring a witness. Have them within earshot but not walk up with you.The same officer would likely react the same or worse if you were recognized as the "do-gooder" a second time. Then write the letter.
There's gonna be some fun times ahead now that the federal government is issuing military drones, tanks, and other hardware to police forces around the country. Weapons like that in the hands of uniformed but relatively untrained people with mental problems could make for a hot time in the ol' town some night!!
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They just don’t believe there will ever be any consequences to their actions
my husband is disabled and people have no idea how hard it is to snake around and into a regular door in a wheelchair either--
good for you-- we will all need these things some day
I'm afraid I agree with Gore Vidal here, who said, "What you have to remember is that the police are recruited from the criminal classes." He didn't mean "working class," he meant "not working unless employed in either crime or police work." I stay about as far away from the authorities as I can, it's not worth engaging them--at best you get a nice attitude one moment, suspicion and snarkiness the next, a reflex reaction.

Rated.
Power corrupts? Who knew!

Do you believe your observations here of abuse of authority affect levels higher than courthouse security officers?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/will031112.php3
As you can imagine, I'm not the most tolerant person in the world of ADA violations. I'd hate to witness what you witnessed and hope you figure out how to force these guys into line.
I can understand your concerns about putting a complaint in writing. This kind of thing is so common, it eventually wears you down.
This is just very telling. Perhaps you might add a note abt why ADA is as important, generally, as it is. I hopr you do write the letter.

RATED.
Would that be the American's with Disabilities Act or something like that?

Not that I think it should matter in a situation like that courtesy and decency should be all that is required.

It seems to me that I heard they were supposed to "protect and serve" which means that they're supposed to answer to the public. Unfortunately as you indicated too many of them forget who they work for and come to the conclusion that it is the other way around.
God only knows (I certainly don't) why the individuals who staff that municipal court behave as they do. We cannot see into each other's hearts, and sometimes I suppose that's a blessing.

But what about the building itself? Is that ADA compliant? Can you identify a disability-rights organization somewhere in or above this jurisdiction (which I'm assuming is not in Turkey, despite your bio)? Perhaps you could contact them with the information that you included in this blog post and suggest they do an audit and file an official complaint. Or perhaps, when you next visit that municipal building, record things and file a complaint yourself: http://www.ada.gov/enforce.htm#anchor218282
By all means, write letters, write briefs, bring a suit. I was outraged to read this, and thank you for being on the watch.

I hope you'll keep us posted.
Let them know in your letter that if a complaint is filed and negotiations fail, the Department of Justice can obtain civil penalties up to $55,000 for the first violation and up to $110,000 for any subsequent violation. You can buy a lot of chairs with $55k.
Replace democracy and free enterprise with
monopoly

http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_james_py_060422_warped_interpretatio.htm

and the revolving door and the
controlled vulnerable become
the demons. In a real democracy there’d
be no demons cause there’d be no
control function. The monopolistic
control freaks would be the demons.

The many suffering from extractive economics

(originally from here:
http://whynationsfail.com/ ; reviewed here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/opinion/sunday/friedman-why-nations-fail.html?_r=0 )

and who are actually the object of investing
in adversity, though less so than those
in the middle class on their way to being
in the lower middle class, become the face of something
wrongful, rather than the extractive types being
the ones worthy of disdain.