Peachy Canyon Winery plans to appeal a recent court decision in San Luis Obispo involving well-known wheelchair-bound litigant Jarek Molski, attorney Jere Sullivan said April 24.
Winery owners Doug and Nancy Beckett agreed to pay a $4,000 settlement plus $1 in damages in response to a lawsuit filed by Molski claiming a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Earlier this month, SLO Superior Court Judge Teresa Estrada Mullaney also directed Peachy Canyon to pay Molski's attorney costs and court fees over several years of litigation, totaling $27,497.08, court records show.
"That just shouldn't be. We are unhappy with this result. It's a Pyrrhic victory, at best," said Sullivan, adding that it's the first time Molski has been awarded attorney fees in state court.
Molski's attorney, Thomas Frankovich of San Francisco, said the judge has "followed what the law provides."
Frankovich noted, "If people don't like the laws, they need to change them through legislation. People don't want the law enforced against them, even when they're perpetrators of not removing barriers."
Court records show that Frankovich filed 223 ADA lawsuits in California in 2004, one-third of which targeted ethnic restaurants "perhaps because such establishments are seen as easy prey for coercive claims," according to a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie.
In March 2005, Judge Rafeedie declared Molski "a vexatious litigant" with a history of "securing quick settlements which were arguably extortionate." The judge's decision cited a letter sent to many California businesses by Molski's attorney "which can only be described as astonishing." Rafeedie's decision quoted the letter as containing "friendly advice" to business owners to quickly settle ADA claims without hiring a lawyer because "the vast majority simply embark on a billing expedition."
"The record demonstrates that the plaintiff and his attorney have participated in a pattern of abusive litigation, bordering on extortionate shysterism," Judge Rafeedie wrote in his decision, which prohibits Molski from filing any more lawsuits in federal court.
"It's all bogus," countered Frankovich, adding that he appealed the "vexatious litigant" designation, with oral arguments given April 17 in the 9th Circuit Court. A decision is due in May or June.
"I've been called a shyster, an extortionist, a bandit. But it's really, really, really simple. I dot the I's, I cross the T's, I read the law, and I just go out and enforce it. If I feel a person with disabilities doesn't have the opportunity to participate, I'll sue," Frankovich said in a phone interview from his San Francisco office.
He said that in previous years, the average settlement has been $15,000 to $30,000, but this year the range is $25,000 to $40,000.
"I don't tolerate the defendants as much as I used to," Frankovich explained.