Settlement to give disabled persons better access to San Bernardino County courts

A proposed settlement has been reached in a 2006 federal class-action lawsuit filed against San Bernardino County and its courts over accessibility for disabled persons at more than a dozen courthouses.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, claimed that parking, paths of travel, courtrooms, bathrooms and other areas were inaccessible to people with mobility or manual dexterity disabilities.

Lawyers for the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles, which represented plaintiffs in the case, said Tuesday that both sides worked hard to reach what they described as a model settlement that could be a blueprint for any court system in any county.

“We’re really proud of the settlement,” said attorney Paula Pearlman, the center’s executive director. “We really commend the county and court system for the commitment they’ve made.”

To reach the proposed settlement, the county sent a surveyor to each of the 13 court sites named in the suit to conduct a top-to-bottom assessment. What developed was a very clear picture about the conditions at each courthouse and barriers to access for disabled persons, according to the center.

Both sides then participated in negotiations with a settlement officer, U.S. District Court Judge George H. King.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in Riverside granted the proposed settlement on Nov. 10, according to court records.

A copy of the proposed settlement is available on the court’s website at www.sb-court.org. A final settlement approval hearing is set for 2 p.m. Feb. 13 in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

San Bernardino County officials declined to comment on the suit, and the San Bernardino Superior Court’s executive officer, Stephen Nash, could not be reached.

The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit were Ruthee Goldkorn, John Lonberg, Kimberly Wilder and Alfred Chichester.

They alleged in the lawsuit filed in July 2006 that inaccessibility at the courthouses was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the state’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and more.

A separate lawsuit filed by Goldkorn in state court was stayed pending the outcome of the federal matter.

The proposed settlement states the amount for damages and attorney fees is $770,000. The county will pay $445,000 of that amount, while the courts will pay the remaining $325,000, according to county spokeswoman Lynne Fischer.

Of the $770,000 figure, $690,000 will cover attorneys’ fees and costs by the plaintiffs. In exchange for a full release of all claims, the remaining $80,000 will go collectively to the four plaintiffs and the estate of Michael Flippin, another plaintiff who died during the course of the suit.

A five-year schedule was established for completion of improvements at the court sites. Remediation plans vary for each courthouse, though each plan is designed to provide access to 16 areas, such as parking, exits, witness stands, jury boxes, restrooms.

The county does not have dollar estimates of the work to be completed, Fischer said. The agreement does not apply to non-public areas such as judges’ chambers or areas used by court employees.

An additional payment of $61,000 to monitor the improvements will be split by the county and the courts, said Fischer.

The courthouses included in the settlement are: Rancho Cucamonga, Victorville, Needles, Barstow, Big Bear, Fontana, Chino, Joshua Tree, Juvenile Delinquency, Juvenile Dependency, San Bernardino Civil, San Bernardino Central and San Bernardino Annex.

Judges, commissioners and some court staff will also receive training about the terms of the settlement agreement. An access guide and diagrams for persons with disabilities will be required to be posted at all locations.

The case is Goldkorn, et. al. v. County of San Bernardino, et. al.

35 thoughts on “Settlement to give disabled persons better access to San Bernardino County courts

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