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October 24, 2005 | Read comments | Post a comment

Jarek Molski's problem -- and I don't mean access

I've been sent a link to a story which ran in The Los Angeles Times magazine several Sundays ago -- and it surprises and saddens me, now that I see it, that more people didn't alert me to it. Probably I should have found it myself.

The article is -- once again -- about Jarek Molski, the man who has sued hundreds of California businesses for failing to obey state access laws and the Americans with Disability Act's requirements for access. Molski has become a legend -- and not a good one. He is uniformly despised by business, which of course isn't surprising. Media accounts paint him as less interested in access than in lining his pockets with damage awards, which are allowed by California law. But he's also despised by a good number of crips, who think his tactics are hurting the image of disabled people.

Note that so far I haven't provided any links yet to this or other stories. I will -- in a minute. I want to get my two cents' worth in first.

I've written a couple of long stories (here and here) about the access fight in California, and Molski has figured in both. He's a lightning-rod figure. But I've never interviewed him.

Molski doesn't give interviews, his attorney tells me.

It took me forever to get hold of the attorney -- at the time Thomas Frankovich (Molski's had -- and has -- several attorneys). I got my shot at talking to Frankovich exactly once. He came across as gruff and disinterested in really giving me the time of day, although I did get some very good stuff from him when we finally connected. When I called him back to check facts, to check quotes, he never returned my calls.

The Molski Problem to me points up one of the biggest problems we have with our movement -- and it's a theme I return to again and again like a Johnny One Note: We have a big -- humongous -- problem in dealing with media. With public relations. With whatever you want to call it.

I have always thought -- and this L. A. Times story simply confirms it -- that most of the bad press access activists get in California is due to their reluctance to talk to reporters. Molski leads the pack in being media-shy. Which is odd, because in not talking to the media he ends up with a far worse reputation than if he'd talk to them. At least that's how I see it.

If Molski and Frankovich treat other reporters the way they treated me there's no wonder they don't get good press.

Yet one of the things Frankovich said to me the day I interviewed him has remained lodged in my mind as perhaps the most cogent thing anyone has ever said to me, anywhere, about the public-relations problem crips have with access. The quote pops up in my mind whenever I think of the fight over access.

"If every person who's run into an access problem filed a suit, we wouldn't have this problem (with people picking on Molski)," he told me. It would be like the Montgomery bus boycott. There'd be thousands of people, little people, filing suits every day. It would be a national movement.

"There isn't a single disabled person who hasn't had the problems" Jarek Molski has had with access, Frankovich continued. "But most of them do nothing. They don't sue; they don't even complain. So when someone like my client files all these suits, naturally he's a lightning rod."

I can't remember when I ever had someone so neatly sum up the problem.

"If every disabled person who had an access problem sued...."

Can you imagine what it would be like in this country? The story wouldn't be on the numbers of suits filed but on the numbers -- the sheer astonishing numbers -- of ordinary citizens who were doing exactly what the federal Americans with Disabilities Act forced them to do when confronted with a lack of access: file a suit.

Better minds than mine have noted that one of the reasons the ADA's Title 3 (the title related to nondiscrimination in commercial entities -- ie access to businesses) has that "file a suit" enforcement language is because those in Congress figured that most crips wouldn't in fact be brave enough to file suits, and so businesses wouldn't have too much to worry about. They were astute. The results have been very sad.

And Molski's vilification is part of that.

Not too long ago a local quad and I were talking about one of the topics that I return to again and again: why more crips don't sue over the lack of access. "Mary," he told me, "if I sued -- or filed a complaint, or even if I made a fuss -- about every access problem I run into, I'd be doing absolutely nothing else with my life. And I have a job to go do, and a life to live. I can't -- I simply can't -- focus on the problems or I'd get nothing else done."

What did he do when he came up against a place he couldn't get into, a business that had no place for him to park his van and open up the lift?"I just go elsewhere." He pretty much knew his routes in the community; the places he could get into and the places he couldn't -- of those places he was even interested in frequenting. He did a lot in the suburbs -- he lived in the suburbs after all -- newer chain restaurants were generally accessible. He knew places to park. He didn't explore all that much.

That was the life of most crips.

"After consulting with Frankovich, [Molski] declined to be interviewed for this article," wrote freelancer Matthew Heller in the L. A. Times magazine story of Oct. 2. If I'd been the L. A. Times's magazine editor, I don't think I'd have run a story about a man without interviewing him. The L. A. Times is a big paper, unlike the Ragged Edge -- we're expected to cut corners. And we can also expect our readers to have a bit more knowledge of the facts than the average Times reader, our readers being mostly disability rights activists (at least it appears that they are).

But Heller's story did run. I found nothing new in it. It was more of the spy-vs-spy kind of story that this Molski vs. business story always devolves to. Read it (yes, now I will give you the link) and if you see anything new, please leave a comment about that.

A letter in response to the L. A. Times story appeared yesterday. The letter is online, but I thought I'd just quote it -- because, for me, what the letterwriter says -- along with Frankovich's quote -- sum up the entirety of the "Molski problem."

Ms. A. Rey wrote,

Jarek Molski certainly must be annoying to businesses as his intent seems to be to make money rather than make it easier for the disabled (Rolling Thunder," by Matthew Heller, Oct. 2). However, I can understand his anger. I just spent the last three years pushing my husband around in a wheelchair, and I noticed that there are far too many businesses that don't comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Can those businesses understand how degrading it is to a man or woman who can't use the bathroom when they absolutely have to? Not only because the bathroom isn't accessible, but also because the door is so heavy that they can't push it open or they can't make it around the corners to the handicap stall. For every heavy breath and anxiety-ridden minute it took to get my husband into a medical appointment, store or restaurant, I cursed those responsible. I say sue them all! You lost our business.

Note: Ms Rey did not say that she and her husband are themselves filing any suits. But they ought to.

Posted by mjohnson on October 24, 2005 11:13 AM


The usual reasons for not suing are clearly:
"...I simply can't -- focus on the problems or I'd get nothing else done."

What if we "industrialized" the process in the way the people you interviewed (or tried to) seem to have done?

I'm sure paralegals could efficiently handle a bunch of actions. The same kind of shortcuts (pre-formualted "boiler plate" forms) used to enable laypersons to make wills and even divorces would get costs well controlled.

One could even have a "notice of proposed action" with polite pointing out that you are supplementing the already-decade-long-notification with this document giving you another couple of weeks to start instituting remedies to your location's inaccessibility.


Posted by: William Loughborough on October 24, 2005 01:12 PM

The reason us Angelenos might not have passed along a link is that the LA Times online content is so %*$(@) unreliable--I can never tell what's going to require registration, what will require subscription, what will evaporate before the link is ever clicked, etc. So I give up on referring folks to LA Times articles, most of the time.

But, since you're asking, there's a long article in yesterday's Calendar section and a shorter (still pretty long) review in today's Calendar section on Deaf West's new production, "Open Window," at the Pasadena Playhouse.

I did see the Jarek Molski article--yeah, a spy v. spy account. At least it probably pointed out the fallacy of many non-disabled readers' thinking: I hear so often, "Restaurant/shop/gallery/whatever [X] *must* be accessible, it's required by law, right?" Like it happened spontaneously, as soon as the signatures dried on the ADA. Magic-wand thinking is alive and well.

Posted by: Penny on October 24, 2005 07:26 PM

William Loughborough writes,

What if we "industrialized" the process in the way the people you interviewed (or tried to) seem to have done?...One could even have a "notice of proposed action"...

I think that's only part of the problem -- I think the bigger part is that most crips hate drawing attention to themselves or being disliked by others. The "cookie cutter approach" -- a 'Sweep' -- was tried in Harrisburg, PA by some crips a number of years ago, and it worked pretty well -- you can read Josie Byzek's story about that here. A Sweep program was started in Louisville, too, about 4 years ago, and it worked for awhile, but it seems the crips just got tired of being seen as the bad guys and it too has now petered out. They have a website here.

I think the real issue is lack of a movement that excites folks. They still feel alone, even when they're part of these little Sweep efforts. Only ADAPT, as far as I can see, has ever created that kind of community that's needed. Which gets us back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which I'm going to blog a bit about again today, seeing as Rosa Parks has just died.

Posted by: Mary Johnson on October 25, 2005 07:39 AM

As I pondered the "why" of fading action teams I'm not sure I get it. The "clean sweep" page doesn't seem to have currency/vitality even though it reports success and links to the "pro se" paper http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/archive/pro-se.htm
which contains a startling statistic: "My success rate since I began to use the Pro Se form has been 100%: all public accommodations served with papers under the Pro Se method have made their places accessible."

That's incredible and if it still holds, I can't understand why it doesn't reinforce participation in such efforts???


Posted by: William Loughborough on October 25, 2005 10:08 AM

This article raises some good points. Perhaps Mr. Molski isn't the "bad man" that the media paints him to be. Unfortunately (for him), his unwillingness to confront such bad press only reinforces it.

But regardless, Molski will continue to be considered a major douchebag by the general public - not so much because of the number of suits he's filed, but by the *way* he's been approaching it. His methods make it pretty clear that he's out for profit, moreso than for the benefit of increased access.

I can certainly appreciate the need for plaintiffs in ADA cases to recover legal costs. However, cost recovery doesn't appear to be Molski's motive. If it was, why would he file suit (thus incurring costs) in the first place, without even notifying establishments of his complaints? He's thus denying establishments the ability to correct access problems (the very point of the issue!) before starting litigation. Further, why would he file suit - and re-file in some cases - when he's been informed that access improvements are already in progress?

(Before you condemn me for the phrase "denying establishments the ability to correct access problems", consider that most of us who don't face access challenges, aren't aware of specific issues until they're pointed out to us.)

Perhaps Mr. Molski could provide some justification to these kind of actions. But until he's willing to do so, well, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, "douchebag is as douchebag does".

Posted by: Jeff Techau on November 19, 2005 01:36 PM

Well I am a Disabled woman in a wheel chr. for nearly 6 yrs. I encounter daily Access problems, especially where I live here in Lancaster Califonia! The Lancaster Regency Apts were not in compliance with the ADA on several issues, and are still not to date! 6/17/06.This complex is allowing other tennants to park on the RAMPS, which has caused great emotional stress and serious medical probs. etc..In spite of my numerous written and verbal pleas re: these matters!Now I'm being asked to move! I was given a 60 day notice 6/1/06. This notice has false accusations, lies, and slanderous comments! We were victims of a robbery etc..It is my belief that this FPI company and Managment are Retaliating in this way due to my request of ADA Signs, painted areas, etc be in compliance with the ADA.Mr. Kurt Baldwin from the Van Nuys California Independent Living Center helped by E-Mailing me the ADA Laws, which I forwarded to this Apt complex! Some things were done for fear of a lawsuit, that Mr. Baldwin mentioned may need to happen! I now believe this is warrented!!I need to speak to an Attorney re: these matters ASAP.This has been going on for 2 1/2 yrs.
Thank You Kindly, Susan Andrews

Posted by: Susan Andrews on June 17, 2006 05:02 PM

I thought you might be interested in knowing that the United States District Court for the Central District of California (in Los Angeles) has suspended attorney Thomas E. Frankovich from the practice of law before that court. Mr. Frankovich is the attorney for Jarek Molski and other ADA plaintiffs. The suspension is for 6 months beginning on June 19, 2006.

Posted by: James Link on July 13, 2006 12:13 PM

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