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Juror Sues FL County Over Inaccessible Courthouse

Wayne Smith just wanted to perform his jury duty. But he's ended up suing Okaloosa County, FL, for failing to make its courthouse accessible.

"It was disruptive to the entire process. I was the show," Smith, a wheelchair user, told reporters when he filed his suit

"Everybody was watching me get situated before we could start. All that anyone with disabilities wants to do is be able to blend into the background as much as we can."

Smith said he had to park in a distant parking lot because the jurors' lot had no ramp access at the courthouse annex.

He described having to maneuver opposing 90-degree turns to get to the jury box. He had to be helped up steps and into the box as many as nine times a day for five days. He sometimes had to back out of the courtroom. (Read story from the Pensacola Journal.)

The courthouse, an annex to the main courthouse, was built more than 40 years ago and nothing has ever been done about access, despite the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, said Smith's attorney, Bob Kerrigan.

"For all these years, we've seen people with disabilities be humiliated because of poor access," Kerrigan said. "It borders on dereliction of duty. They've done absolutely nothing about this for years."

A May, 2004 Supreme Court ruling, Tennessee v. Lane, confirmed that local governments had an obligation under the law to make courthouses accessible.

In York County, South Carolina, they have a courthouse that has the probate judge up on the third floor with only stairs permitting access. I was told that because it was a historical building they didn't have to do anything, grandfathered in if you will.

To Debra K. (above): You were told wrong. There is no "grandfather" provision on access. You need to contact a disability rights attorney about a lawsuit.

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