Wheelchairs of Fortune

Attorney Tom Frankovich and his disabled clients sue small businesses to make them accessible - and make millions

He sued both.

For dinner, he went to La Barca in Cow Hollow, a restaurant he had sued several months earlier during another trip to the city. Afterward, he retired to a hotel in Petaluma, which he also ended up suing.

Loskot, 53, says that he has "no idea" how many ADA lawsuits he has filed over the years. "I'm not an activist," he insists. "I don't go looking for violations. These are just problems I run across."

But Kajouee's lawyer, Mark Gibson, who has represented numerous people sued by Frankovich clients, offers a different view. "He's just another one of Frankovich's horses," Gibson says. "[Frankovich] puts him out to race a few weeks every year."

Indeed, records show that Loskot has been the plaintiff in at least 92 such lawsuits since 2000, averaging one a month during the last 7 1/2 years. (As for the two lunches on the same day, he says simply, "I'm someone who likes to eat.")

Paralyzed from a car crash in 1990, the former heavy-equipment mechanic turned certified chef and organic gardener was no stranger to controversy before linking up with Frankovich seven years ago. He and his wife, who has Crohn's disease, were a cause célèbre within the medical marijuana movement for a time in the '90s after being arrested during a pot bust at the Santa Rosa home of their supplier. They each were fined and drew suspended sentences in 1997. Afterward, Loskot became a member of the Hawaiian Cannabis Ministry (its motto: "We use cannabis religiously and you can, too") and says he hasn't been "hassled" since.

"There's a special place in hell reserved for that man," proclaims Larry Juanarena, 75, the former owner of Pat and Larry's, a mom-and-pop steakhouse in Willows, Calif., that he and his wife, Pat, operated for a quarter-century before selling last year. Loskot sued the restaurant in 2005, ironically only a few weeks after Juanarena completed a remodel intended to make the eatery accessible to the disabled. Having settled for $11,000, he considers himself luckier than most, but still bristles at the memory.

"What Loskot and others like him do is nothing less than legalized extortion," Juanarena says.

Loskot couldn't disagree more.

He says he's doing his bit to make the world better for the disabled, one lawsuit at a time. And while he acknowledges that Frankovich makes far more in fees than the "$3,000 to $4,000" Loskot claims to usually take away from such lawsuits, he has nothing but praise for the lawyer.

"These actions have to be handled just right or they can easily be thrown out of court," he says. "He's very proficient. I couldn't do what he does. He deserves everything he gets."

Frankovich is also nothing if not cautious. Following several death threats a few years ago, he upgraded security at his office. A sign in front warns off casual visitors, noting that admittance is by appointment only. Although he shrugs off the threats, it didn't keep him from acquiring a concealed weapon permit.

But these days, his worries are primarily judicial. An appeals court ruling on the Rafeedie reprimand is expected at any time and the state bar investigation continues to hang over him. Even if he dodges the disciplinary bullet, defense lawyers may not have him to kick them around much longer. He admits to considering hanging up his legal spurs to devote more time to the ranch.

"I'd like to stick it out for maybe two or three more years, because I've got some important cases I'd like to see through the appeals process," he says. "With me, it's these disabled people I represent who keep me going."

Ironically, few, if any, of them have ever been to his law office.

Nineteen steps above the street and without an elevator, the yellow three-story building that has served as the nerve center for countless ADA lawsuits is itself inaccessible to the disabled. The man who's built a career tormenting the law's non-compliers as scofflaws — and making them pay — must arrange off-site meetings to confer face-to-face with anyone in a wheelchair.

Besides ruining the architecture, putting in an elevator could cost a small fortune. According to the law, he says, it isn't "readily achievable."

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