Frankovich: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Disables Wheelchair Access Attorney

Tom Frankovich, the flamboyant San Francisco disabilities lawyer whose clients are known for filing serial lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has suffered a key setback before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Affirming sanctions meted out against Frankovich in 2005 by U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie, a three-judge panel of the appellate court has let stand Rafeedie's decision to restrict Frankovich from filing lawsuits in California's sprawling central judicial district, which includes Los Angeles and much of the Central Coast.

Perhaps more significantly, legal observers say, the ruling opens Frankovich, 61, to possible discipline from the State Bar of California, which began investigating him two years ago at Rafeedie's request.

“I'm going to keep fighting; I have no intention of slowing down,” says the attorney, known for his take-no-prisoners litigation style and cowboy attire. He adds that he “will probably” ask for a re-hearing before a bigger panel of judges from the appeals court.

As reported by SF Weekly [“Wheelchairs of Fortune,” July 25], during the last 13 years Frankovich has been the lawyer of record in more than 1,000 cases on behalf of clients suing under the landmark civil rights law. Most of those lawsuits have been brought on behalf of about a dozen clients — “serial filers” who critics say have made a career of suing mostly small businesses.

One such former Frankovich client, Los Angeles–area paraplegic Jarek Molski, 34, was declared to be a “vexatious litigant” by Rafeedie in 2005, a ruling that the appellate court upheld along with the Frankovich sanctions. Frankovich represented Molski in 232 lawsuits, court records show.

The 9th Circuit concurred with Rafeedie in citing Frankovich for teaming up with Molski and others to file a barrage of cookie-cutter lawsuits that contained false or exaggerated allegations. The panel declared that Frankovich's practice of sending so-called “friendly advice” letters urging defendants to settle without seeking legal counsel was “at best, a questionable exercise in professional judgment.”

“[The decision] is very encouraging news, and our clients will be thrilled about it,” says attorney Beth West, who filed a brief in support of sanctioning Frankovich on behalf of the California Restaurant Association. “The hope here is that this decision will encourage other judges not to be shy about declaring vexatious litigants when it comes to ADA cases.”

But within disabilities circles, the reaction was different.

“It's been a hard year,” says disabilities advocate and Frankovich client Patrick Connally, who heads Disability Rights Enforcement Education Services, or DREES. “No one has done more to gain access for the disabled in California than Tom Frankovich.”

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