Lawyer sues 100 ABQ businesses claiming advocacy; patterns raise suspicious motive
April 17, 2017 10:12 AM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Some call it disability advocacy, others call it a shakedown. A Santa Fe attorney has filed a hundred lawsuits against Albuquerque businesses in a period of two months.
She claims all of these businesses violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and discriminated against one client. Patterns in the lawsuit seriously question the attorney's true motives.
The ADA is a federal law that covers guidelines on access for those with disabilities. It includes a set of codes detailing how parking lots should be set up, how high disabled signs should be from the ground and how wide parking spaces must be. It even sets guidelines for public bathrooms, including how many inches a soap dispenser can be from the sink and how wide stall doors have to be. If a business is one inch off, it could be in violation of the law.
Gary Skidmore, the owner of Holiday Bowl on Lomas NE, was one of the many served with a lawsuit.
“We work with all of the special needs customers here, we have one of the longest running special needs bowling leagues right now,” Skidmore said.
Over the years, Holiday Bowl has built ramps to ensure that customers using wheelchairs can get to every area of the building. Skidmore said that as different areas of the bowling alley have undergone renovations, he’s also been meticulous about complying with local, state and federal building codes. The lawsuit came as a surprise.
The House of Soccer on Eubank NE was also targeted with a lawsuit by the same attorney and the same plaintiff.
“We get regularly checked by the fire marshal and by the city, they come by every six months,” said Opal Stalls, owner of House of Soccer. “If there was something we were doing wrong and brought it our attention, we would fix it.”
Once the KOB 4 Investigates Team read through each lawsuit, a few patterns emerged. For one, it appears the strategy was to literally drive down Lomas, Juan Tabo, San Mateo and Eubank and look for any and all potential ADA violations.
Another pattern: every lawsuit is a cut and paste duplicate from the first one. The plaintiff is named as Alyssa Carton and the attorney is Sharon Pomeranz. Every lawsuit also lists an address on Pine Street in Santa Fe as Pomeranz’s law office, but when 4 Investigates went to the location, we discovered it was a home belonging to someone else.
By looking at the New Mexico Bar Directory, a publicly available website that lists contact information for every New Mexico attorney, 4 Investigates discovered Pomeranz listed the location she practices law as 15 Cibola Circle in Santa Fe. We discovered it was another residence, not a law office. A man greeted us at the door and informed us Pomeranz wasn't home. We left a business card and then hours later, Pomeranz called 4 Investigator Chris Ramirez irate that he had tracked her down at her home.
“I just wanted to let you know that that address is what is listed in the bar directory,” Ramirez said.
“Yeah, I know. It's my home office. I'm now letting you know, it is my home. Do not contact me over the phone, at my home. I will consider it harassment if you call me again and I’ll get a restraining order.”
Before Ramirez could get a question in, she hung up the phone.
The irony is that the small businesses owners who were targeted by Pomeranz’s lawsuits believe they are one being harassed. No person KOB spoke with ever remembers plaintiff Alyssa Carton in their business. They fear they were a target of a drive-by lawsuit. A small fix that could have cost less than $50 may now end up costing these business owners well over $5,000 in legal fees.
Other legitimate disability rights organizations believe Pomeranz’s lawsuits actually hurt the disabled community.
“I think much more often than not, these kinds of mass-produced, drive-by lawsuits don't help the disability community,” said James Jackson, CEO of Disability Rights New Mexico. “Because of the resentment and the anger that (these lawsuits) cause and the pushback we see in the business community, my concern is this will lead to and reinforce efforts in Congress and efforts in state legislatures to put restrictions on the ADA.”
After reading through many proceedings and communications between Pomeranz and opposing attorneys, a digital trail emerged connecting Pomeranz to the controversial group Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation (AID). AID is based in Phoenix and has already filed lawsuits in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado and vows to sue 100,000 businesses nationwide in the name of advocacy.
But Albuquerque businesses wonder, who will advocate for them? They believe Pomeranz is not in it to champion for the disabled community. They believe she is just trying to make a quick buck.
Legal experts in the community say litigation should be the last-resort option after talking and negotiations fail. Pomeranz is using the power of a lawsuit as a first resort opportunity.
A federal judge has already flagged the batch of lawsuits as suspicious. The judge is requiring that Pomeranz prove that her 100 claims are not frivolous.
Updated: April 17, 2017 10:12 AM
Created: April 14, 2017 09:58 PM
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