March 18, 2013
The Madison County [Alabama] Commission on Monday morning settled out of court with James Mason by agreeing to $65,000 in facility upgrades that will make the courthouse more accessible for [people with disabilities].
Mason, a retired police officer, filed 17 lawsuits in Huntsville for violations to Federal law under the Americans for Disabilities Act. In addition to private businesses, he accused the county and City of Huntsville of failure to meet ADA standards set in 1990. His complaints range from the height of bathroom sinks to width of toilet stalls to the incline rate of ramps.
The lawsuits were filed in 2012.
Madison County Attorney Jeff Rich said the courthouse will make a number of modifications, such as a wheelchair ramp on the south side of the square and more accessible courtrooms, jury boxes, water fountains, restrooms, doorways and voting systems. Improvements will occur on every floor and should be complete by the end of the year.
Because the county intends to make it easier for [people with disabilities] to vote, Rich said the courthouse will seek financial assistance from the 2002 Help America Vote Act.
District 6 Commissioner Bob Harrison asked Rich if the county planned to hire an ADA consultant to audit the courthouse's facilities to ensure it has done enough.
Rich said Mason and his attorney, Edward Zwilling of Birmingham, are considered experts in the field for identifying critical ADA needs, and an audit could simply reveal violations that don't have any impact.
"We feel like we have a pretty good handle on the scope of what's necessary and what's not necessary," Rich said.
Mason, who [uses] a wheelchair, has said publicly that he isn't making any money from the lawsuits because his goal is only to make life better for people like himself.
While the county commission agreed to settle out of court, the City of Huntsville filed an answer to Mason's complaint denying the majority of his claims.
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