The Florida Bar News 9/15/00

Miami Beach lawyer works tirelessly to eliminate barriers

From where Edward Resnick sits in his wheelchair, the world can be pretty insensitive to the plight of the disabled and downright ignorant of the law.

During Christmas of 1954, four years after graduating from the University of Florida law school, as he tells it, "I came down with polio at the age of 28."

In his hometown of Miami Beach, this banking and real estate lawyer routinely was thrown out of movie theaters with his child and her friends, because his wheelchair blocked the aisle.

To enjoy the exciting renaissance of South Beach's dilapidated old hotels into glitzy night spots, he would have to depend on the heft of four waiters to carry him up the steps so he could dine in an Ocean Drive restaurant with his wife.

When the Lincoln Mall went through its extensive rejuvenation, as chair of the Mayor's Ad Hoc Barrier Free Environment Committee, he went to all the government's public meetings. He spoke on the importance of making sure access for the handicapped was included in renovation plans, only to watch one restaurant after another open with tables so close together he couldn't maneuver his way around or restrooms impossible for him to roll to.

Finally, in 1998, he grew impatient trying to work through slow or unresponsive government and put his legal expertise to use bringing lawsuits that force businesses and corporations to abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act that passed in 1990 and went into effect in January 1992.

With Phyllis Resnick, his wife of 50 years, at his side, together they run a "mom and pop" not-for-profit corporation called Access Now, Inc., from their Miami Beach apartment.

Five days a week, they serve as unpaid volunteers, providing oversight to nine law firms who agree to take on lawsuits, some of them as class-actions, on a contingency basis.

"This will pave our way to heaven, if there is one," Edward Resnick says of his highly personal pro bono work.

"It's an overwhelming satisfaction to go down the street and see places you've managed, through one way or another, to make compliant, and know that anyone who wants to go there and is disabled will find that it finally complies with the ADA."

Phyllis Resnick, who is not a lawyer, says she loves the law, adding, "We've settled every case we've filed. We've never had to go to trial."

"The lawyers do a very good job," said Edward Resnick, a member of the Bar's Public Interest Law Section. "We use only the brightest and the best."

Currently, there is one class-action lawsuit certified against HCA hospitals (formerly known as Columbia) seeking to get approximately 450 hospitals nationwide in compliance with the ADA. Another recent victory was when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (in a lawsuit not brought by Access Now) that Access Now lawsuits against Carnival, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise ship lines could go forward, with the finding that the ADA does apply to cruise ships, even though they are foreign-flagged.

Shocked to find out that areas of Disney World in Orlando do not have wheelchair ramps to restrooms, they've taken on Mickey Mouse, as well as Dade County's Pro Player Stadium.

And they are currently negotiating with Burdine's and Macy's in Florida and Lord and Taylor throughout the nation to bring the large department store chains into compliance.

To the lawyers out there reading this, Edward Resnick sends this message: "The most frustrating thing I find is the lack of knowledge and professionalism on the part of lawyers who represent the defendant. They don't know anything about the ADA.

"If they don't know anything about the ADA and don't send the case to someone who does, they do nothing but build up fees which do nothing for anybody. One of my consultants who is one of the best in the country always says, `An ADA matter costs just as much to comply as the defendants want it to.' If you're sued, get your inspection report, sit down with the plaintiff and settle it."

While suing and settling cases to bring businesses into compliance with the ADA is their immediate goal, the Resnicks say their ultimate goal is this: "To sufficiently spread the word whereby public accommodations will make the necessary alterations on their own to comply with the law, instead of the prevalent attitude of waiting for someone to catch up with them."

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