Judge invokes Goldfinger in ruling Fondren resident has standing to sue Hinds Co.
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - It’s no Astin Martin, but Dr. Scott Crawford is nonetheless pleased with a recent decision handed down by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wednesday, the circuit ruled that the Fondren resident and disability rights activist had standing to sue Hinds County for failing to bring its courthouse into ADA compliance.
In its decision, the Circuit vacated the lower court’s ruling and remanded the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Tom Lee.
“This is very good news,” Crawford said. “The guy in the wheelchair counts.”
The ruling reverses Lee’s earlier decision, in which he agreed with Crawford that the courthouse did not comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, but ruled Crawford did not have the standing to sue.
“It’s really troubling to hear a judge say that... you don’t count,” he said. “It says something, and it’s not good.”
Crawford’s suit stemmed from his numerous experiences at the downtown Jackson courthouse, including the multiple times he was called for jury duty.
“When he went there, he had to use the restroom. The bathrooms had the international symbol of accessibility but were not accessible,” said his attorney, Andrew Bizer.”
Crawford, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, uses an electric wheelchair. He moved to the county in 2006, so he could be closer to his family.
Since then, he’s been called for jury duty numerous times.
“Just for the record, I have been called to jury duty five times since 2012,” he said.
In addition to lack of restroom access, Crawford said he was unable to access the jury box and could not approach the judge’s bench. Additionally, there were no cutouts in the jury waiting room to accommodate Crawford’s wheelchair.
Crawford had contacted the county multiple times about the lack of access, but after the officials refused to make improvements, he filed suit in U.S. District Court.
Lee agreed that the courthouse was out of compliance but ruled that Crawford didn’t have standing because it wasn’t clear whether he would again be called for jury duty.
Circuit Judge James Ho pointed out the fallacy in Lee’s decision.
“Scott Crawford has been called for jury duty four times to date – in 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2019. Each time, he was unable to serve due to the defendants’ failure to accommodate his disability,” he wrote. “Four injuries over seven years evince a pattern that demonstrates a likelihood that Crawford will continue to suffer similar injuries in the future.”
Ho goes on to quote Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger. “Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
In the majority opinion, the court agreed, saying it’s not a stretch to believe Crawford will again be called for jury duty service.
“He was called twice between 2012 and 2017,” the judges wrote. “Hinds County is not extremely populous, and only a subset of its population is eligible for jury service, so it’s fairly likely that Crawford will again, at some point, be called for jury duty.”
It was not known when Lee would hand down a ruling.
A copy of the Fifth Circuit’s decision is below.
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