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    May 30, 2008  


One of the great new condominiums of the region has its grand opening this weekend: Lionsgate, in the heart of Bethesda. We believe it will become a well-known landmark of luxury and convenience. See their ad to right, and tell 'em we sent you!


The D.C. Circuit's blockbuster opinion that US paper currency runs afoul of the Rehabilitation Act turned our head when it came out 10 days ago. And when we dug further, we discovered that American Council for the Blind v. Paulson has all the makings of a Hollywood script: Brawn (in the plaintiff's lead attorney, Jeff Lovitky, a former JAG and reservist); Beauty (in Lovitky's late girlfriend, who motivated him to take the case); and Romance (in Lovitky's affinity for the Administrative Procedure Act of 1948). We stopped by the solo practitioner's office at 1776 K for the pitch.


If you missed this story, your last name better be Cook or Archuleta or there's no excuse. Quick review: the American Council of the Blind sued the Treasury Department on the theory that the uniform size and feel of U.S. greenbacks denies the visually impaired, who have to rely on others for accurate bill counting, meaningful access to currency. In a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the District Court's declaratory judgment, giving the DOJ-repped Treasury now 35 more days to seek en banc review or 80 days to file a cert. petition. Jeff, who has never argued a case before SCOTUS, wouldn't state a preferred outcome except to say he'd like to see the problem fixed.


Now for the romantic intrigue: Jeff's involvement in the case was sparked by his relationship with Dr. Sandra Welner (in photo on right), a renowned expert in gynecological treatment of disabled woman. She was also visually impaired. When her life was cut short in a 2001 fire, Jeff searched for a case that would honor her through his expertise in administrative law. He offered his services to the American Council of the Blind on the money issue, despite daunting knowledge that 35 years of struggle over it had yet to bear fruit. He filed in DC District Court in May of '02.


This picture, drawn by Dr. Welner, hangs in his office. Jeff's picking off federal agencies one by one, recently topping HHS in a dispute over Medicare rate exemptions on behalf of Chippewa Dialysis Services. In what free time remains, he's teaching himself Hebrew to better prepare himself for annual vacations to Israel. This won't be the last disability rights case for him, though, as he finds access issues all around him. On one recent trip into BWI, he noticed the hotel shuttle bus wasn't wheelchair accessible. The driver's explanation: "Usually those people have attendants." Obviously, the guy didn't know who he was talking to.

John Ford, a former lawyer, is Bisnow's Managing Editor. Got a story tip? Pass it on to john@bisnow.com.

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