Wednesday, December 07, 2005 | The people of Julian are nice. They greet each other with smiles and genuine affection. It is a manner that is markedly different to the hurried half-smiles so often seen on the streets of San Diego. The town is unhurried, friendly, relaxed.
But mention the name of Theodore Pinnock and those smiles quickly disappear. The San Diego attorney who has become the talk of this small town of apple pies and mom-and-pop stores is referred to by the townspeople at once as a crook, a fraud and other monikers too rude for publication.
Pinnock’s offense has been to bring to light a problem that even the president of the local chamber of commerce admits has been ready to boil over for many years – the town’s disability access. It’s a problem that could end up costing Julian businesses up to $200,000 to solve.
The attorney, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, recently sent 67 businesses in Julian a letter threatening to sue for their non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act required businesses to offer adequate access to people with disabilities by 1992.
Pinnock said in an e-mail that he visited the quaint mountain town in November and found many Julian businesses to be inaccessible. He then researched each business and wrote all the letters himself.
Pinnock’s letters suggest that the businesses contact an attorney and that they start mediation proceedings with his firm, Pinnock & Wakefield APC. The letter offers business owners another option: bring their buildings up to compliance and compensate Pinnock.
The letters have come as a shock to this small town.
“He could really make things hard for people in town, if that’s his intention,” said Michelle Huggins, manager of Moms Pie House on Julian’s main street.
The letters arrived as the community in Julian is still trying to re-group after two massive fires that surrounded the town in 2002 and 2003. The 2003 Cedar Fire nearly charred the town’s historic downtown and destroyed more than 700 homes in Julian.
“It’s been a pretty bumpy ride,” said Dick Thilkin, president of the Julian Chamber of Commerce.
Julian’s tourist trade has improved gradually since the fires. However, so many residents have been displaced that stores and businesses that cater to locals that have borne the economic brunt of Julian’s bad luck, Thilkin said.
“Some of the businesses are so thin financially that maybe anything would cause them to go out of business at this point,” he said.
Pinnock said that Julian businesses should have been in compliance with the ADA long before the fires.
Most business owners appear ready to solve the access problem once and for all, although some plan to fight Pinnock’s actions.
“I sense from speaking to most of the business owners, that they would like to take a very good look at making the town of Julian as accessible as possible,” said David Peters, CEO and general counsel of Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse. “There’s really no dispute about that.”
Thilkin advocated negotiating with Pinnock to get the town’s businesses ADA compliant and cut their losses.
While Thilkin recognized that the town does not have any special privileges under the ADA simply because it is an historic site, he said the number of old buildings does make it harder for businesses to comply with the statute.
Nevertheless, he said, local businesses have been trying to comply with the law.
“We do feel that overall we’ve done and are doing a pretty good job in accommodating disabled people,” Thilkin said. “We get a lot of disabled people up here, and it’s very rare that we get any complaints.”
Some Julian residents feel they are being extorted by Pinnock for his own personal gain.
“This guy is 100 percent a crook,” said Eddie Somo, owner of Mountain Spirits Liquor, across the street from Town Hall. “He’s going around, not just in Julian, but everywhere in San Diego County and suing everyone he sees. He’s making a living out of this.”
Peters said that Pinnock has been involved in more than 2,000 ADA cases.
He said Pinnock could force businesses to comply with the ADA without enriching himself.
“The real question is, aren’t the people of Julian being asked to choose, on a dollar-to-dollar basis, between putting money towards access renovations and paying Mr. Pinnock,” he asked. “I have a bit of a problem with that choice if this is supposed to be about access and not money.”
But Pinnock said there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be compensated for his work and for the discrimination he has suffered.
“In this society, people believe people with disabilities should not seek monetary gain. People with disabilities should be the beneficiaries of charity and governmental programs,” he said. “Everyone is motivated by monetary gain. Why do people assume people with disabilities are not?”
Please contact Will Carless directly at
Residents of Julian have set up an ADA compliance fund. Contributions can be sent to: Shawn Miller, Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 1748, Julian, Ca., 92036.