The lead attorney for a controversial “advocacy” group flooding the Valley with disability-access lawsuits is currently facing multiple State Bar investigations and has made a number of mistakes in his cases, a three-month ABC15 investigation has found.
State Bar officials confirmed that Peter Strojnik, attorney for Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID), is under at least two open investigations.
“Two of the defendants became very grumpy after they were sued and found in violation,” Strojnik said. “So what do grumpy people do, they try and intimidate.”
Strojnik has filed more than 1,300 lawsuits against businesses alleging access violations in parking lots under the American with Disabilities Act. In many cases, the alleged violations are for violations like a sign that’s a few inches too low.
Strojnik and AID usually demand $7500 to settle and drop the lawsuits, court records show.
Below is a demand letter Strojnik often sends to businesses after he sends them.
“I felt what they were doing was totally and completely unethical,” said JoAnn Burgess, who owns a building in Phoenix. “So I wrote a letter to the State Bar.”
Burgess rents her building to a coffee shop.
She said the location’s alleged violation was a missing van accessible sign. Rather than fight the lawsuit, Burgess decided to settle because the cost of litigating the case would have exceeded a quick settlement.
“I was pretty ticked off,” she said."
Legal experts said that while the methods used by Strojnik and AID are controversial, it doesn’t mean they are illegal.
The only issue would be if Strojnik, who’s been disciplined by the State Bar previously, has made mistakes. Multiple attorneys, who represent Valley businesses sued by Strojnik, said his cases are filled with a variety of them.
“It has happened time and time again,” said Matt Anderson, an attorney with the firm Jaburg Wilk. “We have clients who have been served with the wrong papers. We have clients who have been sent pictures with the wrong property attached to the complaint.”
ABC15 has reviewed hundreds of AID’s cases and discovered repeated mistakes.
On May 12, Strojnik sued the owner of a Mesa strip mall and then filed another lawsuit less than a month later, alleging the same claims.
An attorney representing the business said it appears Strojnik didn’t realize he had already filed a case.
The second case was voluntarily dismissed in July.
Many businesses rent or own units within buildings but do not legally own or control the parking lots.
Throughout the Valley, joint associations own and control many business parking lots (Think of it like HOAs owning and controlling common areas in neighborhoods).
But Strojnik has filed many of these cases against individual businesses, and some attorneys have said he's doing it intentionally.
On April 19, Strojnik sued multiple Scottsdale businesses near Bell Road and the Loop 101 even though an association owned and controlled the lot.
“The Plaintiffs made an educated decision not to name the Association as a Defendant in the current matter, despite multiple attempts by various counsel to explain the dynamics of a commercial condominium to avoid further frivolous litigation,” wrote attorney Lydia Peirce Linsmeier in a response to a lawsuit.
In a legal letter, Strojnik said that the businesses had “no defenses” to the lawsuits. A judge disagreed and dismissed the cases.
Attorney Matt Anderson said this is one of the most common issues seen in Strojnik’s cases.
In fact, Anderson said he just learned of a case involving 20 businesses that share a building and all received lawsuits even though an association owns and controls the parking lot.
SUING A DIRT LOT
ABC15 also uncovered a lawsuit filed by Strojnik against the owner of a dirt lot in east Mesa.
An attorney representing the business said Strojnik apparently mistook the empty and dusty parcel of land for a neighboring location.
The lawsuit was amended on August 2 to include a new defendant.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?
Sharon Olsen, who owns Y-Knot Party and Rentals in Mesa, said she was “shocked” when she saw that Peter Strojnik had sued her in May.
“I said, ‘you have to be kidding me,’” Olsen said.
Strojnik helped Olsen set up her business in 1989. She provided ABC15 with her Articles of Incorporation that show Strojnik was the attorney who prepared and filed the business paperwork.
Olsen said she emailed Strojnik to point out the conflict of interest. She said another AID attorney, Fabian Zazueta, called her back with an offer. They said they would drop the lawsuit if she agreed to talk with their public relations person, Olsen said.
Olsen said she asked Zazueta to put that in writing and never heard back. Instead, Olsen said she made another call – one to the State Bar.
STROJNIK’S PRIOR LEGAL DISCIPLINE
Peter Strojnik has been disciplined by the State Bar three times in his career, records show.
But in an interview with ABC15, Strojnik said he could only recall one instance – a 2011 suspension. “We entered into a friendly agreement that I would take 30 days off,” Strojnik said.
The State Bar suspended Strojnik for 30 days and placed him on probation. Here’s a summary of the 2011 case from the Bar’s website:
“Mr. Strojnik sent a letter to a represented person that had no purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden him, and resulted in the filing of a motion to remove Mr. Strojnik as counsel and made it necessary for the court to address the issue. He filed a motion to compel and for sanctions and a complaint for declaratory judgment, both of which were frivolous and prejudicial to the administration of justice. His treatment of deponent during deposition was “insulting and shockingly insensitive.” Finally, Mr. Strojnik advised his client to not attend an IME, but he failed to advise her that she could be sanctioned for not attending. Her failure to attend the IME resulted in the defendant filing a motion to compel, the IME had to be reset, and his client was ordered to pay the costs incurred by the defense counsel.”