ACLU Defends Disabled Schoolteacher Denied Right to Serve on Jury

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
September 14, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Georgia
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ATLANTA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia this week filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who was denied the right to serve on a jury because she is in a wheelchair.

Larissa Bockenek, a schoolteacher, was summoned for jury duty on the second floor of the Coweta County Superior Court, a building that has no elevator. When she arrived, Judge William F. Lee sent her home, saying that he was not going to inconvenience a large number of people just to accommodate her.

While Bockenek said that she had planned to tell her students all about her experience as a juror, she instead returned to school with a very different lesson plan: Discrimination on the basis of disability.

The ACLU of Georgia filed suit on Bockenek’s behalf, charging that her rights had been violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws., the Rehabilitation Act, and under a statute that redresses abridgements in federal rights.

The ACLU said that the case was extremely important because it concerns the right of disabled Americans to enjoy all the rights and perform all the duties of citizenship.

“America has a shameful history of cutting off people with disabilities from the rest of society,” said Georgia Lord, an ACLU of Georgia volunteer attorney. “Although significant strides have been made, it is clear from Ms. Bockenek’s experience that there are still many battles ahead in the struggle for equal right for people with disabilities.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit is not the first time a person with a disability has met with discrimination from the very courts charged with protecting their rights. In 1993, James Bradley Quinn, a resident of Little Rock, Arkansas, brought a successful challenge under the Americans with Disabilities Act to a state law that excluded deaf people from jury service.

And in 1996, Betty Livingston of North Carolina won her ADA claim against a local courthouse for refusing to allow her to use the only wheelchair accessible door into and out of the courtroom because it was “reserved” for lawyers and court personnel.

Bockenek is represented by volunteer attorney Georgia Lord, of the firm of Nelson, Hill, Lord & Beasley, LLP.

For more information on the ACLU’s work on behalf of people with disabilities, link to our Disability Rights briefing paper at /library/pbp21.html.

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