JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Robert Gibson, the attorney who has filed suit against at least 50 area businesses over compliance with federal disability rules and sent demand letters to up to 250 businesses across four counties, has hired his own attorney to speak for him.
This comes three weeks after the I-TEAM began reporting on litigation he has filed on behalf of Wanda Moore, a double amputee. Now Gibson and Moore are being sued, accused of fraud.
After several offers for Gibson and Moore to tell their side of the story, the I-TEAM was told Moore would sit down for an interview Friday, but was told she wasn't able to arrange transportation. The attorney said she does want to tell her side of the story and added that she has made no money from any of the lawsuits.
Curtis Fallgatter, the attorney hired this week to represent Gibson, said the man is just trying to enforce the law.
"He's concerned about everything. Here's a man who thinks he's enforcing a statute and now finds himself the target of media coverage and a bogus lawsuit that's suing him for enforcing the statute," Fallgatter said.
Attorneys with Theole Drach and Terrell Hogan filed the complaint against Gibson and Moore on behalf of Lubi's Hot Subs. Since then, 16 others businesses have joined in. The complaint states what business owners have told the I-TEAM, that while Wanda Moore filed ADA suits against them, she never came into their establishments.
Gibson's attorney flatly denied that allegation.
"She was on the premises of every institution, every business where a claim has been filed," Fallgatter said.
The I-TEAM has reported that several businesses say these lawsuits have been a financial hardship, that they are struggling to pay Gibson's legal fees to settle the cases. Those fees range from $1,500 to more than $3,000.
"I don't believe that any of these businesses can't afford $1,500. If that's true, they might as well shut their doors," Fallgatter said.
Asked if the lawsuits were about compliance with federal disability guidelines or making Gibson's law firm some money, Fallgatter didn't see those as conflicting interests.
"It's the only way the act works. Do you work for free at the station? No!" Fallgatter said.
When told the business owners feel like they were set up, Fallgatter replied, "And the 'set up' is part of the theme that we're seeing in the media, and, as we've discussed, the federal courts allow what is called testers. You don't have to be a bona fide patron of that facility. They allow testers to go in to help enforce that 27-year-old statute, to find out if they're in ADA violation or not."
Another allegation is these dozens of lawsuits were preplanned as an effort to make Gibson's law firm money.
Pastor Raymond Johnson told the I-TEAM that he met with Gibson and Pastor Ken Adkins last fall, before Adkins was convicted on unrelated charges in Georgia. He said Gibson was trying to recruit business for his law firm as well as Gibson's chiropractic office from local church leaders. He claims Gibson promised Johnson a donation would be made to his church in return for business directed to Gibson.
"I have a moral obligation. I think this is wrong," Johnson said.
Johnson asked Adkins where the donation would come from.
"They are going to be making money. Back in Sept/Oct that they are going to go after small business for ADA compliance. And they believed most would settle out of court."
Asked about that allegation, Fallgatter said Gibson's fees are low and earned.
Fallgatter said the real victim here is Wanda Moore, who joined these ADA lawsuits to help the disabled community.
"But she's been demonized. She's getting death threats. She's had emails that someone ought to shove her down the stairs," Fallgatter said.
Told that the I-TEAM has repeatedly tried to get her side of the story, as well as Gibson's, Fallgatter continued.
"It's not just their side of the story, it's the law. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Why is it that a small business now becomes the victim instead of victimizing those that are handicapped?"
Fallgatter said that Gibson and Moore believe they are engaged in righteous enforcement of the law that guarantees equal access to disabled people. They will continue trying to tell their story and we will keep you up to date with developments in these various lawsuits.
Late this afternoon, we received a statement from the law firm representing Lubi's. Attorney Amanda Thoele said they see a conspiracy at play.
Mr. Gibson’s story has changed with each comment to the press. We are pleased that his attorney has now confirmed that the allegations in our Complaint are true, that a conspiracy existed, and Mr. Gibson’s part in that conspiracy. Unfortunately, Mr. Gibson still seeks to deny responsibility for his actions, claiming that those actions were either mistakes or were perfectly legal. The fact that the same “mistake” – Ms. Moore not actually visiting the businesses to which pre-suit demands were made – happened over and over shows that these actions were intentional. A source with knowledge of the conspiracy has confirmed that unless a pre-suit demand letter included a picture of Ms. Moore at the business, Ms. Moore had not visited the business. Further, our sources show that the investigators hired by Mr. Gibson to target businesses were paid through Gibson Chiropractic Clinic rather than his law firm. If there was nothing wrong with the actions of Mr. Gibson and his co-conspirators, there would be no need to attempt to hide the existence of the investigators. Even if Ms. Moore had visited every business that was sent a pre-suit demand, targeting businesses and then creating the basis for a lawsuit is no different than if Mr. Gibson sent investigators to look for spills in businesses and then sent clients to slip and fall in those spills. The sheer scale of this operation has likely caused small businesses millions of dollars in damages and our firm along with the firm of Terrell Hogan are determined to obtain justice for small business owners that were defrauded."