ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- One of the plaintiffs involved in the waves of disability lawsuits that have targeted the Southwest admitted under oath her cases were, in part, malicious and abusive.
Alyssa Carton, who filed 99 cases against businesses alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, appeared in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Thursday. The hearing was to determine if she qualified for a waiver that would allow her to avoid prepayment of court fees, which amount to roughly $40,000.
Carton was originally set to appear last week, but skipped the hearing. She told the judge Thursday that she had "panicked" and had lied about her city bus breaking down.
During the hearing, which lasted several hours, Carton admitted that she signed a confidential agreement with a company called Litigation Management and Financial Services. She also initially told the judge she did not receive $50 for each case she filed, which is contrary to what she told Denver7 Investigator Ryan Luby and journalists in New Mexico and Arizona.
Denver7 Investigates received a copy of Carton's agreement with Litigation Management earlier this week. It shows Carton did in fact receive $50 per case. It also shows that Litigation Management dictates the direction of cases and has the power to negotiate and accept settlements on behalf of Carton.
According to courtroom testimony, Carton's attorney, Sharon Pomeranz, also signed an agreement. Pomeranz told Judge Karen Molzen she became involved with Litigation Management by responding to a job posting on Indeed.com late last summer.
Roughly 30 attorneys who are defending the sued Albuquerque businesses questioned Pomeranz and Carton about their knowledge of Litigation Management's background. Both said they were unaware of the company's connections to a controversial group in Arizona called Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities -- AID for short.
AID filed nearly 2,000 ADA cases in Arizona and is currently under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General's office. The New Mexico Attorney General's office is also looking into the group.
Pomeranz said in courtroom testimony that she's among several other attorneys in other states who are following Litigation Management's "model" in suing businesses.
Judge Molzen noted that Pomeranz's cases are carbon copies of cases filed earlier in Colorado. Denver7 Investigates has reported extensively on the three separate plaintiffs who've filed the cases in Colorado.
The judge is going to recommend to Chief Judge Christina Armijo in Albuquerque that the New Mexico cases be dismissed with prejudice. She said she'll also consider possible sanctions against Pomeranz for misleading the court and acting cavalier.
"This kind of litigation undermines the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act," Judge Molzen said.
Before the hearing wrapped Thursday, Carton told the attorneys questioning her that the cases "damaged a lot."
"I'm ashamed to be a part of this," she said. "It's awful."
When asked by the attorneys who should pay them for the time and money they've spent defending the cases, Carton deflected to her "team."
"I would hope they'd be held responsible," she said.
The attorneys believe Pomeranz was playing "fast and loose" in having Carton request court fee waivers because of her low income since Pomeranz admitted that Litigation Management was funding the lawsuit efforts.
Judge Molzen quoted a 2004 case from California which made reference to ADA cases being a part of a "cottage industry," and how people with disabilities are brought in as "professional pawns."
"It looks like, to me, that you were such a pawn," the judge told Carton. Carton agreed.
Judge Molzen is expected to decide on sanctions and who will pay the defendants' attorney fees next week.