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PHOTO/CAPTION: Stylized Maxi-Aids title

On Ethics and Maxi-Aids

by Kenneth Jernigan

Some time this spring (I think it was around May 1) an event occurred that deserves comment and careful consideration. Elliot Zaretsky of Maxi-Aids called President Maurer to ask that the Federation sell him Braillers. President Maurer refused to do so, and Zaretsky expressed surprise, which in itself is surprising.

Since we believe that Zaretsky and Maxi-Aids do not behave ethically and are a destructive influence in the blindness field, the National Federation of the Blind will have no dealings with them at all. Even if their prices are lower than their competition, we will not buy products from them. We will not sell them any products, and we will not permit them to exhibit at our conventions. This is a matter of principle.

For background on the Maxi-Aids story see the December, 1994, and March, 1998, issues of the Braille Monitor. Late last year in the Federal District Court of Eastern New York a jury decided that Maxi-Aids was guilty of unethical business practices and assessed penalties of $2,400,000.06 against them. The six cents has special significance, not because of the amount, but because of the message the jury wanted to send (see the March, 1998, Braille Monitor). In the trial the Zaretsky family (Elliot and his children, the owners of Maxi-Aids) evaded, dodged, and weaved. They showed remarkable lack of memory. Among other things Elliot Zaretsky said under oath that he had never given the Department of Veterans Affairs a document concerning ownership of shares in Maxi-Aids by his daughter. Yet that very document was obtained from the VA under the Freedom of Information Act.

Since the trial, which came about because of unfair competition by Maxi-Aids, both sides have presented motions to the court. Maxi-Aids has asked that the jury verdict be reversed, that the monetary penalties be reduced from $2,400,000.06 to $14,132, and (assuming those motions are denied) that a new trial be granted. Independent Living Aids has asked that the Maxi-Aids motions be denied, that it be given more than $400,000 in legal fees, and that all of the Maxi-Aids catalogs and the plates to print them be confiscated and destroyed. Oral arguments on these motions are scheduled for June 19. In the circumstances it seems most unlikely that Maxi-Aids will prevail on any of its motions.

In any case the National Federation of the Blind feels that it must stand and be counted. Neither directly nor indirectly should we support those in this field that we believe behave unethically. In the long run this is a matter not only of principle but also of practical common sense, for if Maxi-Aids can drive its competition out of business, then it can (and we believe will) raise its prices to unconscionable levels and take advantage of blind consumers. We want no part in supporting such practices.