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Morally handicapped

Posted by Richard on October 30, 2006

You’re no doubt familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and you’ve probably read about some of its unintended consequences and litigation horror stories. California has an even tougher version called the Unruh Act, so it’s no wonder that the story of David Allen Gunther is from that benighted state (emphasis added):

Since 2003, Gunther has filed more than 200 lawsuits against small businesses for violations that have included accessibility barriers, no designated handicapped parking, heavy bathroom doors, or toilet paper dispensers mounted out of easy reach. Each violation carries a $4,000 fine. For all his hard work, it is estimated that Gunther has received more than $400,000 in the last 36 months, mostly from mom-and-pop shops.

Targets of Gunther suits included a car wash whose bathroom mirror was a few inches too high and a flower shop where he claimed he couldn’t find a wheelchair ramp — even though the shop owner herself was confined to a wheelchair and depended on the ramp. In both cases (and presumably the others as well), his court filings claimed these businesses caused him “anguish, anxiety, humiliation, anger, frustration, distress, embarrassment, apprehension and disgust.”

It looks like — maybe, just maybe — this litigation blizzard is too much even for California. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has met with a group of small business owners sued by Gunther, and he’s looking into what can be done about this litigation abuse. Gunther said he’s not worried because the law is on his side.

According to the OC Weekly, one of the people who met with Rackauckas was restaurant owner Jin Kim, who wept because he may lose his business:

… He recounted the shock of getting the lawsuit without warning, how Mehrban [Gunther’s attorney] had coldly refused to negotiate despite pleas, and that he had to sell his wife’s ring and a vehicle to pay Gunther $16,000—and his own attorney another $4,000 in fees. His crime? His restroom mirror was allegedly mounted a few inches too high and the door was a few pounds too heavy to push.

“Why did I get hit by this person?” Kim told the Weekly. “If he had asked for any help with anything, me and my wife would have gladly helped him. We work very hard to please our customers.”

The experience has likely ruined any chance for a profit this year. Kim thinks he may have to sell the restaurant that he’s poured his life’s savings into. “I told that lawyer [Mehrban] that I would immediately fix any problems he saw and give him $6,000, and on that same day he sued me again using Karl Roundtree for the same thing,” said Kim. “I was going to fight back, but there is so much money involved in fighting a lawsuit against these people. We get lots of senior citizens in here and nobody has ever complained before. Something is wrong in this country when that guy can get away with this. The whole thing has made me think about moving back to Korea.”

If you’re inclined to be sympathetic toward the disabled, restrain yourself. Gunther has been seen by credible witnesses getting out of his wheelchair and walking. He’s told multiple contradictory stories of how he was hurt. And his extensive adult record seems short only of honest work:

A Weekly investigation traced Gunther’s activities around the western U.S. during the last quarter of a century, uncovering evidence that not only has he exaggerated his reliance on a wheelchair, but he’s also whitewashed his own history of chronic unemployment, multiple drug addictions, narcotics trafficking, assaults, petty thefts, burglaries, a decade of missed child support payments, and more than a dozen arrests and stints in jail.

But here’s the punch line to the sordid story of David Allen Gunther and Morse Mehrban, the scumbag shyster who represented him in all these lawsuits: when Gunther meets with Mehrban, presumably it’s not in Mehrban’s office:

Ironically, one businessman he hasn’t sued is his own lawyer. Like so many businesses Gunther has sued, Mehrban’s Koreatown office is located in a converted house. It’s on the second floor, and to get there, a person in a wheelchair faces an insurmountable hurdle: 15 steps up a narrow hallway.

Mehrban says it would not be practical to make his office accessible to the handicapped.


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