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In early September, Santa Ana small business owners who say they are Gunther's victims met with District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. They expressed frustration that their shops had been approved by city inspectors and yet they were still exposed to the technical demands of the ADA. Many of them had paid thousands of dollars to Gunther and feared other wheelchair-bound individuals would try to "extort" even more money.
Everyone present was emotional, sources said. But Jin Kim, owner of a barbecue restaurant at 17th Street and Grand Avenue, cried. He recounted the shock of getting the lawsuit without warning, how Mehrban 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."
Rackauckas left the meeting outraged, the business owner said. On Sept. 13, the DA advised them that Gunther and Mehrban had made themselves targets for investigation. "Protecting business owners against frivolous lawsuits is an important priority in my office," Rackauckas wrote in a letter. "I am taking immediate action. I have assigned several prosecutors and district attorney investigators to look into this matter."
Gunther doesn't seem worried.
"The law is on my side," he said. "I'm trying to stop the humiliation and I've got a whole lot of fight left in me."
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.
Research assistance by Vickie Chang and Christine Pelisek.