All About The "Quackpot's" Top Attorney...
Some interesting parts of this article are highlighted in red and blue. It is an article from the Los Angeles Daily Journal on Tuesday, August 3, 1999. It was called:
the Smoke Screen
Lawyer’s Proposition 65 Practice Has Adversaries Seeing Green
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by Denise Levin - Daily Journal Staff Writer
Two dozen packages of imported pipe tobacco are jammed on to a shelf between the olive oil and bread crumbs at the bottom of a cluttered aisle inside the Elat Market.
The Westside market’s small stock of pipe tobacco became the focus of a legal attack last year when Los Angeles attorney Morse Mehrban claimed the store, which caters to a mostly Middle Eastern clientele, violated Proposition 65 by failing to warn customers about the dangers of tobacco.
The measure is intended to protect the state’s drinking water and environment from hazardous chemicals.
Phillip Chronis, the attorney representing Elat Market, said the store owners quickly took action, applying adhesive labels to the packages that met California’s warning guidelines, and informed Mehrban of the compliance.
Mehrban, through his attorney and sometime law partner Daniel Cho, responded by notifying Elat’s owners that if they did not pay $7,000 in penalties and attorney fees, he would sue, Chronis said.
So Chronis wrote again to Mehrban; "Proposition 65 was never intended to be used as a club to terrorize small mom and pop markets who inadvertently fail to comply with the exact language of the statute...For you to threaten litigation under these circumstances is nothing short of despicable. It is [this] kind of behavior which gives all attorneys the reputation for being greedy and grasping."
Merban sued, and the case settled in March for undisclosed terms on the eve of trial.
It was the first dispute in a long line of violation notices and lawsuits Mehrban would file.
When the authors of Proposition 65 penned the law, they designed it in the public interest, to allow anybody to sue violators on behalf of the people of California.
But some members of the defense bar and even some plaintiff’s attorneys and judges, say Mehrban has stretched the provisions of the law beyond its purpose – and is taking leaps through a loophole in the law for his own financial gain.
At least one judge has dubbed Mehrban’s use of the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 "racketeering," while he has been called a "bounty hunter" by adversaries.
For his part, Mehrban claims he is dedicated to protecting consumers from corporations that pollute the environment and endanger people.
"There is an old saying: ‘Give me a long enough lever and I will move the world." That is what I’m trying to do here," Mehrban said. "My goal is to use these California statutes to bring about positive social change throughout the United States."
Mehrban has filed dozens of Proposition 65-related lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court against a range of businesses he claims violate the law through, among other things, selling tobacco products without the correct warnings or by selling gasoline from hazardous under-ground tanks.
He has targeted retailers from the Coconut Club at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to a 7-11 in West Los Angeles. Regularly, lawsuits alleging unlawful warnings for tobacco or alcohol products are filed in Superior Court with Mehrban’s name somewhere on them – either as the plaintiff or the attorney of record.
About 23 cases involving cigars were consolidated, and about half of those recently were dismissed by Commissioner Bruce E. Mitchell, who found that Mehrban failed to give adequate notice.
Proposition 65 requires businesses to post warnings on products that contain chemicals that may be hazardous to health. Under the measure, the plaintiff is required to serve the alleged violator with a 60-day notice to fix the problem, which is filed with the state attorney general’s office. The office then has the option of taking part in or taking over any litigation.
According to the AG’s office, Mehrban filed 335 such notices with its office in an eight-month period that ended Jan. 5, none of which the AG opted to join in prosecuting.
Deputy Attorney General Craig Thompson declined comment on Mehrban except to confirm that the AG’s office has not taken any action on any of his cases.
Mehrban often collects less than the $300 an hour he normally charges in attorney fees in such cases, he said. In most cases in which there is a settlement, he usually collects no more than $5,000 in fees, he said.
In addition to penalties. a company may make a contribution to an environmentally beneficial fund, although such a donation is not required by law. Mehrban acknowledged that sometimes the defendants in his cases contribute to Consumer Cause Inc. – a nonprofit organization that protects consumers and the environment, Mehrban said. Mehrban’s mother, Rafat Efraim, is a director of Consumer Cause.
"We are made to look like we are getting rich off of Proposition 65," Mehrban said, "That couldn’t be further from the truth." He said the only way he can make a living is by taking on different types of cases, including personal injury matters.
The factors that determine a Proposition 65 violation include the number of people affected by the alleged violation and the precedential effect a decision might have, Thompson said. His office did become involved several years ago in a case against cigar makers for including hazardous chemicals in the product. But Mehrban largely goes after individual stores that sell the products, Thompson said.
The law also provides for a split of court-imposed penalties between the prosecutorial agency and the plaintiff. In all of Mehrban’s cases, however, the defendants have settled with him before reaching that stage.
San Francisco attorney Fred Altshuler of Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Berzon & Rubin, who represents various non-profit organizations including the Environmental Law Foundation, said legitimate Proposition 65 cases move to bring companies into compliance and do not go after damages.
Altshuler, who has never heard of Mehrban, would not comment directly on the attorney’s practices. He would only say: "It is highly unfortunate if Proposition 65, which has brought important pubic benefits, is substantially weakened because of the peculiarities of lawyers who file vast numbers of less significant lawsuits."
Mehrban has filed the lawsuits and notices in a number of ways: in pro per, with himself as the plaintiff; as the filing attorney representing his mother or a law firm colleague, such as Reuben Yeroushalmi; or on behalf of Consumer Cause.
Yeroushalmi, who said he is the agent for Consumer Cause, expressed anger that the nonprofit organization and Mehrban’s practice have generated suspicions about their mission, and pointed out the good the group has done.
As an example, he said, many retailers, including Mobil Oil Corp., have stopped selling cigars without warning labels. "Because of our efforts, we have been single-handedly responsible for upsetting the cigar market in California," Yeroushalmi said.
But not everyone sees it that way. Critics say Mehrban’s practice is motivated by the desire to line his own pockets.
In the case against Elat market, Chronis, the store’s attorney, filed a strongly worded motion in limine with the court reflecting such sentiments:
"Cho, Mehrban and Yeroushalmi are a triumvirate of greedy lawyers who seek, to exploit a loophole in Proposition 65 which makes it possible [for] them to bring unconscionable lawsuits such as this one against such relative innocents as Elat market.... All of the actions have only one purpose, to try to extract money from unintentional offenders," the motion states.
In his motion, Chronis includes excerpts from official court transcripts and ruling from other cases in an attempt to show what he calls a pattern of meritless lawsuits brought by Mehrban.
He cites an action brought by Mehrban against the Miramar-Sheraton Hotel in Santa Monica that was dismissed on a demurrer by Judge Brett C. Klein. In granting the demurrer, Klein said: "This case is brought in the private interest, not in the public interest....there are many nouns that one might attempt to use, metaphorically, to describe what this case is about. ‘Bounty hunter,’ the term used by defendants in their papers, is not one that I would use. I think, rather, the most appropriate metaphorical term would be ‘racketeering.’" Yeroushalmi v. Miramar Sheraton et al,, BC200421.
attempted to have that transcript sealed, but the judge denied his
motion, according to Bill Funderburk, who represents Miramar and
has defended about 100 Proposition 65 cases.
Sole practitioner Scott D. Pinsky, formerly a partner at Radcliff, Frandsen & Dongell, represents Aroma Vera Inc. and its owner Marcel Lavabre in two lawsuits brought by Mehrban’s mother and an organization called National Council Against Health Fraud Inc. Both suits were filed by Mehrban
The case brought by Mehrban’s mother was for false advertising and unfair business practices. Aroma Vera markets aromatherapy herbs and oils. Efraim claims she heard a radio advertisement for the company and bought one of its products that was touted to increase intelligence. She claims it did not work..
During discovery on that case, Efraim testified with the help of a Farsi interpreter. She said she does not understand English, but had help translating the Aroma Vera radio advertisement. The company does not advertise on the radio, Pinsky said.
In dismissing the case, Superior Court Judge David Horowitz said: "The testimoney makes clear that Efraim had virtually no knowledge concerning her claims made against plaintiffs in the underlying suit ... Further, her testimony concerning alleged radio advertisements of plaintiff was seriously impeached."
Portions of the complaint brought by the National Council are on appeal following summary judgment for the defendants. Aroma Vera has filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Mehrban and his mother. Pinsky said litigating against Mehrban is like nothing he has ever done before, and he describes what he believes to be a pattern of offensiveness and paranoia by Mehrban.
"The manner in which he does everything is so extreme," Pinsky said.
Mehrban has a practice of ad hominem attacks, bringing what should be straight-forward litigation to an inappropriate personal level, Pinsky said.
As an example, Pinsky refers to a letter from Mehrban on Nov. 6 in which he calls the malicious prosecution "oppressive harassment" and very dangerous."
"Since the institution of the this action, I have been forced to repeatedly seek and obtain medical and psychiatric treatment and consultation, and take daily doses of a potent anti-depressant with serious side effects, including impotence," Mehrban wrote. "
Your office and your client have caused me to consider suicide daily.... Therefore, I am warning you that if anything happens to me, you and your clients ultimately will be held responsible. You would be well-advised to dismiss this action."
He is thrusting his personal predicament into litigation as if it should be considered a relevant issue on the merits," Pinsky said.
Mehrban said his victories have come in the form of settlements in which retailers have agreed to use warning labels and post signs regarding the Dangers of alcohol and tobacco products.
Some of the major corporations he has sued have apparently settled for undisclosed terms. Chronis, however, notes that the Beverly Hilton hotel paid $15,000 in penalties and attorney fees.
"It is shocking to learn that the Hilton chain elected to pay $15,000 just to get rid of the bother of these gadflies. It is a pity, that, with their resources, they did not fight for the principle involved," Chronis states in court documents.
Mehrban knows what attorneys and judges say about him. But they are wrong, he says.
His family immigrated to Los Angeles in 1981 to escape oppression in their native Iran, he said, and his parents encouraged him to go to law school to bring about positive change for what he said is corporate oppression in the United States.
He graduated from Southwestern University School of Law in 1993 and eventually went into practice for himself, focusing mostly on consumer and environmental law protection, as well as unfair business practices and false advertising.
Mehrban relies heavily on Proposition 65 and the Business and Professions Code to fight for his cause, saying these California statutes are unique in that anyone can file a lawsuit on behalf of consumers.
Mehrban said he is shocked at the response he has received from the courts. He has thought about giving up, he said, but he chose this practice area and intends to stick it out. "I’m here to stay and I’m not going away."