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O.C. Store Owners Sue Lawyer

Times Staff Writer

Attorney Harpreet S. Brar is appealing a $1.8-million penalty for filing nuisance suits. His law license is in jeopardy. And a judge has ordered him to stop filing consumer-protection lawsuits.

Even so, Brar recently sued dozens of Orange County liquor stores, accusing them of improperly charging ATM fees.

Now the tables have turned.

More than 30 store owners have sued Brar in Orange County Superior Court, their attorney announced Tuesday, alleging that the Brea lawyer was abusing the legal system. The plaintiffs are asking for unspecified damages.

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Vinod Kapoor, owner of Crown Empire Liquor in Garden Grove, didn’t want to pay the $1,000 settlement offer Brar enclosed with a copy of the lawsuit. “He is trying to take advantage of small businesses with his fraudulent tactics,” said Kapoor, 62, who has been in the liquor store business for 25 years. “We sued him because he needed to be taught a lesson.”

Brar’s suit against the Orange County store owners follows similar claims against hundreds of store owners in Los Angeles County.

He has accused all of them of illegally collecting debit transaction fees from one client -- his wife, Satinder Brar.

She is scheduled to testify in a deposition Sept. 9, and a motion to dismiss her husband’s suit is set to be heard Sept. 19 in Judge John M. Watson’s Santa Ana courtroom.

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The store owners contesting the suit also deny that they did not display the proper signs informing customers of their ATM fees. In Kapoor’s store, for example, there are signs on the counter and on the PIN pad. He has added two more large signs on the counter since being sued.

The recent wave of lawsuits comes while Brar is appealing an October verdict in which he was ordered to pay the state $1.8 million and reimburse $10,200 in fees paid him by 10 nail salons he had sued in 2003. He was also barred from filing other consumer-protection lawsuits, and the California Supreme Court is considering suspending his law license.

Many business owners sued by Brar chose to pay him whatever he demanded rather than spend the time and money to hire an attorney and go to court, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Brar did not return calls seeking comment.

After learning about Brar’s legal skirmishes via the Internet, store owner Kapoor mobilized his Orange County colleagues. At an Aug. 21 meeting in the parking lot of a Garden Grove liquor store, attorney Dilip M. Vithlani of Norwalk offered to represent the owners for free if each paid $330.50 in filing costs for the suit.

The settlement offer Brar had mailed to each owner requested two $500 checks, one to be cashed Aug. 15 and the other Sept. 15.

“What is happening is wrong,” Vithlani said. “To think that someone can come in and take $1,000 for nothing seems absurd to me.”

By suing only small businesses, Brar seemed to target relatively uneducated and inexperienced people, Kapoor said. The fees will be worth it, Kapoor said, if Brar stops suing small-business owners.

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“Most owners get scared right when they hear the word ‘attorney’ and will pay just to make the issue go away,” he said. “But just because we are not 7-Eleven or Circle K doesn’t mean he can target us.”


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