Two Newport Beach law firms are being sued on allegations of filing fraudulent civil-rights lawsuits against individuals and small-business owners, the Riverside County district attorney’s office said.
Prosecutors said the defendants, which also include four lawyers and another individual, filed suits alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, including more than 100 cases in Riverside alone.
Riverside County prosecutors filed a civil case April 24 against Craig Gerald Cote, 67, of Huntington Beach, Babak Hashemi, 40, of Lake Forest, Joseph Richard Manning, 50, of San Clemente, Michael John Manning, 43, of San Clemente and James Rutherford, 66, of Rancho Mirage. All but Rutherford are attorneys.
Also listed as defendants are Newport Beach law firms Manning Law APC and the Law Offices of Babak Hashemi, according to court records.
The defendants were served with the case Monday, court records show.
Rutherford also has been a plaintiff in more than 200 ADA-related lawsuits filed by the lawyer defendants in Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, including one last year against a Laguna Beach hotel, according to prosecutors and court records. The Laguna case was dismissed by a judge in December.
The civil suit alleges the defendants violated the Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law outlined in California’s Business and Professions Code, the district attorney’s office said.
“The ADA laws are designed to help and protect disabled persons. The individuals who make false statements in court and the attorneys who manipulate these laws do so for the purpose of illegitimate financial gain,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement. “These abuses not only hurt the specific small-business owners, they also jeopardize the long-term legal protections of the disabled persons these laws were designed to help.”
A court date in the case is scheduled for June 24, according to Riverside County Superior Court records.
The DA’s office said anyone with information about the case can contact Senior Investigator Joel Pabelico at ADAvictim@rivcoda.org.