Lawsuit against The Helm dropped

Landlord Robert "Zeb" Ziemer can now claim a small victory for his Costa Mesa bar that recently closed after 23 years of business.

A lawsuit alleging that The Helm did not meet American with Disabilities Act standards has been dropped, according to court records.

John F. Fackler filed the lawsuit in June 2010, naming Helm owner Myron Miller and Ziemer as defendants. Fackler, a paraplegic, claimed he had gone to the bar on Jan. 25, 2009, to shoot pool and was unable to access the restrooms.

In a July interview, Ziemer, 80, called the lawsuit an act of "extortion." He said the mounting legal fees made him eventually raise the rent on Miller, which caused the bar's closure.

Attorney Colin Burns represented Ziemer and confirmed that the case was dismissed Monday — the same day the jury trial was scheduled. Burns said there was no settlement.

"We advised Judge [Derek] Hunt that Fackler had a history of suing bars," Burns said in a statement to the Daily Pilot. "We argued that we didn't think Fackler ever visited The Helm. Fackler was unable to move forward and Judge Hunt threw the case out."

Burns said Fackler's attorney cited medical reasons.

Court records confirm that the ADA suit wasn't Fackler's first.

He filed similar complaints against Newport Beach bars, such as Blackie's by the Sea, the Beach Ball, the Stag Bar (now the District Lounge) and the Balboa Saloon.

The suit against Balboa Saloon was dismissed. The Stag Bar has a jury trial scheduled for Jan. 30. Blackie's and Beach Ball, which are defendants in the same suit, have a jury trial scheduled for Dec. 5.

In Burns' statement to the Pilot, he pointed out that Fackler's complaints said he went to the four Newport Beach bars the same day as The Helm.

"In light of those four other claims, it appeared to us that Fackler is a professional plaintiff, making money by suing bars for access violations," Burns said.

In his complaint, Fackler said his injuries were "modest in scope and did not result in any loss of wages or economic damage or medical care or attention," but the incident caused "unpleasant emotional distress."

Fackler was represented by the San Diego-based Center for Disability Access. The center did not return calls seeking comment.

In a July interview, Ziemer said most patrons know that the adjacent Goat Hill Tavern, which he owns, has ADA-compliant restrooms.

He said that ADA law stipulates older buildings must upgrade when renovations are made and that The Helm had not yet been remodeled.

The space formerly occupied by The Helm is being converted to a martini bar, which will meet ADA specifications, he said.

"I won't back down. I'm not paying these bums," Ziemer said. "I had full intentions for staying in court for years. I would pursue it until I won. It's extortion. It should be outlawed."

Mutt Lynch's on the Balboa Peninsula is facing two lawsuits as well.

Dan Lynch, the tenant and bar owner, said two months ago he heard the property was being sued by two parties who claimed the space's bathrooms are not ADA-compliant.

Lynch conceded that the second-story restrooms aren't compliant.

Bernard Taruc has filed a complaint with the Orange County Superior Court against the landlord, Rene Barge. The second party, Paul Miller and his attorney Joshua H. Watson, gave Mutt Lynch's notice that they intend to file.

Taruc is willing to settle for at least $4,000 with Barge, but Lynch is concerned that settling would not fix the problem.

Lynch estimates that the building was erected in the 1930s; he started renting the space in 1982, when he converted it to a bar. Since then, no renovations have been made.

Lynch has spent the last couple months searching for answers for himself and Barge, and going to the city and the ADA. Taruc's case is against Barge's business, Hank's Ocean Front Restaurant Inc.

Hunt has been assigned to this case as well. A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 13.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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