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BARS SUED OVER SMOKING LAWYERS PLAN CLASS ACTION.

Byline: Orith Goldberg Staff Writer

WOODLAND HILLS - Embarking on a strategy to force bar owners to comply with California's smoking ban in bars, two lawyers on Wednesday encouraged fed-up bar patrons to file small-claims lawsuits.

Two such lawsuits are pending and lawyers say they plan to file a civil rights lawsuit against noncomplying bar owners and their landlords.

Attorney John Birke, and his acquaintance, Caryl Dodd of Woodland Hills, both filed small-claims lawsuits against two different bar owners for not enforcing the law enacted Jan. 1, 1998.

When Dodd went into the Candy Canyon bar in Woodland Hills to apply for a job a few weeks ago, she noticed a number of people smoking, including the owner. Dodd said she told them that allowing smoking violated the law, but the owner just shrugged.

Dodd filed a small-claims lawsuit seeking punitive damages of $500 against the bar owner June 30.

``I'm not in this to make money, I'm in it to have the law enforced,'' said the woman, who worked for Pan American Airlines for 15 years when smoking was permitted on airplanes.

Birke, who said he has a history of asthma, sued the owner of the Le Cannon lounge in Woodland Hills, after he went into the establishment about a month ago and noticed that ashtrays were out and a dozen people were smoking.

Aside from his small-claims lawsuit, Birke has teamed up with attorney Michael R. Sohigian to file a civil rights lawsuit based on the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit will likely allege public nuisance, unfair trade practices, battery and conspiracy.

The plaintiff in the planned action, whose name has not yet been released, had completed bartending school and found many of the establishments where she applied for a job did not heed the law.

While the owner of Le Cannon declined comment on the small-claims lawsuit, a patron at the bar Wednesday afternoon expressed frustration both with the lawsuits against bar owners and the law.

``People go to bars because wives won't let you smoke at home,'' said 50-year-old Damian Evans, who lives around the corner from the bar and said he patronizes it every other day. ``You go to the bar and have a beer and smoke.''

Evans said he would be less likely to patronize a bar where the owner complies with the ban. ``This is the only state . . . that has such an asinine law, and it's initiated by people who don't go to bars,'' he said.

Enforcement of the law falls to the Los Angeles Fire Department, which has only two investigators to check for smoking rules violations.

But spokesman Brian Humphrey said the department takes the enforcement seriously and has established a toll-free phone number - (888) 333-0730 - for the public to report violators.

When an initial report is made, a warning is sent to the owner explaining the state law. When a second complaint is received, an investigator is sent to the location. If it is determined that there is an infraction, the business will be fined $100, Humphrey said.

A second infraction warrants a fine of $200 and a third, $500. After the third violation, Cal-OSHA steps in and could fine the business as much as $7,000, Humphrey said.

Patrons who smoke inside a tavern can be fined between $81 and $324.

``Many people step outside to have a cigarette and then come back in to be in compliance with the law,'' Humphrey said. ``We thank them.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 13, 2000
Words:578
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