David Marc Greenstein sued UPS for ruining his rare Star Trek posters.
He sued Slim Fast for putting diet bars in packages he thought were misleadingly big. He sued a Van Nuys store he accused of saying they had a certain tile in stock when they didn't. He sued a dog training service that he said failed to train his German shepherd and his poodle.
He sued his ex-wife. He got his current wife to sue her hairdresser for cutting her tresses too short before the wedding. He sued the wedding photographer--four times.
And when the businessmen he sued grumbled about him, he sued them again for slander.
Greenstein, 57, of Woodland Hills, has filed more than 100 lawsuits. It may be 200, he says, but in any case, so many lawsuits that he can't remember just what his total is. He is becoming a sort of legend in the Los Angeles legal system and to his opponents a prime example of the need for a law to restrain what are called "vexatious litigators."
A disbarred attorney, Greenstein said in an interview that he sues out of a passion for justice rather than wealth, making about $1 an hour on his low-sum lawsuits. He expects to be viewed, he said, as "a cross between Don Quixote, Ralph Nader and Charles Keating."
Many he has sued have harsher assessments. In countersuits, at least six San Fernando Valley businesses accuse Greenstein of taking their merchandise or services and refusing to pay them.
Some legal experts say Greenstein--whose license to practice law was revoked after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit grand theft auto--shows the damage a skilled litigator can inflict if he carefully chooses his targets.
"A little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous," said Chris Cameron, a professor at Southwestern School of Law. "If it's an attorney, it just takes it up a notch because they know even more levers to pull."
"For him to file costs $40, $50. For me to defend myself will cost thousands," said Art Davis, a businessman enmeshed in a three-year legal battle with Greenstein. "We have no protection against people like this."
There is, however, a little-known state law restraining chronic filers of frivolous lawsuits if they qualify under the statute for classification as vexatious litigators.
Greenstein has filed more lawsuits than most of the 79 people classed by Los Angeles County courts as vexatious litigators, most of whose lawsuits are numbered by the dozen.
To be classed vexatious, litigators must lose five cases in seven years, and a judge must rule that their cases are frivolous, barring them from filing any more without court permission.
Greenstein does not fall under the statute because he wins most of his cases, often settling before trial. Four cases have gone against him, but he disputes that they would all be considered "losses" under the statute.
"People look and say 200 cases, it's gotta be a scam," Greenstein said. "But if you go and look at each case, if you look at the outcome," they are all merited.
Some who have settled with Greenstein say they felt bullied into it. "When you're looking at your children and your house and everything you own, and somebody is saying, 'I'm going to take this away from you unless you do exactly what I say,' you get scared," said one 37-year-old mother of four who settled one of Greenstein's suits.
Greenstein has a lighter side--he is a passionate "Star Trek" fan who once showed up for a conference at a rival attorney's office in full Star Fleet officer costume.
He built and is now managing director of the Enterprise Bed and Breakfast, an inn in the Cayman Islands with a "Star Trek" theme, adorned with flags of allied planets.
He says he was expelled from Van Nuys High School because he made too many speeches in the courtyard, and he had an early encounter with the law when, at 18, he shot his father to death to protect his mother.
Greenstein says he was wounded during the encounter with his estranged father, a trucker who arrived at his mother's home in a rage and threatened to kill them. Instead, the elder man was killed as he and Greenstein struggled over a pistol, a death ruled a justifiable homicide.
Even before his first brush with the criminal justice system, Greenstein had been fascinated with the law. After the shooting, he spent his spare time sitting in Valley courtrooms. After several years of working odd jobs, he enrolled in night school at the University of San Fernando College of Law, earning his law degree in 1968 and opening an office in Encino in 1969.
A year later, the law practice landed him in jail. According to a report from the State Bar of California on his disbarment, Greenstein backdated records to aid a client who was arrested while dismantling Greenstein's own Porsche. Both men were charged with conspiracy to commit grand theft auto, for purposes of insurance fraud, and two counts of grand theft. Greenstein was initially released on bail, but was sent back to jail after he was charged with soliciting one client to kill another.