August 22, 2012
The story behind the Hotel Shangri-La anti-Semitism trial
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While California law allows an absolute right to appeal, it’s hardly a given that such a pursuit in this case will be successful.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, explained that either side in a case can appeal a verdict on the basis of errors made by a judge during a trial with respect to admitting or barring certain evidence from consideration by the jury, however “a jury’s finding of facts can’t be overturned.”
In this case, Chemerinsky said, the single most influential fact considered by the jury may have been “the smoking gun of the statements” alleged to have been made by Adaya.
A former employee at the hotel testified in a deposition to having been told by Adaya to “Get these [expletive] Jews out of my hotel.” Although the former employee, Nathan Codrey, did not appear in person to testify at trial, and Adaya denied having made the statements in question, Codrey’s deposition, which was read in court, is likely to have helped cement the jury’s impression of the defendant as someone acting on prejudicial impulses.
After the trial, some of the jurors spoke with Turken — which is common after a trial, he said — to tell him how they perceived the evidence.
“The ones I spoke to thought there wasn’t any question that the [FIDF] group was supposed to be there, and there wasn’t any question for them that Ms. Adaya had done it all,” Turken said.
Joseph Grodin, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court and professor emeritus at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, said that the Unruh Act, although originally adopted to deal with race discrimination in California, has always offered protection from religious discrimination and has been expanded since its adoption in 1959 to protect Californians from being discriminated against for their sex or sexual orientation as well.
“As I understand it,” Grodin said, “this is a fairly straightforward claim of the Unruh Act, that Jews were being discriminated against because they were Jews.”
As far as lawyers go, Turken might seem a somewhat unlikely crusader for civil rights.
An experienced litigator, Turken mostly defends corporations. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, the organizations that typically speak up when the rights of Jews are violated did not get involved in this matter, and when Turken first met the plaintiffs in this discrimination case, he liked them and wanted to help.
Turken grew up in Los Angeles, is a member of Sinai Temple and has been a longtime supporter of the American Technion Society; that he had some personal affinity for his clients isn’t wholly surprising.
“But the reason I got involved in this is about a group of young people that experienced egregious discrimination,” Turken said, “and refused to put up with it.”
Turken runs the three California offices for the national law firm of Dickstein Shapiro, and the firm, he said, “was willing to make the commitment” to the case, taking it on on a contingency basis.
Less than a week after the end of the Shangri-La trial, though, Turken said he was scheduled to be back in court on a case more typical for him, involving a dispute between a company and its shareholders.
“We’re getting back to normal,” he said.
But for at least some of the plaintiffs, moving on isn’t so easy.
When the verdict came back, Scott Paletz, the owner of the event promotion business that made the initial connection between the FIDF group and the Shangri-La, who was also an individual plaintiff in the case, quickly called members of his family.
“They were happy that this was — at this point — over, and we had a favorable verdict,” he said. “And that I didn’t have to deal with it.”
But Paletz, whose company was awarded about $50,000 in the verdict and whose personal award came out to about $30,000 in damages, said his business had lost more money than those awards accounted for. Paletz said that prior to the FIDF event, he’d had an oral arrangement with the Shangri-La to promote parties at its pool for the whole summer of 2010 — an agreement that was terminated the day after the July 11 FIDF event.
“The jury did not understand my business’ damages,” Paletz said. “The hotel owed us quite a bit of money up until that date, not including the money that would have been made, even through the rest of the summer.”
Among the other individual plaintiffs, more than one used the word “relief” to describe their feelings after the verdict came back.
Jordan Freedman had tears in her eyes as the jury’s award in her case — $180,000, not including punitive damages — was read aloud. But being relieved not to have to go back to a courthouse isn’t the same as getting back to “normal.”
“The experience of being banished from a public place because of my religion will forever affect me,” Freedman wrote in a Facebook message to The Journal. “There are simply no words to describe the impact it has had on my life. The comfort I take from this ordeal is that people will continue to be held responsible for their words and actions, and hopefully more people will be spared from this kind of discrimination in the future. “
Lou Sokolovskiy, who said the experience at the Shangri-La reminded him of what it was like growing up as a Jew in the Soviet Union, said he was “very happy” to be able to put behind him the “long and quite emotionally draining process” of taking the case to trial. (His award, not including punitive damages, amounted to $115,000.)
There was intense media interest in the trial — Israeli press outlets, local American Jewish newspapers, and even The New York Times could not resist this made-for-a-headline story of a Muslim businesswoman who was found to have discriminated against the Jewish members of a pro-Israel group. Nevertheless, Sokolovskiy said he was surprised at just how many people in his community had paid attention to the proceedings.
“When I came to my shul [synagogue] this past Saturday morning,” Sokolovskiy said on the Monday after the trial ended, “I was greeted as a celebrity. Everybody came over and congratulated me. I got an aliyah just because we won this trial.
“I was shocked. Those two years — waiting, and being deposed and getting on the stand — was worthwhile,” Sokolovskiy added.
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