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Jewish Journal

Shangri-La Hotel owner seeks new trial

by Jonah Lowenfeld

January 2, 2013 | 1:03 pm

The Hotel Shangri-La faces the ocean and has a history of upscale celebrity clients. A part-owner ousted a group of young Jews, then was sued for discrimination. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

The Hotel Shangri-La faces the ocean and has a history of upscale celebrity clients. A part-owner ousted a group of young Jews, then was sued for discrimination. Photo by Dan Kacvinski

The Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its partial-owner, Tehmina Adaya, who in August 2012 were found guilty in a jury trial of unlawfully discriminating against a group of young Jews, have begun the process of requesting a new trial. 

Attorneys for Adaya and the hotel filed three motions in California Superior Court on Dec. 24, including one outlining what they call legal defects in the previous judgment and another declaring their intent to request a new trial. A hearing on these motions is set for Jan. 31. 

The 19 plaintiffs accused Adaya of discriminating against them when she abruptly shut down a poolside party being held by the Young Leadership Division of the local chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) at the Shangri-La in July 2010. 

Jurors found Adaya and the hotel had violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that ensures equal accommodations be provided by private businesses to all people regardless of “sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation.”

Jurors awarded the plaintiffs statutory, compensatory and punitive damages amounting to more than $1.6 million. 

Adaya denied having discriminated against the group of plaintiffs in her testimony during the trial, and she reiterated her stance in a recent interview with the Journal.

“I didn’t do anything they accused me of,” said Adaya, standing in the main sanctuary at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena after a session at the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s annual conference in December. “Nothing. That’s not who I am.”

Adaya said she was unhappy with the performance by her lawyers during the trial; a new attorney, Steven Huskey, a partner at the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, is now leading the appeal effort.

“It’s certainly challenging to come in at this stage of the game,” Huskey said. “We think mistakes were made legally and in the pursuit of justice.”

The request for a new trial did not come as a surprise to James Turken, who represented the plaintiffs. “She has an absolute right to an appeal in the state of California,” he said. 

Turken represented the young Jewish plaintiffs on a contingency basis; in December, he filed a motion seeking $2.2 million in attorneys’ fees from Adaya and the hotel. Huskey said he intends to file a motion in opposition to Turken’s.

Despite the pending appeal, plans for a party to be held at the hotel by two Zionist organizations are moving forward.

The party is one of a number of compensatory gestures made by Adaya and the Shangri-La following the verdict. When the Western Region of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) announced plans to stage a protest outside the hotel to express the “outrage” of the Jewish community, the hotel began negotiations with the group, and ZOA called off the protest after Adaya made contributions to two Israeli nonprofits. The hotel also agreed to host a ZOA party within one year.

Although ZOA closed its office in Los Angeles in November and dismissed Orit Arfa, its regional executive director here, Arfa said she is moving ahead with plans for a Purim-themed party on Feb. 24, staged under the banner of a new organization she has established, the Creative Zionist Coalition. ZOA’s Western Region, which is now based in San Francisco, will co-sponsor the event, Arfa said.

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