Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Attorneys presented their closing arguments on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the discrimination trial brought by members of a pro-Israel group against the owner of a boutique hotel in Santa Monica.
After a trial that had lasted nearly 10 days, the jurors listened as lawyers for the two sides attempted to frame the case before deliberations began.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, James Turken, argued that his clients, who include more than a dozen members of the young leadership division of the Los Angeles chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF), had been the victims of discrimination when the owner of the Hotel Shangri-La shut down an event they were holding on July 11, 2010, at the pool in her hotel.
The evidence presented during the trial, Turken said, showed that the FIDF group had an agreement with the hotel, that the hotel’s owner had acted against them only after finding out what type of group they were and that those actions caused his clients “severe emotional distress.”
“They underwent systematic, severe discrimination and hate, not something mild,” Turken said, urging the jury to award damages to his 18 individual clients amounting to tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
John Levitt, the defense attorney representing the hotel and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, a Pakistani-born, Muslim-American, rejected the claim that his client had denied the FIDF members full, adequate and equal “accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges or services because of their Jewish religion, ancestry or national origin.”
To have been victims of discrimination, Levitt argued, the plaintiffs “had to have been entitled” to the accommodations and privileges they say that Adaya denied them, including use of the pool and the right to display banners and distribute literature.
“The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the evidence shows they weren’t entitled to any of these things,” Levitt said.
Following Levitt’s closing argument, Turken, in his rebuttal, made specific mention of the fact the defense only called two witnesses to testify in the case, only one of whom was present at the hotel on the day of the event that led to this case.
After the jury left the chamber, the lawyers thanked presiding Judge H. Chester Horn, Jr.
“It was a very, very interesting trial,” Horn said.
Meanwhile, a few of the plaintiffs chatted outside the courtroom.
Scott Paletz, who had spent five hours on the witness stand during the trial, sits at its center, and defense attorneys have argued that he, as the event promoter who brought the FIDF group to the Shangri-La for the ill-fated event and initially acted as a go-between for the two parties, didn’t perform his job adequately.
Paletz denies that charge, and said he was certain that what he and the other plaintiffs experienced at the Shangri-La was, in fact, discrimination. But he acknowledged that it might be hard to convey that to others.
“If you weren’t there that day, you don’t know what happened,” Paletz said. Still, he had faith in the jury, which began deliberations immediately following the closing arguments.
“We have to put our faith in the system,” Paletz said.
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August 2, 2012 | 3:51 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Until she testified in court on Aug. 1, Tehmina Adaya, who is part owner, president and CEO of the Hotel Shangri-La, was a silent but constant presence in the discrimination lawsuit brought against her and her hotel.
During the first few days of witness testimony, while most of the plaintiffs – a group of young Jewish members of a pro-Israel group – sat in a group near the back of the courtroom, Adaya could frequently be found in a rolling office chair, situated just a few feet behind her team of defense attorneys. And the witnesses who testified in this case – in which Adaya is accused of abruptly shutting down a party being held at the hotel’s pool in July 2010 that was organized by the local young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) – often talked about her.
When she took the stand on Aug 1, the jury (and a larger than usual number of observers) finally got to hear Adaya explain, in her own words, how the FIDF party went so wrong.
Most of the two hours Adaya spent on the witness stand on Wednesday morning was devoted to learning what she did and did not know about the FIDF group’s July 11, 2010, event.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, James Turken, peppered Adaya with questions about whether she herself checked the hotel calendar to see if the event was listed there (Adaya said she hadn’t, but that she had assigned her head of security to do so), whether she contacted anyone in charge of booking events at the hotel during the event to determine whether the FIDF group had a right to be there (Adaya said she tried to but was unable to reach anyone over the phone) and whether there existed some written hotel policy governing what groups holding events on the pool deck are or are not allowed to do (Adaya said that such a policy existed, but not in writing).
On this last point, Adaya said that today, a sign stands on the pool deck informing visitors that only guests of the hotel and people who have rented cabanas are entitled to swim in the pool. Asked whether such a sign was posted on the day of the FIDF event, however, Adaya responded, “I’m not sure.”
For a case involving charges of anti-Semitism, Adaya’s testimony on Wednesday morning might have seemed rather technical to some in the courtroom, and never more so than when Adaya was asked to explain the relationship between the hotel, which she runs, and the separate company called Domalury, that runs the food and beverage concessions in the hotel, including the poolside eating area.
At least one juror had a confused look on his face as Adaya said that third parties – like event promoters – could be expected to know that the Domalury was a separate entity from the Hotel Shangri-La because they would occasionally bill the hotel and receive checks from the food and beverage concessionaire.
Among the evidence introduced in the morning session was an image from the hotel’s Facebook page, advertising a public poolside party to watch the World Cup at the hotel, as well as undated pictures from unidentified parties that had been thrown at the hotel pool. Also displayed for the jury was an image from Adaya’s personal website, which included an entry in which she described spending a “languorous” day by the pool on July 11, 2010, with some of her “really good friends.”
Turken asked Adaya if the FIDF group had been causing her a problem that day.
“Define ‘problem,’” she said.
“I really can’t, ma’am,” Turken said.
“There was a problem because we didn’t know whether they were authorized to do what they were doing,” Adaya said.
Turken followed with a series of about five rapid-fire questions. Were the members of the FIDF group creating a disturbance? Were they acting in a drunken or disorderly way? Were they creating problems?
No, was Adaya’s response to all the questions.
Adaya’s testimony continued into the afternoon on Wednesday; the hotel’s head of security was also expected to testify at the trial that day. The trial, which resumed for a fifth day of witness testimony on Aug. 2, is expected to continue for another week.