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Jewish Journal

Closing arguments in Hotel Shangri-La discrimination trial

by Jonah Lowenfeld

August 8, 2012 | 7:15 pm

The Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica. Photo 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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