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August 10, 2012

No verdict from jury in Shangri-La case after first day of deliberations [UPDATED]

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/no_verdict_from_jury_in_shangri-la_case_after_first_day_of_deliberations_20/

Photo

The Los Angeles Superior Court in Santa Monica, where the jury in the Hotel Shangri-La discrimination case convened for a second day of deliberations on Friday, Aug. 10. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld

UPDATE: As of 4:35 pm on Friday, Aug. 10, the jury had yet to come back with a verdict in the case. Deliberations are set to resume on Monday morning.

The jury in the discrimination case brought by members of a pro-Israel group against the Hotel Shangri-La and its owner ended its first day of deliberations on Thursday, Aug. 9, without returning a verdict.

Attorneys for both sides delivered closing statements on Wednesday, Aug. 8. As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, the jury had not reached a verdict.

Tthere are 18 individual plaintiffs and one business entity involved in this suit against the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner, Tehmina Adaya, and the 12-person jury must consider each one separately. The case includes multiple claims made by each plaintiff; were the jury to find in favor of any or all of the plaintiffs, jurors would also have to decide in each case whether to hold Adaya, the hotel or both culpable of discrimination, and would need to decide how much money, if any to award in damages.

On all these matters, at least nine jurors have to agree on any decision before moving on to the next one.

And then there’s the added wrinkle that many of the facts in this case are contested – not least of them, whether the hotel owner is herself anti-Semitic

“The cases that we find the most troubling, the most difficult to deal with, are ‘He said, She said’ cases,” Alison Mayersohn, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said.

On July 11, 2010, the plaintiffs in this case, a group of young Jews in their 20s and 30s held a party at the Shangri-La’s pool. They allege that Adaya, a Pakistani-born Muslim, brought the party to an end after learning it had been organized by the young leadership division of the Los Angeles chapter of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).

The defense in this case maintains that no agreement had been reached between the hotel and the plaintiffs in advance of the party, which was organized by a promoter, and that the hotel was only following its own policies. Adaya, who was called to take the stand early in the trial by the plaintiffs’ attorney James Turken, denied she had acted in a discriminatory way, and denied ever making any comments about wanting “the [expletive] Jews” out of her hotel.

Mayersohn said the ADL had heard about the incident that ultimately led to this trial when it first occurred two years ago, and reached out to some of the plaintiffs at the time, but was ultimately not consulted on this case.

“We just couldn’t get any information,” Mayersohn said. “It seemed at the time that maybe people didn’t want to talk to us.”

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which often comments on cases of discrimination against Jews, also was not officially involved in this case, although Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said he had been consulted by one of the plaintiffs in a personal capacity.

Cooper said the plaintiff, whose name he declined to state, was “an individual with integrity, not someone with an axe to grind.” As a result, Cooper believes that the allegations made by the plaintiffs against Adaya and the hotel happened “did take place.”

More importantly, Cooper said that the case sent a signal that anti-Semitism would not be tolerated.

“The fact that there was a lawsuit, that it went to trial, that the judicial system thought it serious enough that it merited one…itself is a very important thing, win or lose,” Cooper said.

Muslim civil rights groups have also not been involved in this case.

“We’re just following the news,” said Munira Syeda, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The jury is scheduled to resume deliberations in the Santa Monica courthouse on Friday. According to a court employee, juries often conclude their deliberations by the end of the day on Friday, as many jurors are reluctant to return to the courthouse on a Monday. In an email sent to the Journal the end of the day on Thursday, Aug. 9, confirming that no verdict had been returned by the jury, Turken said that he “would suspect [we] will have one tomorrow.”

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