Sikh Dharma Worldwide Legal Fund's notes

by Gursant Singh ⌂ @, Yuba City California USA, Wednesday, June 02, 2010, 12:48 (4036 days ago) @ Gursant Singh

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March 20, 2010 - Further clarification on the lawsuit by Hari Nam Singh (Portland, OR). Tuesday, 30 March 2010 at 17:46
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Khalsa Council,

As promised, I would like to present my own perspective of what has happened up to this point in regard to the lawsuit, and in particular to this issue of "standing". Many people have called or written me about all this, so perhaps it would be a more efficient use of my time and energy to lay all of this out as fairly and concisely as I can.

The proceedings in Multnomah County Circuit Court have provoked, in my opinion, an onslaught of rumors, misinformation, "spin" and conjecture. Some of this is due to simple lack of understanding of the complexity of the legal issues involved. Some of it no doubt is due to "grandstanding" and "rooting for the home team." I have been unabashed in my support for this suit and what it stands for. However, my bias regarding the outcome of the case has in no way clouded my neutrality and clarity about what is actually happening in the courtroom. It's a place I'm very familiar with and I do understand exactly where this case sits. I'll do my best to boil it down to its essence and hopefully that will be sufficient for those of you out there looking for more clarification.

1. We are still at the pre-trial stage and this may still go on for awhile. Normally in any case, but particularly in a case as complex as this one, there is a lot of jockeying for position before the main event (assuming there will be a "main event", but more on that later). This case is no exception. Let me take you through some of these preliminary bouts.

2. Defendants moved to have our attorneys removed, more or less taking the position that since the SDI board was lawfully removed (in their opinion) from their positions and the attorneys were representing that group of people, the attorneys really had no client to represent and they certainly had no authority from UI/SDS to sue defendants. The judge DID NOT grant defendants' motion to remove counsel; meaning, the attorneys still are very much on the case and the judge has not come close to saying that there is no rightful plaintiff in the court or no real client for the attorneys to represent.

3. Plaintiffs also moved to remove Roy Lambert and his law firm from the case, primarily due to conflict of interest; i.e., Mr. Lambert was legal counsel for the original SDI Board, had knowledge of its inner workings and historical facts, thus could not now fairly represent another party against the interests of the very group of people he had previously represented. The judge also denied plaintiffs' motion to remove counsel and for this reason....even though the judge herself was clear that Lambert's involvement at this point in time did not pass "the smell test", plaintiffs were not able to show specifically how they would be prejudiced by Mr. Lambert's continued participation in the case, which is necessary to get him removed. The judge did however gratuitously share with him that if she were him, she'd be concerned that the dual representation could eventually lead to a malpractice suit or bar complaint. This is one of the subtleties of the legal system that people have had difficulty wrapping their brain around. If somebody is engaging in conduct that could very well lead to malpractice or disbarment, how can he still remain on the case. And I guess my answer unfortunately is, that's the way it is. Unless we show specifically, not hypothetically, how our case will be prejudiced, she has no grounds to remove him. (I'm not saying that there aren't grounds to challenge the judge's legal ruling, but I do understand her reasoning).

4. The plaintiffs also had on the table a motion for restraining order,ostensibly to prevent the sale of part or all of the business being sold off by the plaintiffs before the case was resolved. At the last moment, the parties entered into a stipulation whereby plaintiffs would not oppose the sale of the cereal business and defendants agreed to do or not do various things, including putting the proceeds of the sale into escrow. The terms of that stipulation were stated in great detail in previous emails, so I will not go through them again. But I do want to repeat what I mentioned in an earlier correspondence and that is that without having filed this lawsuit we would have not received any of these concessions whatsoever and who knows how far they would have already gone. The fact is that the attorneys for defendants only felt compelled to negotiate because they were unwilling to invite the possibility that the judge would somehow nullify a multimillion dollar sale that was all but done. These kinds of 11 o'clock deals are also very common in pretrial maneuvering.

5. More recently, defendants brought a motion to dismiss, and this was the matter just heard before the court. There has been probably more misunderstanding regarding this court hearing than any other aspect of the case. It is correct that the judge ultimately ruled that the members of the original SDI Board did not have "legal standing" within the scope of that role. And people are responding, "That's outrageous, this is a total sham, this is a miscarriage of justice." OK, here we go.

What is "standing" in a legal case?

a) You have a clearly identifiable individual or legal entity,

b) That person has suffered an identifiable legal harm (i.e., I was wrongfully discharged and that cost me $50G),

c) The plaintiff is able to state the remedy the court should grant if he/she proves his/her case, and

d) This is actually the type of legal claim that this court has the authority to adjudicate. I'm not here to advocate a legal position. Perhaps the judge's ruling on this particular issue will be appealed sometime up the road. However, I do understand where she is coming from and I don't think it was completely off-base. However, contrary to the defendant's throwing a premature champagne party celebrating total victory (as evidenced by Ek Ong Kaar's recent email on behalf of the defendants), helloooooo.....one thing that was not mentioned.....the judge DID NOT, I repeat DID NOT grant the motion to dismiss. To the contrary, the hearing (the longest pretrial hearing I've ever attended) ran for almost three hours, during which the judge herself discussed with the attorneys numerous theories upon which "standing" could be argued, as well as the pros and cons of every theory. At the end of the day, the "standing" issue was left, well, still standing. The judge gave plaintiffs two months to file an amended complaint, at which time the "standing" issue, the only thing really standing (no pun intended) between where we are now and trial before jury.

6. As I mentioned in my email last night, the assertion that the judge has somehow declared the "new" SDI the real representatives of Sikh Dharma is so ludicrous that I will not even give it the dignity of further comment. Suffice it to say that this did not happen. To the contrary, this judge has demonstrated many times in the courtroom her absolute unwillingness to preside over any dispute regarding religious doctrine or how the religion itself is run. She is taking a strict adherence to the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state, as she should. Nobody wants a judge running their religion and she has shown no intention of doing that. Basically at this time all she is saying is that based on the documents in front of her, this UI Board, whatever louses they may be, appear to have the absolute authority to do virtually anything they want. But it bears repeating, "at this time". If and when we get this to trial and have the benefit of all the discovery we are already reviewing, then we will have the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of this board and their decisions, including their removal and appointment of subordinate boards. Again, if we can get through this "standing" hoop, the scenery will start changing rapidly. But this assertion that the judge declared UI and the "new" SDI to be the lawful representatives of Sikh Dharma is not merely a gratuitous exaggeration of her ruling, it is an outright lie. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but if somebody is so bold as to intentionally put out that kind of crap with the intent to deceive or foster insecurity in the community, a spade must be called a spade.

7. Regardless of what you may have heard from others, even those who weren't within 1500 miles of these hearings, the judge has reprimanded the attorneys on both sides in regard to where their presentation of the case has fallen short. From our side of the bench, this is what she is asking us to do. The complaint, which really represents the map of the case, has to be more concisely drafted and get to the point: who is your plaintiff, why does this plaintiff have standing, what is the wrong that this court has the authority to address, and what remedy are you asking this court to order that this court has authority to order. Don't just tell me your getting screwed and that's that. Cite me legal authority (statute, case law) supporting your position why you have the right to bring this case in this courtroom. Bam, bam, bam. I don't have any problem with her approach and at this point it doesn't matter what my opinion of her ruling is. She's the judge and we need to play by her rules. So we have one job and one job alone to do and this is to write the brief the way she wants it. To give this some context...our original brief I believe was something like 90 pages. I have no doubt we can effectively state our claims in 5-10 pages and be on to the next stage of the case. At this point, I cannot guarantee that we will be able to ultimately make a case for "standing"; we do have work to do on this issue. However, I heard enough thoughtful dialogue on the issue emanating from the last hearing to understand that there still are numerous and substantial theories of law to get over this hump. Bottom line: we have two months to get this right and jump through this hoop. I don' want to reveal to the other side what our legal strategy is going to be, but I am reasonably confident we will clear this bar.

8. One quick comment to an often repeated question. Why didn't the judge like the original complaint and why is it so important that it is more concise? I happen to agree with the judge. It needs to be more concise. Bam, bam, bam. State the plaintiff, cause of action and remedy. If what I am saying is true, I am entitled to legal relief. No need for laying out the whole factual basis for our case in the complaint. That's what the trial will be about. So fine, that's going to happen this time around, so no harm no foul. However, taking a 180 degree turn, I would like to give my unconditional approval for the way the original complaint was written. To begin with, as just mentioned, the opening complaint is too wordy...OK, we'll file an amended complaint. But more importantly, to my eyes anyhow, the story told in that opening brief was a very in-depth and articulately stated history of what has happened over the last 40 years. No matter how this case turns out in the court system, I believe that complaint is one of the most important if not most important document in the history of 3HO/Sikh Dharma. If nothing else, it was imperative that future generations understand who we were, what it was we stood up to defend and how our lives are forever interlaced with theirs. And that of course is our history as Khalsa.

9. There has been much conjecture and debate in regard to the judge handling the case, once again I believe based either on lack of correct information or perhaps not being pleased with her rulings up to now. OK, so I am going to give my unequivocal opinion about this judge...I have practiced law in the State of Oregon for over 30 years. She is without a doubt the finest judge I have ever sat before...incredibly intelligent, wise to the ways of the world, knows the law inside and out, impartial. That's what I want in a judge. She's tough, but she's got a good heart. I was absolutely blown away by her in-depth knowledge of every aspect of this case. She absolutely does understand what this case is about. In fact, I can state without hesitation that she understands this case, at least in a legal perspective, better than any other person in the courtroom. She is very high integrity in my eyes and is just trying to do everything right. Again, that's what I want in a judge. If we get through these pretrial hoops, we will want a clean trial and we will want the jury to understand what they are actually deciding upon (and not buried by the complexity that the defense will no doubt try to paralyze them with). To me, she's helping us get to where we need to be and regardless of the outcome of the case (unless she unexpectedly disappoints me), I'm a fan.

OK, sorry folks for being so long-winded: this letter went on far longer than I initially intended. But the bottom line is this: at this point in time, nothing to celebrate about, nothing to jump off a bridge about. Let the legal process run its course. We have fine lawyers working on the case and the judge is of the highest caliber. The defendants have spent an enormous amount of time and money (our money) in an attempt to build a fortress impenetrable to legal challenge. This is a very formidable opponent and yes this will be quite the challenge to win.

We are "in it to win it" and in spite of what you have heard from the representative of the defendant, our opponent is nowhere near being able to declare total victory, so please don't buy into that attempt to demoralize and deceive you. To the contrary, what is really needed is your financial help to support our fight. It is amazing to walk into that courtroom and see literally a team of lawyers representing this group of defendants.

And it is so apparent....these attorneys don't give a crap about you or this Dharma or the wishes of the SSS. All they care about is that they have a major "Sugar Daddy" in the form of their clients and they're going to ride that wave in as far as it takes them. I'm not criticizing them nor am I angry with them. That's their job as attorney and I actually respect their talent and commitment to do the best for their client. That's the way the system works.

On the other hand, I can tell you that the attorneys working on our case have consistently exhibited not only an understanding of what the legal issues are, but really do care about us as people and as a Dharma. I can see that it's not only important to them professionally that we prevail, but they personally believe in and are inspired by the cause. And for this I feel we're very blessed.

Let's be frank. The other side has virtually limitless resources and has shown themselves to be cold to the bone. Don't be naive, if need be they will try to starve us to death financially by whatever legal tactics available. Please do not let them get away with this.

Get in touch with Avtar Hari Singh, Sat Mitar Kaur, and Sikh Dharma Worldwide and help out in any way from your pocket that you can. Anyhow, adios for now, and I'll do my best to keep you up to date as things progress on the legal front.


Much Love,
S.S. Hari Nam Singh


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