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|March 20, 2000|
Verdict against Deepak Chopra dismissed
Deepak Chopra, the new age guru and spiritual advisor to celebrities, had another strong day in the court last week. Earlier, a court had dismissed an unfair dismissal and sexual harassment case by a former co-worker against Chopra.
On March 15, an appellate court judge threw out a unanimous jury verdict against Chopra, on the grounds that the judge in that case had made demeaning comments against one of Chopra's lawyers. That case involved the same former co-worker who had been accused of stalking Chopra.
Judge Richard Huffman of San Diego's 4th District Court of Appeal said that the comments made by the Superior Court Judge Thomas Murphy against one of the lawyers representing Chopra -- Carla DiMare -- were so unfair that the new age guru is entitled to a new trial. Huffman asked the lawyers to return to the court on April 11 for a new trial, although he strongly suggested that the two sides should try and reach a settlement.
In the civil trial, Chopra had sued a former colleague Joyce Weaver on the grounds that she had tried to blackmail him for $ 50,000 for not revealing the allegation made by a former prostitute against him. The former prostitute had claimed that the Chopra had sex with her.
In January, a 12-member jury in that trial unanimously ruled against Chopra. Chopra and his lawyers asserted that the jury verdict was expected because of Judge Murphy's biased rulings.
Following the January verdict, Chopra told rediff.com that he was not surprised by the jury's verdict.
"I would have been disappointed if I was surprised," he said. "If you look at the way the judge (Murphy) made his rulings, you can see the jury was going to do what they were instructed to do. I have a lot of respect for citizens who take their job as a jury member seriously. If they had done it any other way, they would not have followed the judge.
On March 15, Huffman seemed to agree with Chopra and his attorneys' conclusion.
"Judge Murphy, for whatever reason, was so irritated with one side of the case that he demeaned that side of the case in front of the jury," Huffman said. "The appearance of fairness was lost."
Following the January jury verdict against Chopra, Murphy recused himself from the second part of the trial, in which Weaver' wrongful termination claim against the new age guru was to be heard. Murphy acknowledged that he had made a "gratuitous" and "unnecessary comments" against DiMare.
To clear the confusion, in an unprecedented move, the chief judge of San Diego's appeals court stepped in and appointed his colleague, Huffman, to preside over the remainder of the trial.
(On March 7, with Huffman presiding, another 12-member jury ruled in favor of Chopra, rejecting Weaver's claim that she was terminated because she had accused the new age guru of sexual harassment.)
Judge Murphy's bias against DiMare was evident from the very beginning. At one point during the pre-trial hearing before the first case, the judge told DiMare:
"I am making these rulings, I am depriving your client of his rights, because I don't like you (DiMare)." He later denied having made that statement.
The San Diego Union Tribune quoted one of Weaver's attorneys, Terry Price, as saying that Judge Murphy had indeed made that comment, but in jest. It was the judge's attempt to alleviate tension, through his dry humor, Price said.
Huffman referred to one comment of Murphy, where the latter said in the presence of the jury: "Of course, all the questions asked by Ms. DiMare were irrelevant." Murphy was referring to DiMare's questioning of Weaver on the witness stand.
"That's a terrible comment to make in front of a jury," Huffman said, in announcing his decision to overturn the Murphy jury's verdict.
At another time, DiMare asked Murphy whether she could play a tape recording in the court that would have gone against Weaver's testimony.
"Can I play the tape," DiMare asked, to which Murphy responded: "Of what? The Bee Gees?"
Speaking in front of Huffman last week, DiMare described her experiences with Murphy as emotionally disturbing.
"I would go home every day and break down because I had a judge verbally assaulting me," she said.
"My client has a right to not have his case belittled and demeaned by a judge."
Weaver's attorney, Price seemed to think that Murphy's reactions against DiMare were justifiable since she was engaged in "the grossest judge-baiting I have seen."
Chopra's battle with the San Diego judicial system has been long-drawn. Four judges have recused themselves from different aspects of the Chopra-Weaver lawsuits. Chopra has gone on record to accuse the judges and the San Diego judicial system as corrupt.
Two southern California newspapers recently suggested that the judges recused themselves due to the aggressive tactics of Chopra's lawyers
Last week the Los Angeles Times said: "Four judges have become so infuriated at the hardball and accusatory tactics of Chopra's lawyers that they have voluntarily recused themselves."
Also last week, The San Diego Union Tribune quoted Price -- Weaver's lawyer -- as saying that the judges withdrew themselves because they were "frustrated" and were "challenged" by Chopra's lawyers.
Responding to these allegations, Chopra sent an e-mail to The San Diego Union Tribune, a copy of was forwarded to rediff.com. In the e-mail Chopra said:
"Judges don't recuse themselves because lawyers are intimidating, insulting or confrontational. Judges have the right to sanction attorneys, hold them in contempt of court, and send them to jail. In fact, judges do that when lawyers act unethically or behave improperly."
"The fact that these judges recused themselves and did not once sanction my counsel is proof of their fear of being exposed," Chopra added. "That is the only reason that they recused themselves."
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