SM COURTHOUSE — The Muslim owners of a Santa Monica luxury hotel are asking for a new trial in a discrimination case in which a jury found they had shut down a group’s event because they were Jewish.
Attorneys for Shangri-La Hotel owner Tehmina Adaya held in a Dec. 24 filing that the court should grant a new trial based on a number of “issues,” including irregularities with the jury and insufficient evidence presented in the case.
“We are challenging certain events that occurred during the trial including certain judge rulings, the admissibility of certain testimony and the judgment itself being contrary to the facts and the law,” said attorney Steve Richman with Epport, Richman & Robbins, a new law firm brought in on the case.
The attorneys are also contesting over $2 million in attorney fees requested by James Turken, the lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the case.
In August, a jury awarded 19 members of the Young Leadership Division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, or FIDF, $1.2 million in statutory and compensatory damages and an additional $445,000 in punitive damages when it found that Adaya had ordered her hotel staff to stop a charity event held by FIDF at the hotel pool.
According to its website, FIDF offers educational, social, economic, spiritual and other programs for IDF soldiers and their families.
The plaintiffs testified that hotel staff and security began hassling them after they set up a table with leaflets and other informational materials explaining their mission and the IDF.
They removed stanchions that had been used to close off an area near the pool for the event and took away a table that had been set up for towels and asked them to take down their banners and other paraphernalia.
Attorneys leaned on a deposition by Nathan Codrey, a former hotel employee who told court officials that Adaya had aggressively asked to get “the Jews” out of her hotel.
Adaya denies ever having made the statement, and Codrey never appeared in court in person, having apparently gone out of state before the trial.
Attorneys for the defense failed to sway the jury to their side, and ultimately all 12 voted in favor of the plaintiffs.
Court documents associated with the request for a new trial, however, include a declaration by one juror who felt that at least one other member of the jury was biased by her own experiences with discrimination and another intimidated other jurors to “stick it to” the defendants.
Turken, the plaintiffs’ attorney, didn’t seem surprised by the filings.
“I wish them luck,” he said. “I’m familiar with the record, and the trial was conducted fairly and properly. I don’t see any issues whatsoever with what was done.”
In the meantime, the hotel will still play host to an event co-hosted by the Zionist Organization of America and the Creative Zionist Coalition in February.
The ZOA won the promise to throw the Purim-themed party as a concession from Adaya to keep the organization from protesting in front of her hotel after the trial concluded.
She also donated $3,600 each to the Koby Mandell Foundation and the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization. The amounts were a nod to Jewish culture, in which multiples of 18 are symbolic of the word “chai,” which translates to “life.”
The court has until Jan. 31 to decide whether or not it wants to rehear the case. If the judge chooses not to, Adaya can appeal to a higher court.