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January 12, 2000
Deepak Chopra Loses Case
A 12-member jury unanimously rejected Dr Deepak Chopra's claim in a San Diego court that a former co-worker had stalked him and had tried to blackmail him for $ 50,000. The verdict was reached on Monday. Immediately after the verdict, Dr Chopra's lawyers said they would appeal.
The jury's verdict throws out Dr Chopra's part of the case. The parallel lawsuit of the co-worker, Joyce Weaver, in which she charges Dr Chopra of retaliation and wrongful termination, is expected to start soon.
Under California state law, civil case jury verdicts can be reached if nine out of twelve jurors vote one way. In the Chopra-Weaver lawsuit, after a day's deliberation, all 12 jurors voted against the New Age guru's contentions.
Dr Chopra, speaking to rediff.com from his office in La Jolla, California, said he was not surprised by the jury's decision.
"I would have been disappointed if I was surprised," he said. "If you look at the way the (California State Superior Court) judge (Thomas 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.
"The whole experience in San Diego has been very bizarre," Dr Chopra added.
He said during his long stream of legal wrangling, two judges (including Murphy) had recused themselves from the case or have admitted misconduct. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating one judge while a judicial commission has reprimanded another, he says.
Earlier, speaking to reporters after the jury's verdict, Dr Chopra, who is a spiritual advisor to major celebrities, vowed to continue his fight and said:
Dr Chopra said in the pre-trial hearings the judge disallowed several significant evidence that would have helped the jury to decide in his favor.
"He told my attorney Carla DiMare, 'I am making these rulings, I am depriving your client of his rights, because I don't like you (DiMare),' " Chopra told rediff.com "He later blatantly denied having said that."
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.
"Even our opposing consul acknowledged that the judge said that," Dr Chopra said. "Of course, we have it on record."
The announcement about Judge Murphy withdrawing from the second part of the Chopra-Weaver trial came following the jury's verdict yesterday.
Judge Murphy was quoted by the San Diego Union Tribune as partially acknowledging what appears to be an inappropriate comment he made to DiMare:
"I made a gratuitous, unnecessary comment in the passion of moment. It's not something I am proud of."
The judge was not available for comment. Neither his office nor the public relations department of the state superior court would comment on Judge Murphy's decision. Marilyn Laurence, spokesperson for the court, said a new judge, John S Einhorn, had been appointed to preside over Weaver's portion of the trial.
The jury's decision came after nearly four weeks of trial during which time Dr Chopra's lawyers tried to convince jurors that Weaver stalked the New Age guru, including once talking her way into a private plane, carrying him and actor Marlon Brando.
Weaver was also accused of threatening to go to press with an illegal tape recording she had made, unless she was paid $ 50,000. The tape-recording was of prostitute Judy Bangert who claimed to have had a liaison with Dr Chopra.
In 1996, The Weekly Standard, a conservative news magazine owned by Rupert Murdoch, alleged a tryst between Dr Chopra and Bangert. The magazine later retracted the story and reportedly paid Dr Chopra in excess of $ 1 million to settle the suit.
During the trial, Friesen, Weaver's attorney, produced copies of American Express credit card receipts that reportedly show payments Dr Chopra made to Bangert for their sexual encounters.
In his court testimony, Dr Chopra was shown the signatures on the credit card receipts.
"It (the signature) looks like mine," Dr Chopra told the court. "But it isn't mine."
Dr Chopra's attorneys said he had authorized an Australian assistant of his -- Anthony Nacson -- to use his American Express card and sign his name. The court was also told that Dr Chopra was in India during the time that the credit card was used.
In an emotional voice, Dr Chopra, who is married, spoke at the proceedings about the effect Bangert's allegations had on his life.
"I felt devastated," he told the court. "My father, an 81 year old cardiologist in India, had to go to hospital after he heard about it. My daughter read about it while flying between New York and Boston. My 73-year-old mother had a worsening of her severe asthma attacks."
In concluding her statements before the jury, DiMare said Bangert retracted her story after Dr Chopra sued her.
"Some people own up to their mistakes," DiMare said.
Friesen, in his closing argument, said Dr Chopra filed charges against Weaver to distract attention from her sexual harassment charges against the New Age guru.
Judge Murphy dropped Weaver's sexual harassment charge, along with those of sexual discrimination, breach of contract, fraud and invasion of privacy, prior to opening of the trial.
"It is to stop her from being heard," Friesen said. "Now who's being a bully, ladies and gentlemen?"
Dr Chopra, while vowing to see the lawsuit through the end ("I have nothing to lose," he said), seemed calm about the situation.
"My philosophy is that everything is exactly as it should be and it is going exactly as it should be," Dr Chopra told rediff.com "In the long run, whatever the conspiracy of the universe is, it is in the right direction. I am totally happy with the way things are happening."
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