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Union 11497

    Ananda set back by judge: Ruling punishes search in trash

                                  By Will Holbert - Tue, Nov 4, 1997

 After three years of legal maneuvering, the trial pitting the accusations of a former Ananda member against Ananda and its leader, J. Donald Walters, started today with jury selection in Redwood City.

Ananda's defense suffered a serious setback Monday when a judge issued a punitive sanction that prohibits its legal team from offering evidence or contradicting women who allege Walters sexually exploited them, said Michael Flynn, an attorney representing Anne-Marie Bertolucci.

 The judge's punishment came after he learned an investigator hired by Ananda went through the trash of an opposing lawyer.
Bertolucci filed suit against Walters, Ananda and a senior minister in 1994 and accused them of false termination and sexual harassment, among other things. During the next  three years, her attorneys sought out women who made similar accusations.

 The trial date was delayed several times. Last summer, a ruling favored Ananda by dismissing several counts from Bertolucci's case, including a sexual battery allegation against Walters and another one of false termination.
What remains of the suit accuses Walters and Ananda of fraud, infliction of emotional distress and breach of  fiduciary duty.
 Flynn fought against the dismissals by introducing deposition transcriptions in which Walters admitted to having sexual relations with women in the past, according  to court records. Ananda's leaders say this is a moot point because Walters has never claimed to be celibate.
 Ananda later dropped its own countersuit against Bertolucci, Flynn said. That suit accused Bertolucci of slander and defamation.

The latest developments stem from the theft of trash from outside Flynn's San Diego law offices in 1995 by private detectives. Flynn said he used an offer of immunity from criminal charges and a court order to force a private detective to reveal Ananda employed him to steal the  trash, which contained a list of women who would testify  against Walters.
It was this revelation that resulted in the punitive  sanction Monday.

Ananda's attorney, Jon Parsons, was not available for comment this morning.

Flynn said the sanction means women can testify against Walters, but that Ananda's legal team can't offer any evidence to contradict them.
Flynn called it "one of the most extraordinary sanctions against a defendant" that he's seen in 28 years of legal  work.
Flynn said he expects jury selection to last a week and the trial to last a month and a half.