Claims fly as Ananda case goes to court; pamphlet bombing revealed
By Will Holbert - Thu, Nov 6, 1997
Ananda leaders say the son of an attorney who represents a woman
suing them flew a plane over their San Juan Ridge community last month and dropped pamphlets about a sexual- harassment case against their spiritual leader, J. Donald Walters.
The revelation comes in
the wake of a tumultuous beginning in the civil trial of Anne-Marie Bertolucci, a woman who is suing Walters and Ananda. Testimony hasn't started, and the case already has seen the discovery of a garbage
theft turn into a severe punitive sanction against Ananda. The sanction will prevent defense attorneys from challenging some witnesses.
Bertolucci's attorney, Michael Flynn, said a private investigator
working for Ananda illegally stole a witness list from his garbage that contained names of women who would testify against Walters and an analysis of what they would say in court.
Ananda attorney Jon
Parsons is asking the state Court of Appeals to reverse Judge Lawrence Stevens' sanction. If it stands, the sanction would allow Bertolucci's attorneys to put women on the stand who will allege Walters
sexually harassed them, but Ananda's attorneys will not be able to cross examine them or present contradictory evidence, Parsons said, adding it was unclear if this protection extended to Bertolucci herself.
This would also prevent Ananda from putting women on the stand who would testify that they had been alone with Walters and had never encountered any harassment, Parsons said.
"It would be
devastating to the case," Parsons said. Flynn said Ananda was lucky, and that the judge could have ruled that Bertolucci win the case by default.
"The judge gave them a tremendous break. The judge should have terminated the case," Flynn said.
Bertolucci is a former member of the religious community who lived at Ananda from 1992-93. In
1994, Bertolucci, who is originally from Palo Alto, filed a lawsuit against Ananda. Included in the suit were accusations of sexual harassment against Walters and a senior minister, Danny Levin.
Bertolucci's attorneys later produced declarations from more women who accused Walters of sexually harassing them in incidents stretching back to the 1960s.
Ananda filed a countersuit against
Bertolucci accusing her of slander and defamation, claiming she was acting in league with a rival religious group, Self-Realization Fellowship, known as SRF.
The San Juan Ridge village, located off of
Tyler-Foote Crossing Road, is among several Ananda has established worldwide. Ananda practices a belief that includes a mixture of Christian and Hindu philosophies, among others.
Last summer, Ananda's
attorneys succeeded in having part of Bertolucci's suit dismissed, including a sexual battery charge against Walters. But an allegation of fraud against Walters and Ananda and a sexual battery charge against
Meanwhile, Ananda withdrew its own counterclaim just before the trial. Parsons said keeping it in the case would have lengthened the trial and confused jurors.
"It was a
strategic move to trim the issues to focus on Bertolucci's claims because as the trial approached, we felt we were going to prevail," Parsons explained.
Flynn said it was his opinion Ananda
dropped the countersuit to prevent further questioning of Walters about alleged sexual harassment.
Then the garbage theft surfaced. In 1995, a private investigator working on Ananda's behalf raided a
trash container belonging to Flynn. The theft occurred outside of Flynn's San Diego area office, and Flynn claims the fleeing private detective, driving a van, nearly ran him over.
In return for
avoiding more serious charges in connection with the incident, the investigator admitted that Ananda had employed him. Parsons said an Ananda legal staffer talked with the private investigator before the
garbage theft, asked him not to do anything illegal, and was assured nothing illegal would take place.
The trash theft angered Judge Stevens enough that he slapped punitive sanctions on Ananda.
Apparently, the trash was stored against the building, which made rifling it illegal, instead of on the curb a few feet away where taking it would have been legal, Parsons said.
Flynn said the garbage was kept in a fenced compound.
Ananda has answered the trash-theft story with an account of aerial harassment. On Oct. 24, the group says, Flynn's son, Michael Flynn Jr., rented
a plane in Reno, Nev,. and flew to Nevada County with a cargo of pamphlets titled, "Court Case Blues," which he dropped over Ananda Village.
According to a declaration by the 28-year-old
Flynn Jr., he had been assisting his father as a paralegal and became concerned that details of the case were being withheld from Ananda residents. Without his father's knowledge, the younger Flynn testified
that he carefully released the pamphlets over Ananda Village.
In court papers, Ananda claims Flynn Jr. flew 50 feet over treetops several times. The pamphlet contained details of the alleged sexual
misconduct and stated residents had been lied to so they could keep money "flowing to support Swami." Walters has been known as "Swami" at the village.
The Flynns said Ananda's
leaders censor mail, which Parsons said is untrue. The elder Flynn said he supports the flight in hindsight.
"The people of Ananda need to know, and the basic premise of our case is that Ananda
members have been lied to and misled," the lawyer said.
"This is one more step in a course of harassment," Parsons said Wednesday. "I mean, kids got a hold of this thing.... This
is one more way to wage a lawsuit outside the court."
A 9-year-old girl picked up one of the pamphlets, according to court documents that quote the girl's mother.
"After reading the
paper, her daughter asked whether people hated the Swami and were going to shoot him. She also asked the meaning of 'sexual harassment'," the document reads.
Jury selection in the case is
expected to continue through this week, and attorneys think the trial will last four to six weeks. Opening statements are expected Friday.