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Union 71997

The following article appeared in the Grass Valley/Nevada City "Union" newspaper, Friday, July 18, 1997:

The Union

"Ananda leader's celibacy at issue"

by Will Holbert

Attorneys for a Palo Alto woman suing the Ananda religious community and its leader for sexual harassment are going into trial with admissions from him that he had sexual relations with women in the past, admissions that fly in the face of previous denials
by Ananda.

Former Ananda members have attacked Ananda leader J. Donald Walters for representing himself as a celibate swami, yet at the same time having sex with women. Early in the case, Ananda issued a press release which called allegations "categorically untrue" and "laughable."

Walters still denies allegations that he sexually harassed the woman in the lawsuit, Ann-Marie Bertolucci, a former devotee at the San Juan Ridge religious community. In fact, a judge recently threw out a claim of sexual battery against Walters in the civil case along with Bertolucci's claim that her firing from a job at Ananda Village was connected to her coming forward with allegations against Walters and senior minister Danny Levin.

"The claim of sexual battery against Walters is totally out of the lawsuit at this point," said Ananda attorney Jon Parsons, of San Francisco.

But in the unsuccessful motion to retain those two claims, dated June 3, Bertolucci attorney Ford Greene included admissions Walters made during sworn depositions. They include Walters' admissions that he had sex with a married woman in Hawaii in 1981, had sex with two women together during the early 1980's and had a number of sexual encounters with other women.
One woman was referred to as "his sexual servant" in the admissions. According to the motion, Walters also admitted in deposition that he had "sexual problems."

Walters was in Italy this week. Ananda's leadership in Nevada County referred questions about the lawsuit to Parsons. Parsons discussed the suit earlier this week, but was unavailable for comment on the June 2 motion, which The Union obtained Thursday.

The nearly three-year-old legal battle is scheduled to go before a San Mateo County jury Sept. 29.

The Ananda legal effort has included successful arguments to fine Bertolucci's legal team for delaying the discovery process, for example, by waiting too long to release witness lists. The judge hearing the case levied more than $9,000 in sanctions July 2 as punishment, Parsons said.

Throwing out the claim that Ananda leaders retaliated against Bertolucci by firing her eliminates the chance that Ananda would be found guilty of violating the state's Fair Employment and Housing Act, which in turn means that if Ananda loses the suit, it wouldn't have to pay Bertolucci's legal fees, Parsons said.

The San Juan Ridge religious community became the target of a lawsuit in November 1994, when Berrolucci filed in San Mateo County. Her attorneys later filed declarations from a half-dozen women who claimed Walters sexually harassed them in incidents stretching back to the late 1960's.

Ananda responded with its own counter suit for slander, claiming Bertolucci was acting on behalf of a rival religious group, the Self- Realization Fellowship (SRF). SRF, based in southern California, denies any involvement in Bertolucci's suit. The slander claim also will go before the jury.

Both Ananda and SRF have intemational followings and practice their own versions of Eastern mysticism, drawing heavily from yoga and Hinduism.

Bertolucci attorney Michael Flynn of San Diego expressed confidence in the case against Ananda and Walters, known as Kriyananda among Ananda members. Flynn pointed out that sexual harassment and fraud allegations remain in the suit. He is representing Bertolucci along with Greene, who's from San Anselmo.

"(Walters) held himself out as a swami when in fact he was chasing the young women all over the place," Flynn said, referring to the fraud allegation.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit's lengthy journey to a jury has been affected by the mass suicide in March of the Heaven's Gate cult.

"The court decided the perceived hysteria in the public over the Heaven's Gate suicide would interfere with the trial of any alternative religious organization," Parsons said.

If the latest trial date stands, Parsons estimated a trial would last a month

The Union, Saturday, July 26, 1997 "Corrections"


A story July 18 about Ananda and leader J. Donald Walters incorrectly referred to past denials as applying to all allegations against Walters. Ananda's labeling of allegations as "laughable"and "categorically untrue" were aimed at allegations by Ann-Marie Bertolucci.* In fact, a judge has dismissed a sexual battery claim against Walters by Bertolucci. In addition, Ananda holds that Walters has never claimed to be celibate, and his celibacy is not an issue in this lawsuit.