The Jury’s Decisions in the Bertolucci Lawsuit

From Jyotish and Devi Novak

Co-spiritual directors of Ananda

April 21, 1998

Dear friend,

We want to bring you up to date on the jury decisions in the Bertolucci trial and to share with you a personal statement from Swami Kriyananda. Our last update letter came to you in early January, and we apologize for the delay in letting you know what has been happening. The reason is simply that a great deal is yet to be decided. We waited to send this update in the hope that two important remaining motions would be decided by mid-April, and we would have a more definite “bottom line” for you. However, the courts have again surprised us with their ability to drag out the process. We don’t want to delay any longer in sharing the trial results with you, even if part of what we have to share is our uncertainty as to the ultimate outcome.

The jury’s decisions in the Bertolucci trial

The jury found Ananda Church liable for intentional misrepresentation, constructive fraud, negligent supervision of an employee, and intentionally inflicting emotional distress and awarded Anne Marie Bertolucci $330,000 in compensatory damages. Swami Kriyananda was assessed $265,000 in compensatory damages on three of the four counts. Ananda member, Danny Levin, who was involved in the love affair with Anne Marie, was assessed $30,000 for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In a second decision designed more to “send a message” to the defendants than to compensate Bertolucci, the jury ordered Swami Kriyananda to pay $1,000,000 in punitive damages.

The decision of the jury was a shock. We had presented a strong case, full of truth and integrity. From her fury over a consensual love affair gone wrong, Bertolucci and her attorneys were able to weave a dark cloth of accusations that charged Ananda with brainwashing her and stripping her of her free will. Swami Kriyananda was accused of being power-mad, and of manipulating other people to his own selfish advantage. Our teachings, so precious to us, were ridiculed and represented to the jury as nothing more than a bizarre collection of mind-control techniques. Our own members and others who testified on Ananda’s behalf were ridiculed, shouted at, demeaned and their testimony distorted beyond recognition. But we were proud of our own as each one stood tall as a devotee of God in the face of the fury and humiliation tactics of Bertolucci’s lawyers.

Members of other churches that Flynn and Greene, Bertolucci’s attorneys, have targeted describe them as unscrupulous attorneys who have manipulated the legal system and the media in a campaign against religious freedom. In one interview during the trial, Flynn was quoted as saying, “I believe in spirituality and God when practiced correctly.” Throughout the trial, both attorneys repeatedly compared Ananda to the groups in Waco and Jonestown in a calculated attempt to engender fear and anger in the jury.

Unfortunately, Bertolucci’s attorneys were evidently successful in their attempt to make Ananda seem bizarre and even dangerous in the minds of the jury. Because the jury members were unfamiliar with the millennia-old teachings of yoga and meditation, Flynn and Greene were able to make them afraid of what was unfamiliar. (As a side note, it took nearly 150 potential jurors in order to select the 12 that eventually served on the jury. Anyone who had even a nodding familiarity with the term “yoga” was judged ineligible by Bertolucci’s attorneys.)

What decisions remain in the Bertolucci case?

We have just finished hearings and the filing of briefs around an important remaining issue: Is Ananda Church of Self-Realization really just the alter ego of Swami Kriyananda? Alter ego is a legal concept which, if the judge finds in Bertolucci’s favor, could make Ananda Church liable for the damages assessed against Swami Kriyananda personally. Her attorneys have sought to prove that Kriyananda’s authority is absolute in all Ananda decision-making processes and that, additionally, there is such a co-mingling of his personal and community/church funds as to blur any distinction between Kriyananda as an individual and Ananda as an organization. For those who have any familiarity with Ananda, you know this to be utterly false. We expect Judge Stevens’ decision on alter ego by the end of April.

In addition, Ananda has filed a motion to reduce the compensatory damages assessed against Ananda Church ($330,000) and against Swami Kriyananda personally ($265,000), as well as the punitive damages ($1,000,000) assessed against Swami Kriyananda. The motion to reduce the compensatory damages against the Church is based on irregularities in the instructions to the jury in this area. The motion to reduce Kriyananda’s punitive damages is based on the fact that his net worth, as demonstrated in court through lengthy testimony, is only a fraction of the punitive damages he is ordered to pay. They would, in effect, force Swami Kriyananda to declare bankruptcy.

Judge Stevens may decide on Ananda’s motion to reduce these assessed damages at the same time he decides alter ego. But this is at his discretion, so we will just have to wait and see. Depending on how the judge decides, Ananda Church may also be forced to declare bankruptcy.

What about an appeal of this decision?

Our attorneys have strongly urged us to appeal the decision. But the cost of an appeal is great and we are already burdened by legal debt from the eight year battle with SRF, and then the additional, huge cost of the Bertolucci suit, initiated by her in 1994. We are seeking pro bono legal help, and are still hoping to exercise our option to appeal. As our attorney, Jon Parsons, said, “If ever there was a case that begged to be appealed, this case is it.” There were during the course of the trial many abuses in due process and constitutional issues.

Beyond the cost of the appeal itself, Ananda, during the appeal process, would be required to post a bond representing 150% of the final judgment amount.

Does Ananda claim to be blameless?

No, we do not. The love affair between Anne Marie Bertolucci and Danny Levin, an Ananda minister and a married man, which was supposedly the crux of this lawsuit was wrong. It was damaging to all those involved. But Ananda does not feel we were lax in our response to this affair. Everyone, including Anne Marie Bertolucci herself, was dealt with compassionately, and with deep care for each person’s highest good. Ananda did not condone the affair, nor did anyone underestimate how difficult it would be for Danny and Anne Marie to deal with their feelings. At no time during their affair did either Anne Marie or Danny tell anyone that there was a sexual component. Instead, they characterized it as “an attraction.” Danny ultimately decided that it was right that he stay with his wife and developmentally delayed daughter. Anne Marie was understandably hurt, and, less understandably, enraged by this decision. As time went on, and through the influence of people known to be committed to hurting Ananda, she decided to seek revenge and sue for sexual harassment. Ironically, the Bertolucci lawsuit resulted from two acts of moral courage: 1) Danny’s decision to stay with his wife and child, and 2) Swami Kriyananda’s unflinching support of this decision which he believed to be morally right. If Anne Marie’s will had not been thwarted in this love affair, there would have been no lawsuit.

As part of Bertolucci’s case, she alleged that Swami Kriyananda had been sexually abusing women at Ananda. The truth here, too, can be simply stated. During the years Kriyananda was a monk, there were times, very infrequently, when he was unable to keep his vows of celibacy. Bertolucci’s attorneys brought forward one relationship that took place in 1968. Kriyananda acknowledges that a brief consensual relationship did occur. The relationship ended with friendship and there was never any accusation of coercion.

In 1981 Kriyananda fell in love with a woman named Kimberly Moore. At that time he repudiated his monastic vows publicly, which he announced in Yoga Journal, along with the news of their spiritual marriage. This relationship ended less than a year after it began, to the deep distress of Kriyananda. He describes this as one of the worst periods of his life, and in the few months following the loss of this marriage, he had brief consensual relationships with two women who were members of the Ananda community. He acknowledges that it was unwise of him to engage in these relationships, but in the intervening 16 years these two women never claimed abuse – until now. In fact, for many years afterward both women maintained a friendly contact with Kriyananda by mail and phone. It appears that now, so many years later after the actual events, they have reexamined their experiences and cast them in a completely different light.

Shockingly, Ananda was unable to cross-examine any of these women who testified against Kriyananda because of an extraordinary sanctions ruling at the beginning of the trial by Judge Stevens. Ananda was sanctioned in this way because of a small incident, which has now reached dramatic proportions, concerning the procuring of some trash from attorney Flynn’s office. Because of the many connections between Self-Realization Fellowship and the Bertolucci case, a private investigator was hired to establish the underlying nature of these links. He was given strict instructions that nothing whatsoever that was questionable from a legal standpoint was to be done. The investigator decided to “sub-contract” some tasks to a southern California firm, which was also told that nothing illegal was to be done. Both investigators swore under oath that they understood this to be their instructions. The investigator who eventually ended up on site outside Mr. Flynn’s law offices, is alleged to have trespassed by reaching through a gate to secure some paper trash which he thought might contain information. Flynn claims that he saw the investigator and this alleged incident was brought before Judge Stevens in the pre-trial motions. Stevens concluded that Ananda might have gained an unfair advantage through information potentially secured in this alleged theft, and therefore decided to sanction Ananda by disallowing any cross-examination of the women who testified against Swami Kriyananda.

Bertolucci and her attorneys have filed a second lawsuit

Near the end of February as the trial was drawing to a close, Swami Kriyananda was served in another lawsuit which is fundamentally a harassment lawsuit, since it mainly recasts the issues of the first lawsuit. It names many dozens of defendants, including Jon Parsons and Gordon Rockhill, our trial attorneys in this first Bertolucci lawsuit. (The fact that they are named means that they may not represent us, since the court considers this a conflict of interest.) So far only Swami Kriyananda has been served and he is required to respond to this new suit by April 20th.

How is Ananda doing in the face of all this?

This is not a simple question to answer because Ananda is made up of a collection of devotees, and each one responds to these tests in a different manner. But as the intensity of the trial recedes, and God’s grace heals and guides us into the future, there is a growing awareness in our hearts of what an incredible test of faith we’ve been through, and how much stronger we have become through it. At a certain point the simple realization came to us that each soul must stand before God at the end of life and answer the question, “How well did you love?” If we can say, “I have held true to what You have given me to honor and cherish,” then we can count ourselves as blessed in God’s eyes.

We are inexpressibly grateful to God and Guru for guiding us through this. We also want to thank you for your many prayers and letters of support.

On a financial level, we just completed a fundraising effort among the Ananda communities’ residents which was very successful, and has allowed us to stay ahead of our immediate legal bills. We definitely need your help and will be asking you to consider helping after we know the judge’s decision on some of these remaining, very crucial issues.

In the meantime, we ask that you keep all of Ananda in your prayers. Even more importantly, we ask that you keep kindness and support for others, even when they slip from their own aspirations, one of your strongest personal ideals. At its heart, that is what this lawsuit has been about.

In divine friendship,

Jyotish and Devi Novak
Spiritual Directors
Ananda Church of Self-Realization