Who Was Bertolucci’s Attorney — The SRF Connection

This is an excerpt from attorney Jon Parsons’ book about the SRF and Bertolucci cases: A Fight For Religious Freedom: A Lawyer’s Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigation.

Flynn Joins Team Bertolucci | September 1995

In September 1995, as Bertolucci’s depositions were wrapping up and Kri­yananda’s about to begin, Bertolucci added some lawyers to her team. Michael J. Flynn of Flynn, Sheridan and Tabb in Boston had come on board, together with a varying cast of lawyers from the firm’s Southern California branch office. I met Mr. Flynn when we introduced ourselves just before the start of Anne-Marie’s last deposition. He pretended to know nothing about SRF, or whether this “Daya per­son” was a man or a woman. He talked about fighting the Scientologists on the East Coast, and the Rolls Royce-driving Bhagwan up in Oregon, and held himself out to be just another cult-buster. The way Flynn talked you would never have guessed he was SRF’s attorney and a close advisor to Daya Mata. He denigrated monastic orders of the Hindu-Yoga tradition, complained about their strict obedience, and claimed they used chanting, meditation, and long hours of work to strip members of their individuality. With no visible sense of incongruity he incorrectly criticized Ananda for the very practices that SRF performed every day.

I remember vividly that first encounter before the deposition. The deposition was being taken in a conference room and Bertolucci and Ford were out in the hall­way, leaving Sheila, myself, and some legal team members alone at the far end of the room. Flynn came into the room at the other end, introduced himself, put his satchel on the end of the table by the door, and left, closing the door behind him. Thirty seconds later we were still standing at the far end of the table when the door burst open and Flynn lurched in without saying a word. His hand still on the door­knob, he looked at his bag, looked up at us, and darted back out closing the door be­hind him. Apparently he had left his satchel as bait, waited a bit for the hook to set, and then had sprung in, hoping to find us rooting through his bag. I had not seen a performance like it, and have not since. It should have told us more about the man than we took away at the time. Only later we learned that Flynn in fact knew who Daya Mata was, because he was her trusted advisor, and knew her well enough to call her “Ma.” He wore an armband that Yogananda’s followers call a “bangle,” and appeared to be a card-carrying member of the SRF club. He began his involvement in the case by lying to us, and I doubt he ever stopped.

Flynn was not a member of the California State Bar, and to be attorney of re­cord in the Bertolucci case he had to obtain the court’s permission to appear “pro hac vice.” Among the requirements for pro hac vice status is that the applicant be a member of the bar of another state, not a California resident, and not maintain an office in state. California residents must take and pass the California bar, and can­not use this case-by-case privilege to avoid becoming a dues-paying member of the bar. In his application to appear, Flynn swore under oath that he was a resident of Massachusetts and maintained his office at a specific Boston address.

The application seemed in order and we did not oppose it. Years later, however, we uncovered evidence showing that when he submitted this application Flynn was actually a resident of California, not Massachusetts, and was listed as the presi­dent of his homeowners’ association in Southern California. He had a California driver’s license and a California pilot’s license. He maintained an office in Rancho Santa Fe and regularly appeared in California cases with high profile California cli­ents. For example, Flynn was active in several California cases on behalf of former Beach Boy Mike Love, against the group’s troubled founder Brian Wilson. He also represented New Age author Deepak Chopra in a number of cases. After battling Scientology for years, in 1982 Flynn filed suit in California on behalf of Ronald De­Wolf, the estranged son of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard ran his church’s empire offshore, wherever his yacht anchored, and had not been seen by outsiders for years. DeWolf feared (or hoped) him deceased, and had filed suit to preserve the estate, estimated at $500,000,000, from plunder by the Church, whose leaders Flynn publicly likened to “Nazis.”

We found this out only after he had been permitted to appear in the Bertolucci case. After the Bertolucci case was over Flynn would apply to Judge Garcia to be permitted to represent SRF pro hac vice in the federal suit as well. But then we were ready with a complete record to put before the court. Flynn always seemed to be butting heads with judges whose rulings he didn’t like. During one of the Chopra cases, Flynn took out an ad in the San Diego papers offering “REWARDS” of $100,000 for “information leading to the arrest and conviction of any judicial of­ficers, and or lawyers, including retired judges and or referees who have received money, gifts, or other inducements” concerning the supposed wiretapping or bur­glary of Chopra, Flynn, or their firms. Flynn pushed the Chopra cases ruthlessly, and his firm made four judges so exasperated and flustered that they each had an­other judge take over handling the case. One of these judges was quoted complain­ing that, “In more than 30 years as a trial lawyer and Superior Court judge, I have never witnessed such misleading, manipulative, distorted, deceptive, vitriolic action by any lawyer or law firm.” Flynn was making a name for himself.

Garcia had taken Flynn’s declaration at face value and signed the requested or­der before we could respond. When we brought these additional facts to Garcia’s attention he revoked his prior order and refused to let Flynn appear as an attorney in the case. He could still advise SRF, but he would not be recognized by the court as an “attorney of record.” So Flynn remained active on Team Bertolucci, a grey eminence just behind the throne. This twilight world seemed to work for Flynn. Because he never joined the California State Bar, he could float from case to case untouched by the Bar’s professional rules or its disciplinary system. As long as he got results, people like Chopra didn’t appear to care about the legal niceties. No one blew the whistle.

But when we first met Flynn back in September 1995, we had no idea who we were dealing with. Kriyananda’s first deposition in the Bertolucci case taught us something. Parties and their counsel have a right to attend every deposition. Sev­eral members of Ananda’s litigation team would attend major depositions on be­half of the church, and it was common for ten or more bodies to assemble for a significant deposition. At Kriyananda’s San Francisco deposition on September 11, 1995, plaintiff’s group included someone Flynn introduced as Mr. Paul Fried­man, a “paralegal in my office.” Mr. Friedman sat through that day’s entire deposi­tion, dutifully taking notes. We thought little of it at the time. Later, looking into SRF’s sale of some agricultural property called The Herb Farm, we discovered the company was being represented in San Diego federal court by none other than the Flynn firm. Flynn personally appeared in court on behalf of its owner, defendant Paul Friedman. We then learned that Paul Friedman was a major donor to SRF and claimed to be close to Daya Mata. He had facilitated the recent spin off of The Herb Farm property from its prior owner—SRF. In this way we learned that Mr. Friedman was not Flynn’s paralegal, but rather his client in a federal criminal prosecution, and an SRF insider. We obtained the transcript of Flynn’s appearance before U.S. District Court Judge Judith Keep in San Diego on October 27, 1995, the month after Kriyananda’s deposition. During that hearing, when the judge chided Flynn for his overbearing manner, Flynn acknowledged showing “a little bit of intensity because in this particular case Mr. Friedman I know very well . . . and I’m familiar with [his] religious beliefs.” So it seems Flynn gave Friedman a “back stage pass” to Kriyananda’s deposition as a reward for being a client and loyal SRF supporter. Or perhaps it was so that Friedman could report back directly to “Ma” at Mother Center on how Kriyananda had handled himself. Flynn’s shenanigans worked. It would not be the last time.

(The evidence of its involvement in financing the Bertolucci case would prove costly for SRF. The judge imposed sanctions, ruling that SRF could not introduce evidence of alleged moral and financial irregularities by Ananda and Kriyananda. SRF, the judge ruled, could not benefit from a scandal that it had, in fact, helped to create.)

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