SAN DIEGO — Hare Krishnas asked a state appeals court Tuesday to set aside a $6-million judgment awarded to an Orange County mother and daughter, and to order a new trial in a 14-year-old lawsuit they say threatens to devastate their religion.
"The punitive damages for this case are completely out of line," said attorney Kent Richland, representing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
An Orange County jury awarded the damages to a Cypress mother and daughter who said the daughter was brainwashed by Krishnas at age 15. Krishnas at several temples then conspired to hide the girl, Robin George, as her parents searched for her, their 1977 lawsuit contended.
The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the 4th District Court of Appeal in March. The appeals court was ordered to further study the case in light of the high court's ruling setting new requirements governing punitive damages.
The appeals court heard oral arguments Monday and ordered attorneys to submit written briefs by Aug. 30. A decision is expected within 90 days.
Krishna leaders say the judgment in favor of George and her mother, Marcia George, could force the sale of the religion's temples in San Diego, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Ontario, Canada.
The 1983 trial inflamed the jury against Krishnas by "making fun of, ridiculing and impugning the sacred teachings of this religion," Richland told the panel of three judges.
He said the jury, which originally awarded damages of $32.5 million, "was acting out of passion."
The award was reduced on appeal to $2.9 million, of which $2.5 million was punitive damages. The judgment amounts to $6 million with interest, Richland said.
That includes damages for emotional distress, libel and the wrongful death of the teen-ager's father, Jim George, who suffered a stroke while searching for her.
Richland said the state court should order a new trial that would take into account the Krishnas' net worth and the effects of the judgment on worshipers.
But Milton J. Silverman, representing the Georges, said the Supreme Court's March ruling in Pacific Mutual Insurance Co. vs. Haslip does not change the George case.
The Krishnas had the opportunity to submit financial information during the trial but refused, he said.
"We are dealing with an entity that resisted to the world disclosing its financial information to anyone," he said. He accused the Krishnas of transferring assets to disguise their net worth.
Silverman also said the effect of closing temples isn't relevant to the judgment.
"Innocent third parties are always hurt whenever you punish anyone," he said. For example, if a man is sent to jail, his wife and children will suffer, Silverman said.