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Krishnas Settle 16-Year Fight With Mother, Daughter

June 03, 1993|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A 16-year legal battle between a Cypress mother and daughter and the Laguna Beach Hare Krishna temple--which went from Orange County Superior Court to the U.S. Supreme Court and back--has ended with a confidential cash settlement.

In the litigation, Robin George Westkamp, now 33, charged that she had been brainwashed as a 14-year-old into joining the Krishnas in the mid-1970s and then spirited from temple to temple in San Diego, New Orleans and Canada to keep her from her family.

Marcia George, her mother, now 74, joined the suit with charges that she suffered emotional distress as a result of the search for her daughter and that Robin's father, Jim George, died of a heart attack because of the affair. In 1983, an Orange County Superior Court jury awarded the Georges $32.5 million in actual and punitive damages. Over the years, appeals to state and federal courts reduced the actual damages to $485,000--with interest added, about $1 million. A new state trial was scheduled to determine any punitive damages.

But a settlement reached last week that gives a cash payment to Westkamp and George ends all litigation. The amount of the payment was sealed at the request of the Krishnas.

Neither Westkamp nor George could be reached for comment Wednesday.

"It's a big relief to all of us to have it over with," said Kosarupa dasi, the temple's membership director.

Kosarupa dasi, 33, said she joined the Laguna Beach temple in 1977 when she was 16. Partly because of the litigation, she said, the temple is extremely cautious when dealing with minors, requiring written permission from parents for overnight stays.

David M. Liberman, general counsel for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, said he felt that the temple had "essentially prevailed" in the course of the litigation.

Liberman said the Krishnas had won victories in defending First Amendment rights in its appeals and "getting the damages down to manageable proportions. We're satisfied that that has now occurred."

The original $32.5-million verdict, he said, "obviously would have liquidated the entire Krishna religion in North America."

A new trial to determine punitive damages, Liberman said, would have been "enormously expensive. We had all reached the point of diminishing returns. It was a cost-effective decision on the part of all the parties to settle rather than to litigate."

Considering the length of the litigation, the settlement "will not in any way encourage future lawsuits," he said. "It will serve as a deterrent to any other groups or individuals considering attacking Krishna Consciousness movement."

Liberman, himself a 20-year member of Krishnas, estimated his side's legal expenses at "well over $1.5 million. . . . I lost track."

He said he felt that the yearlong settlement talks, outside the courtroom, "served a useful purpose" for both sides in healing the dispute.

"I think the fact that we sat down and talked about it helped," Liberman said.

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