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The lawyer of talent agent Simon Ghertner asked the Georgia Court of Appeals last week to reverse a judge who found that an ancient rabbinical legal proceeding hadn’t followed state law. Ghertner was appealing an order from Fulton Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell, who found that a bet din, or Jewish law court, which was convened to resolve a dispute between Ghertner and his former client, caricaturist Kourosh Solaimani, violated Solaimani’s rights. Ghertner’s lawyer, Donald F. Samuel of Garland, Samuel & Loeb in Atlanta, on Wednesday asked the panel to find that the bet din in fact had complied with the Georgia Arbitration Code, and as such was binding arbitration on Solaimani. Ghertner v. Solaimani, No. A01A2306 (Ct. App. Ga. arg’d Nov. 14, 2001). After a hearing in April 2000, Russell held that submitting an issue to a bet din is a legitimate means of arbitration as long as it complies with Georgia law. However, in this instance she found the bet din didn’t comport with the requirement under O.C.G.A. � 9-9-8(e) requiring arbitration panels to keep a record of the proceedings. Therefore, the arbitration was not binding and Solaimani could proceed to trial. But Samuel filed an immediate appeal from Russell’s order, and told an appeals court panel Wednesday that Solaimani had waived the record requirement. He never raised the issue at the bet din or even later in Superior Court. “The statute specifically says it can be waived by acquiescence,” he said. “He never said ‘My biggest beef is that they never gave me a docket sheet.’ “ But Solaimani’s lawyer, John C. Whatley VI, told Presiding Judge Frank M. Eldridge and Judge M. Yvette Miller that Ghertner and Samuel were seeking a special exemption for religious courts under Georgia law. Judge Gary B. Andrews was ill. “If the Legislature wanted to carve out a special provision for a religious thing, it could have done so,” he said. RABBINICAL PANEL A bet din is a traditional rabbinical panel set up to resolve disputes between Jews. The practice traces back over thousands of years, including periods when Jews did not have access to secular courts. Some U.S. Jews continue to ask bet din panels to resolve their disagreements. The name “bet din” translates from the Hebrew as “House of Justice.” Batei dinim convene about five times a year in Atlanta. They allow ex parte communication, and the panels discourage, but do not forbid, legal representation. Parties can question each other and must field questions from the panel. Solaimani, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran, had a falling-out with Ghertner, the former business manager for his companies, Creative Caricatures and Caricatures, Ink. He accused Ghertner of forging documents, skimming money and stealing from his clients. However, rather than take Ghertner to court, Solaimani took the matter to a bet din on the advice of his rabbi, Shmuel Khoshkerman of Atlanta’s Congregation Ner Hamizrach. After meeting often over the course of a year, the bet din found in Solaimani’s favor, and awarded him $1,900 — a much smaller sum than the $30,000 to $60,000 he says he lost. Following the decision, Solaimani sued in Fulton Superior Court to have the decision rendered void. He claimed the bet din denied him representation, refused to hear from some of his witnesses, denied him discovery, misled him about his right to resort to the courts and met with his opponent ex parte. Solaimani v. Ghertner, No. E29961 (Fult. Super. July 29, 1994). Solaimani claimed the panel discriminated against him because he is Iranian, does not speak English well and is not Orthodox. Russell did not address those charges in her order. The panel was comprised of three Orthodox rabbis: Khoshkerman, Rabbi Menachem A. Deutch and Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, a law professor at Emory University and former director of the Beth Din of America, the largest Jewish law court in the United States. During the April hearing, they denied Solaimani’s accusations. PANEL TOSSED NOTES At oral argument, Samuel told the judges that although the bet din had not made a transcript of the proceedings, the rabbis had saved all documents and evidence filed with them, and had preserved their notes following their decision. However, that evidence and those notes no longer exist, he told the appeals panel. “Those notes are not archived at the synagogue; eventually the rabbis throw them away,” he said. During Samuel’s argument Eldridge asked whether Solaimani could show that the lack of a record had prejudiced his claim. Solaimani won, he said. “Doesn’t that in itself show there was an absence of prejudice?” Samuel responded that there was no showing of prejudice. “They don’t suggest even in this court that there was any prejudice suffered,” he said. Eldridge also questioned whether this might not be a case of “induced error,” in which Solaimani makes use of an issue to which he failed to object during arbitration as the basis for appealing the bet din’s decision. “You can call it chutzpah; you can call it a waiver; you can call it induced error,” Samuel said as he finished his argument. Eldridge also questioned Whatley about whether the bet din could continue to be a valid arbitration method if the parties who participated couldn’t trust its results. “You’re gambling if you follow this practice. It’s either going to follow the Georgia Arbitration Act or it’s nothing,” he said. Everyone, Clark responded, should have to comply with the requirements of the statute. “When you have an arbitration panel, it has to follow Georgia law,” he said.

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