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A Georgia Court of Appeals panel has refused to hear a dispute between members of a Clayton County, Ga., mosque because it involved questions of religious practices. In an Aug. 1 decision, the panel affirmed a trial court’s ruling that the dispute — the mosque’s attempt to restrain how long three members can spend on the property and what they do there — was beyond its jurisdiction. Masjid Al-Ihsaan v. Ouda, A01A1250 (Ct. App. Ga. Aug. 1, 2001). Masjid Al-Ihsaan Inc., formed in 1998, had purchased property in Clayton County and built a mosque, a Muslim place of worship. Masjid was run by a five-member board of trustees. Ibrhim Ouda was elected chairman of the board and the religious leader of the mosque. But last year, the remaining four board members took out a warrant for Ouda’s arrest for criminal trespass after he allegedly formed another corporation and announced a new seven-member board. The four members also removed Ouda from his leadership posts. Masjid sent Ouda a letter April 12, 2000, telling him to stop leading prayers and proselytizing members. The letter also said Ouda could only be on mosque property for the five daily prayers, but could not come early or stay late. Less than a week after the letter, Masjid filed a petition for restraint of trespass against Ouda, claiming that he was violating the board’s orders and spending too much time on Masjid’s property. The petition also claimed Ouda was espousing teachings that violated the Holy Quran and the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Masjid later filed similar petitions against Kamal Shelbayah, another trustee removed by the board, and Shelbayah’s son, Islam, claiming they, too, were trespassing on mosque property, leading prayers and proselytizing members. The petition also claimed Islam Shelbayah had brought weapons to the property to intimidate others. The trial court, however, denied all three petitions, finding that it had no jurisdiction over matters involving the daily operations of a church. On appeal, Masjid argued that courts have the authority to decide the property rights of ecclesiastical organizations. “We agree,” wrote Judge Charles B. Mikell Jr. for the panel. But, he continued, “Before we can decide whether the four trustees can restrain the appellees from visiting the mosque, we would have to determine if they have the power to exercise that property right. “That determination,” Mikell wrote, “would be based on the mosque’s internal procedures, which are beyond judicial review.” Chief Judge G. Alan Blackburn and Presiding Judge Marion T. Pope Jr. concurred. TRANSLATION DIFFERENCES DISCOUNTED IN RAPE CASE An appellate panel rejected a convicted rapist’s argument that discrepancies in translated testimony warranted reversal of his conviction. “We are aware of the potential injustices to non-English-speaking defendants that could result from mistranslations given at trial,” wrote Judge M. Yvette Miller for the panel. But in this case, she found, the translations were not materially different and the correct translation was more incriminating than the ones the jury heard. And, Miller added, the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict even without the testimony that was mistranslated. Moreno v. State, No. A01A0944 (Ct. App. Ga. Aug. 6, 2001). A Bibb Superior Court jury convicted Hector Moreno of three counts of rape against his former girlfriend. According to the Aug. 6 opinion, the day after his girlfriend broke up with him, Moreno saw her walking to work and offered her a ride. Instead of taking her to work, he drove her to a motel in Macon, Ga., where she said he raped her three times. On appeal, Moreno complained that the jury was allowed to hear translated testimony during its deliberations that was different from the translated testimony at trial. At issue was the victim’s videotaped interview that was played during trial. An interpreter provided a simultaneous translation as the tape played. In the first version, the interpreter testified that the victim said “after what happened,” she and Moreno continued as boyfriend and girlfriend for about 15 days. The jury, during deliberations, asked that the tape be replayed. That time, the interpreter changed “after what happened” to “after that.” When Moreno’s attorney objected, the translator, out of the jury’s presence, concluded that the correct translation was “after what he did to me.” The versions heard by the jury, Miller wrote, “were substantially the same.” Moreno also complained that the jury viewed a videotape of his Miranda warnings and subsequent statement to police but the police officer who translated that conversation was not available for cross-examination. The tape should have been excluded, he argued. The arresting officer was present during the interview and testified to the video’s accuracy, Miller wrote. The fact that he did not speak Spanish was irrelevant, she added, because in court a translator was present at pretrial hearings and at trial. Judges Pope and Mikell concurred.

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