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An ancient rabbinical court remains a valid way to resolve disputes in Georgia — but only if it complies with the legal standards of secular arbitrations. Fulton Superior Court Judge Constance C. Russell ruled that a bet din violated the rights of Acworth caricature artist Kourosh Solaimani when it failed to keep a record of its proceedings. As a result, the arbitrators’ decision isn’t binding and Solaimani can take his claim to Superior Court. A bet din, also called “beit din,” is translated from the Hebrew as “house of justice.” The tradition stems from ancient times when Jews set up their own courts because some countries denied them access to the judicial system. Some Jews in the United States still take disputes to bet din panels. That’s what Solaimani did when he had a dispute with a business partner, Simon Ghertner. But Solaimani didn’t like the decision rendered by the panel of three rabbis, and took his complaint to the state court system. DIDN’T COMPORT WITH LAW Although Russell’s ruling affirmed the validity of batei dinim (the plural of bet din), she said the one in this case didn’t comport with the law. “When a bet din is conducted in such a manner as to comport with all the requirements of the Georgia Arbitration Code, it is binding upon all parties,” she wrote in her Feb. 1 order granting Solaimani’s request to move to trial. “However this Court finds that, in the present case, the bet din did not comport with the requirements of the Georgia Arbitration Code in that the arbitrators did not maintain a record of all pleadings, documents, testimony and other matters introduced at the bet din as required by OCGA 9-9-8(e).” Calling the issues “novel and important,” Ghertner’s lawyer, Donald F. Samuel, of Garland, Samuel & Loeb, moved for immediate review by the state Court of Appeals. In his motion Samuel notes that the requirement to keep a record under OCGA Section 9-9-8(e) can be waived if there is no objection. “There is no ambiguity in this waiver section,” he wrote. “Each of the requirements of the Arbitration Act, including the requirement that a record shall be maintained, may be waived by the parties’ acquiescence, or failure to object.” The panelists, who decided the case in 1993, kept notes during the case, he says, but destroyed them after years passed. Solaimani, Samuel says, never objected to the lack of a record at the time, nor did he raise it during an April hearing on the validity of the bet din. “He never complained,” he says. “He never said, ‘I want a record made,’ or ‘Where’s the court reporter?’ or anything like that.” A LARGER ISSUE But both Samuel and Solaimani say they recognize that the issue is larger than Solaimani’s complaint against Ghertner. Samuel says the validity of the rabbinical courts as arbitration vehicles is at stake in the case. And Solaimani says he wants others to know that batei dinim do not function as regular courts. He doesn’t mind if the case drags on forever, he says, as long as others learn of the pitfalls possible in submitting a dispute to a bet din. Solaimani, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran, says he hired Ghertner to help him run his art businesses, Creative Caricatures and Caricatures Ink. Later, however, Solaimani says he suspected that Ghertner was forging business documents and stealing his money and clients. STEERED TO RABBINICAL COURT Rather than sue in state court as he had intended originally, Solaimani says his rabbi, Shmuel Khoshkerman of Atlanta’s Congregation Ner Hamizrach, persuaded him to take the dispute to the bet din, because Jewish law frowns on Jews suing each other in state courts. After several meetings of the panel over the course of a year, the bet din awarded Solaimani $1,900 — far less than the $30,000 to $60,000 he claims to have lost. The panel consisted of three Orthodox rabbis: Khoshkerman, Rabbi Menachem A. Deutsch, and Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, professor of law at Emory University and former director of the Beth Din of America, the country’s largest Jewish law court. Batei dinim convene in Atlanta about five times a year. During the proceedings, ex parte communication is allowed, and the panels discourage, but do not prohibit, retaining counsel. The parties may ask questions of each other and field questions from the rabbis. Following the panel’s decision, Solaimani sued in Fulton Superior Court to declare the decision void. He charged that the bet din denied him a lawyer, refused to hear some of his witnesses, denied him discovery, misled him about his right to appeal in state courts, and met with the defense ex parte. Solaimani v. Ghertner, No. E29961 (Fult. Super. July 29, 1994). Solaimani says Khoshkerman conducted the bet din without any understanding of state law. “He thought he could have a bet din like the ones 3,500 years ago between two villagers fighting over a goat,” he says. At the April hearing, Solaimani’s lawyer Sarah Mallas Wayman maintained that her client has no problem with batei dinim in general, but objected to the way this one handled his case. The panel, she said, discriminated against Solaimani because he is Iranian, speaks poor English and is not Orthodox. Russell’s order did not address these charges. Wayman did not return a phone call seeking comment. Under direct questioning from Samuel all three members of the panel denied all of Solaimani’s charges. Broyde, the bet din’s administrative chief, Emory University School of Law Professor and Rabbi Michael Jay Broyde said the panel protected the rights of both parties to the suit. In his motion for interlocutory appeal, Samuel says it was clear to all parties that a court reporter was not present and the panel kept notes but didn’t archive them. “Having failed to present any evidence on this point — evidence that he did not waive the requirement — the plaintiff is not entitled to set aside the award simply because he is upset with the merits of the decision,” he wrote. Samuel says the most important aspect of Russell’s order is that for the first time a Georgia court has recognized that the bet din’s procedures are a valid means of arbitration. “The important thing is that three or more Orthodox rabbis can engage in an arbitration that’s legally enforceable by the courts,” he says. The determination of the validity of the bet din will determine the outcome of Solaimani’s case, Samuel says. If the court’s ruling was binding and valid, then the litigation ends, he says. “This may be a case where we lose the battle but win the war,” he says of Russell’s order.

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