The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has upheld a $354 million contempt judgment arising from a human rights case against the estate of the late Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos.
A three-judge panel affirmed the judgment on October 24 amid efforts to collect a $2 billion damages award won in 1995 in a class action filed on behalf of nearly 10,000 Filipinos who claimed that the Marcos regime committed summary executions, torture and other human rights violations.
The judgment was the largest contempt award ever affirmed by a federal appeals court, according to attorney Robert Swift, lead counsel for the victims and their families.
The panel affirmed a contempt award issued last year by the U.S. District Court in Hawaii stemming from violations of an injunction issued against Imelda Marcos and her son Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a senator in the Philippines. They had moved money out of the estate to avoid paying the $2 billion judgment, Swift said.
“Those assets are available, if we can find them,” he said.
Representing the Marcos estate was John Bartko at Bartko, Zankel, Tarrant & Miller in San Francisco, according to court records. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The appeals panel rejected arguments by the Marcos estate that the lower court’s contempt judgment was not enforceable because the $2 billion award had expired. Marcos attorneys also asserted that a $100,000 per-day contempt fine was not enforceable because it was coercive.
The appeals court determined that, because the estate had not raised the expiration issue at the district court level, it could not consider it now. The panel also was not persuaded by the argument that the per-day fine was unenforceable.
“Because a contempt sanction can be both coercive and compensatory…and because no party has asked the court to allocate the $100,000 per day amount between compensatory and coercive components, the district court did not abuse its discretion,” the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.
Marcos, who died in 1989, was president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. Following the assassination of his political opponent Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, a revolution led to his exile in Hawaii.
The Marcos litigation was the first lawsuit arising from human rights abuses in a foreign country that was tried on its merits in a U.S. court.
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