July 13, 2001
Mr. Shane A. Reed, Esquire
P.O. Box 452
Jacksonville, OR 97530
Dear Mr. Reed:
I am in receipt of your letter dated July 12, 2001. It is unclear whether it was written to protect yourself from liabilty, which you have now admitted, or at the behest of New Times, or of Mr. Russell, with whom you have now admitted your complicity. It is clear that it was not written to protect the Erskines. It is also clear that you have chosen to distort, if not misrepresent, our several conversations, particularly those following your now infamous "media feeding frenzy" letter. You will recall in that letter that you were seeking a "financial settlement" from SRF in order to avoid a "media feeding frenzy" over a "paternity' claim against SRF , or was it for a claim against a man who has been dead for 49 years!
With your now admitted collusion with the New Times, you have fulfilled what you and your clients, including Melissa Simpson, (while on probation), both threatened in order to extort money from a non-profit church. You have spawned a "media feeding frenzy"; and you have further exacerbated it with your recent letter attempting to justify "overwhelming legal claims" that have not only been been statutorily barred, by your own admission, for at least 49 years, but have no basis in fact or law. According to your most recently concocted theories, apparently advanced to justify your statements to Mr. Russell before the article was published, the illegitimate relatives of Jesus, Moses, and Buddha have copyright and commercial likeness claims against the respective churches using their images or writings!
After your scheme to squeeze some money from SRF failed in February when we had our "DA conversation", and after the DNA results conclusively excluded Yogananda, (remember our conversation where you thanked me for following blood retrieval procedures from the relatives which you said demonstrated "honesty and "integrity"), you then went to Mr. Russell with your "overwhelming legal claims", creating the "feeding frenzy" you sought, rather than protecting the Erskines by having your "overwhelming claims" tested in Court. If you had, at least filed a frivolous suit, which even a non-lawyer knows would have been thrown out in 30 days, your clients' would have had some glimpse of protection from an extortion charge. But, as we both know , a frivolous filing would have have exposed YOU to liability as a lawyer. It doesn't surprise me that you chose to protect yourself rather than your clients while trying to squeeze money out of a church. Do you have a contingent fee agreement for 40% of the extorted proceeds? When your extortion letter was "withdrawn" (thereby withdrawing your "overwhelming legal claims" ) you requested me at the same time not to contact the DA. You and your clients both knew at that time that you would never get a nickel from SRF regardless of the DNA results. Do you now recall me informing you that there was "no possibility" that Yogananda was the father before the DNA test? You then turned to an unethical journalist in order to feed the "frenzy" you threatened. As you know, this is a violation of the canons of ethics. Apparently you and Mr. Russell have a lot in common.
Now that you have admitted in writing that your client has, according to you, known about a potential claim all of his adult life, (ie "during his upbringing" according to your letter), including the period when Yogananda was alive (you should read the case law before you do someone else's bidding), you have essentially admitted that your "overwhelming legal claims" are barred by various statutes of limitations and laches. Thus, you have also admitted in writing an irrevocable conflict of interest between your client and yourself relating to your collusion with the New Times. Additionally, you have admitted to the fact of the SRF offer to bring over Biswanath Ghosh, and you have admitted to cooperating with Mr. Russell before accepting that offer and confirming the blood sample of Mr. Ghosh. You have also implicitly admitted that you informed Mr. Russell of the offer before either one of you confirmed the blood sample, instead opting for a "media feeding frenzy". In light of these admissions, I feel compelled to advise you to obtain counsel before writing any more letters, particularly in response to this letter, which, together with all of your previous correspondence will be offered as evidence. If you have professional liabilty insurance, please notify your carrier and have their lawyer contact me. If you choose to represent yourself, please advise immediately.
As I expected, you have sought to defend yourself and the defamatory story manufactured by you and Mr. Russell with an absurd position rather than admit the simple truth. I'm sure the jury in this matter will wisely consider the actions of an attorney on the defendant's side of the table, particularly one who gave the story to the media, disclosed client confidences, and who has exposed his clients to liability without first filing a case. Did you not file a case first because of the ethical obligations not to file frivolous cases? Now that you have solidified our case against you as an unreliable source, who chose to violate the ethical constraints imposed in our profession, as well as our case against New Times and Mr. Russell, and against your clients, the Erskines, please consider this latter to be a demand for a retraction pursuant to Cal. Civil Code § 48a.
Pursuant to said statute, this letter hereby incorporates my letter, and all attachments thereto, dated July 12, 2001, demanding a retraction from Mr. Russell and New Times. This letter specifically incorporates all references to yourself and to all members of the Erskine family cited in my foregoing July 12, 2001 letter and attachments; and this letter expressly demands a retraction for statements and innuendo attributable to you or any member of the Erskine family in what is referred to as the "Russell article" which suggest, state or imply, by innuendo, or otherwise, the following: (1) That Yogananda is the father of Ben Erskine. (2) That either you, or any member of the Erskine family, has ever held a "good faith" legal position (as defined under California and federal law governing the filing of pleadings) justifying the filing of a lawsuit for "paternity". (3) That either you or any member of the Erskine family possess any admissible evidence that Yogananda is the father of Erskine. This letter expressly demands that you retract the hearsay statements attributable to others in your July 12, 2001 letter, (ie, "his family's repeated statements" that Yogananda was the father) which you cite as "proof" of paternity, and which you have now "published". For purposes of section 48a, we deem your July 12, 2001 letter to be an admission and confirmation that you "published" all of the "defamatory statements" therein relating to SRF and Yogananda's paternity, as well as those attributable to myself, to Mr. Russell before the article was "published" , which he then "republished". (4) That either you or any member of the Erskine family have held a "good faith" belief as defined above that any member of the Erskine family possesses "overwhelming legal claims".
As you know, when I spoke to you after receipt of your "extortion letter", I told you that the only reason I had not gone straight to the DA was out of compassion for the Erskines, particularly given Melissa Simpson's criminal record, (remember that conversation?). You then agreed to "withdraw" the letter and the admittedly specious paternity claims referenced therein, in consideration of SRF not pursuing a claim for extortion, and in consideration of having Ben Erskine provide a blood sample. As you well know, the blood sample from Mr. Erskine was specifically demanded by SRF. Please consider this letter formal notice of your breach of that agreement. I note that you didn't address the issue of your "withdrawing" your "media feeding frenzy" letter in your July 12 letter. I will consider your silence on that point to be an admission. As you know, I left a message in your office on friday giving you a final opportunity to"withdraw" your letter of July 12, 2001 by noon on Friday, July 13, 2001. Subject to the provisions of Cal. Civil Code § 48a allowing you and/or New Times to publish a retraction in order to mitigate damages, that offer is withdrawn.
Please advise forthwith whether you will be represented by counsel in this matter, and also whether you will continue to represent the Erskine family. Since you will be a party and a witness in this matter with interests that obviously conflict with those of your client, I hereby advise you of your ethical obligations. In the event that the Erskine family or yourself seek a continuance of the trial of this matter on grounds of substitution or withdrawal of counsel, after the case has been filed on August 3, 2001, please be on notice that such a motion will be contested based, in part, on the notice given herein.
Finally, this letter does not attempt to be a complete or exhaustive statement of Mr. Flynn's, SRF's, or its monastics' rights or claims against you, New Times, or the author of the article, nor do any of the statements contained herein constitute a waiver or relinquishment of any of their rights, or remedies, whether legal or equitable, all of which are expressly reserved.
FLYNN, SHERIDAN and TABB
Michael J. Flynn
cc: Michael Lacey
Rick Barrs, Editor