WOMAN WINS ANANDA SUIT SEX-ABUSE TRIAL: JURORS GRANT $625,000 TO PLAINTIFF, WHO ALLEGED FRAUD AND INFLICTING OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS.
Friday, February 6, 1998
BY DEBORAH KONG, Mercury News Staff Writer
Memo: SHORTER VERSION: page 4B, Morning Final edition.
A smiling Anne-Marie Bertolucci hugged her attorneys andsupporters outside a
Redwood City courtroom Thursday after a jury agreed with her claims that spiritual leaders of the Ananda Church of Self-Realization abused their authority and used her for sex.
The jury awarded the
34-year-old woman $625,000 in compensatory damages, finding the church liable for fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision of its spiritual leader, J. Donald
Walters, 71, also known as Swami Kriyananda.
The jury found the church was liable for $330,000, Walters for $265,000 and senior minister Daniel Levin, 42, for $30,000.
''The jury found
Walters, Levin and the church all owed a duty to Anne-Marie as ministers and they violated their duties,'' said Bertolucci's attorney Ford Greene. ''Anne-Marie's been vindicated.''
Ananda attorney Gordon
Rockhill said he had no comment until the case is over. The jury must consider punitive damages Monday.
Ananda attorneys and church members have said the 2,500-member church was being put on trial and
that there was no sexual encounter between Bertolucci and Walters. They said the Nevada City-based church was based on simple living and practicing meditation and yoga as a way of communing with God.
Ananda owns a Mountain View residential community with 120 members, a Palo Alto church and school and two bookstores in Mountain View.
In the three-month trial, Bertolucci, a former Palo Alto
resident, alleged that the church allowed an environment in which Walters sexually abused her and at least 11 other women. Although other church members knew about Walters' behavior, they did nothing
to stop him, she said.
Bertolucci also alleged that Levin forced himself on her sexually several times over a nine-month period, telling her it was ''God's will.'' After she left the church in 1993,
Bertolucci said, she suffered an emotional breakdown and felt suicidal.
''It was the sexual exploitation we were most concerned about stopping,'' Greene said.
Bertolucci said she hoped the case would set a precedent for other churches.
Rockhill said Thursday he did not know where Walters was. Levin's wife, who was suffering from terminal cancer, died last
Friday, and he was in Nevada City attending to family matters, Rockhill said.
In the next few days, Bertolucci's attorneys will take depositions from church officials to determine its net assets for
the punitive-damage phase of the trial. ''It's a long road,'' Greene said. ''The game's not over.''