The decision in the second appeal freed many more writings and photographs, but sent part of the case back to Sacramento, so a jury could tell us whether Yogananda had informally assigned some writings to SRF. If the jury thought Yogananda meant the corporation to have his unpublished works and contributions to the magazine, SRF could reclaim something from its losses.
Ananda faced a difficult decision. Some suggested that we should stop actively defending the case entirely, and let SRF win what remained. Ananda had already won most of the issues: use of “Self-Realization”; use of Yogananda’s name, voice, signature, photograph, and likeness; most of the photographs and numerous publications, including all of Yogananda’s principal works. Along the way Ananda had obtained court orders invalidating SRF’s service marks and trademarks.
Taking the case to trial would be costly. We could not do a jury trial in less than a month, living and working out of hotel rooms five days a week. Trial triggered a number of additional expenses, such as transporting witnesses, creating blow-ups and exhibits, and preparing witnesses to testify. Numerous motions and oppositions would be needed before trial, as well as legal briefs on specific issues of law that might arise along the way. And Ananda was already in debt.
Yet there were good reasons to press forward. Fruitless settlement talks had been conducted off and on ever since that first meeting in Fresno. After Ananda won the second summary adjudication motion, a representative from SRF had met with Ananda people in talks that first looked promising but went nowhere. The attempted settlement during the appeal also ended in disappointment. After Bertolucci, a negotiated settlement seemed unlikely. And to the extent that one of SRF’s goals was to drive Ananda out of business through litigation costs, settlement would actually be counterproductive.
Moreover, the issues of the magazine still not in the public domain contained important texts, warranting additional effort to free them. Copyrights on portions of the “Second Coming” had already lapsed and those articles were published by Dallas-based Amrita Publishers in 1980. But most of the “Spiritual Interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita” and “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” would be available in their original form only if the magazine articles were freed from SRF’s copyright claims.
In addition, there were doctrinal reasons for SRF to fight to keep the older periodicals out of general circulation. One of the principal differences between SRF and Ananda was Ananda’s responsiveness to Yogananda’s command to go forth in all directions and start “World Brotherhood Colonies.” By the time of the lawsuit, SRF had long lost all interest in starting intentional communities.
Yogananda took advantage of the opportunity presented by a Sunday afternoon garden party in 1949, to issue one of his clearest calls for the formation of world brotherhood colonies. The party had been arranged by socialite and heiress Mrs. Clarence Myers to raise money for improvements to SRF’s Sunset Boulevard church. The copper baron Isaac Guggenheim opened his thirty-two-room mansion for the affair, and decorated the house and grounds to resemble Tibetan gardens. Entertainment included the famous baritone Noel Cravat, as well as a dozen SRF monks who demonstrated yoga postures. The August 2, 1949 account in the Los Angeles Mirror, related how the gala event was attended by “hundreds of socialites, film celebrities and just plain people.” Near the end of his talk Yogananda announced that “This marks the birth of a new era.” He explained:
“The word has been said, and we must go on—not only those who are here, but thousands of youths must go North, South, East and West to cover the earth with little colonies demonstrating that simplicity of living plus high thinking lead to the greatest happiness and strengthen character. Example talks louder than words. . . .”
The Myers’ party received a big write up in the November-December 1949 Self-Realization Magazine—the event itself, quotations from Yogananda’s talk, three pages of photographs—detailing the significance of what was happening. After SRF decided far-flung villages did not fit within its corporate scheme, the party became simply another reminder of how things had changed.
Yogananda’s exhortation at the Myers’ party would energize Ananda’s founding of colonies around the world. But SRF still controlled the copyright to the article about the party. Kriyananda was present at the party and could talk all he wanted to about what he remembered Yogananda saying, but Ananda could not copy and distribute the magazine article or its copyrighted contents. Copying required SRF’s permission, which would never be granted.
If Ananda could make these accounts of Yogananda’s mission in the 1940s and early 1950s more public, the world might obtain a new appreciation of Yogananda’s final direction. SRF’s current leadership often said that during his last years Yogananda made many changes to the way things were to be done, and left his “blueprint in the ether.” They produced no documents, however, to support the claim, and Ananda lacked documents to refute it. Having come so far, after such an investment of time, money, and energy, Ananda thought it worth the effort to try and free the full story.
There were other benefits. SRF would now, at long last, be required to show us the original manuscripts and typescripts of the “Second Coming” and the “Bhagavad Gita.” These documents had been withheld from us during the prior years of litigation, but would have to be produced before trial. SRF claimed its possession of the original manuscripts evidenced the “informal assignment” of the common law copyright. After much negotiation and pointed correspondence, we arranged for a presentation and examination of the documents at the Richmond Temple, north of Berkeley. On May 13, 2002, just four months before the trial’s start, the litigation team examined these original documents. It was a white glove affair. We could look at, but not touch, the manuscripts. Each page was turned at our request by an SRF monk in white gloves standing guard at the table. I could not help thinking how the documents seemed more important to SRF than their content. The company could coin new teachings as needed, but Yogananda’s original writings were not so malleable. And here they were, preserved for us in their pristine purity.
We broke into groups to review the materials. Still, it was slow going and took two full days. We had previously arranged who would be responsible for which documents, and agreed on what we were looking for. Having read so much about these works, their finalization out in the desert where Kriyananda and Tara Mata worked closely with Yogananda, and the still vague story of why they remained unpublished for fifty years, it was thrilling to finally see the originals. And SRF did indeed have possession of those original manuscripts. The fact that SRF held on to what Yogananda left behind, gave it a major leg up on its informal assignment claim. We never saw, however, the galley sheets that Yogananda told Rajarshi were ready for the press in 1951.
Durga and I worked together on chapters from the “Spiritual Interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita.” The Gita is a very small slice from the immense Mahabharata, an epic of ancient India filled with amazing tales and allegorical stories. We are introduced to our heroes when the two armies have already assembled for battle on the plain of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas facing off against the Kauravas. The two sides comprised branches of royal cousins, caught up in a karmic soap opera of betrayal and skullduggery. Arjuna is a prince of the Pandavas, uncertain what to do now that taking action involves attacking his extended family. By luck he had drawn for his charioteer none other than the God Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. In responding to Arjuna’s questions, Krishna expounds a catechism of Yoga, Vedanta, and life: a summary of proper conduct in an uncertain world. The Gita speaks a lawyer’s creed: duty in the face of adversity, effort without attachment to consequences. And propriety in all things, for as another part of the Mahabharata tells us, “Through dharmic action comes victory.” Yogananda’s exegesis applied the teachings of the Gita to the world around us, allowing the reader to draw new meaning from these ancient words. The Protective Order prevents me from saying more, but it was another amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. During a break, sitting there in the Richmond Temple overlooking the Bay, my mind turned again to how Kamala Silva’s efforts had made this Temple happen, and how SRF had turned against her. I reflected on my own naiveté, and how much had happened since I first met the Matas in Fresno, a decade earlier. How blessed I was to have been made privy to so many secrets, to have seen so many of Yogananda’s original writings, and now I would be around to learn how it all turned out.
Another perk of going forward was the chance to talk with some fascinating people we were thinking of calling as witnesses. Many were former disciples of Yogananda who never became SRF members, or who left after 1952. One larger-than-life figure was Herb Jeffries, “The Bronze Buckaroo.” An early cowboy movie star of color, Jeffries headlined five Westerns in the late 1930s, billed as the “sensational singing cowboy.” That voice opened other doors, and he left the movies to become a singer with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He developed his own following over the years, and still actively performed, usually now for special events.
Jeffries had become a disciple of Yogananda in the late 1940s, after reading the Autobiography while convalescing in Michigan following an airplane crash. When he returned to the Los Angeles area, he sought out Yogananda and felt an instant bond. Yogananda would usually meet with Jeffries privately in his rooms on the third floor of Mt. Washington. He did not encourage Jeffries to become associated with the organization, and preferred to maintain a personal direct relationship. Jeffries remained close to Yogananda through his final years, and was a favored guest at Yogananda’s last birthday party on January 5, 1952. In a photo of the event that ran in the July-August 1952 issue of Self-Realization Magazine, he is shown sitting next to Yogananda. We thought Jeffries’ experience illustrated how Yogananda maintained long-term personal interests outside the SRF organization. This in turn would permit the jury to infer that Yogananda maintained private financial and property interests outside the organization. In any event this charismatic character would be an entertaining witness. We prepared him to testify and gave him a subpoena, but he did not make the final cut of warm bodies we called to the stand. His story of being a black actor in 1930s Los Angeles had gotten me thinking though about what Yogananda must have experienced as a dark-skinned Indian, traveling around the country during the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, the New Deal, a world war, and then postwar America.
His celebrity status in later years might have protected him somewhat, but Yogananda was for many years an alien in America, and a Hindu to boot. At least until he became a US citizen later in life, Yogananda was subject to the California Alien Property Act, adopted by public acclaim in 1920. We stumbled across this fact in a letter written by Gyanamata to Nerode in 1935, one of many letters we obtained from third parties. She missed the Nerodes, and corresponded regularly with them as they moved from city to city spreading the Yogoda message in the 1920s and 1930s. Late in 1935, a week after Dhirananda entered judgment against Yogananda, Gyanamata wrote to Nerode in Ohio that the Mother Center was not concerned about Dhirananda attaching any property to satisfy the judgment. “The property belongs to the church, and Swamiji, being a Hindu, cannot, and never did, hold it.”
We discovered that during these years the Alien Property Act prohibited the transfer of land to non-citizens, and aliens could not own real estate, unless they were eligible for citizenship. Asian nationalities were not eligible for citizenship, and thus could not own land. If an unauthorized alien attempted to take title to real property, it would become property of the state. The Alien Land Law remained in effect in California throughout Yogananda’s lifetime. The California Supreme Court struck down part of the Act in 1952, before the voters repealed it entirely in 1956. So maybe there were other reasons Yogananda publicly stated he owned no property.
We were now fast approaching trial with a lot to do—preparing motions on evidence, jury instructions, examinations of witnesses, blow-up exhibits, and copies of the numerous documents to be shown witnesses. Rob and Richard had blended smoothly into the legal team over the years, and about this time we finalized that Rob would head up the team at trial. He would make the opening statement and the critical closing argument. He would also examine most of the witnesses, with Richard and me assisting as needed.
Fair Use | 2001–2002
SRF now entrusted the balance of its case to a group of strangers. Either side had the right to demand a jury, and SRF knew what the result would be if Garcia decided the rest of the case. SRF had reserved the right to a jury when it first filed its complaint, and it now confirmed that the factual decisions would be out of Garcia’s hands. Having laymen resolve this dispute also meant that the legal subtleties needed to be explained in ways the jury could grasp. We needed to explain the complicated history in terms of “themes” and “archetypes,” craft examinations and arguments in ways that caught the jury’s interest, and provide solutions that the jury could feel good adopting. We needed a simpler story, with a happy ending.
For the remaining writings at issue, Ananda had a first line argument and a fallback defense. First, we argued that SRF did not own any copyrights unless it had registered the work in its own name while Yogananda was still alive. We thought the facts showed that SRF was more the handy assistant than the bona fide inheritor of Yogananda’s mission. He meant his works for the public, to be read as he wrote them. It was a good argument, but far from a sure winner, and we needed a fallback position.
SRF had facts that supported its claim to an implied assignment. It held the originals of the works, there were those numerous quotes of Yogananda saying he owned nothing because he had given everything to SRF, and written assignments of some specific personal property. We thought the finer grain of those facts showed that SRF had received only what Yogananda expressly gave it, that he spoke metaphorically about property ownership, and that he expressly kept the copyright to his principal writings in his own name. Ananda could not, of course, sift through SRF’s archives and cull quotes that might set Yogananda’s thinking in better focus, or clearly put the lie to SRF’s half-truths. Still, we had done our homework and would put on a show.
We were confident concerning the photographs. They bore no hint who took them, or that they were taken at the direction of SRF. Other than Ananda Mata’s problematic memory, SRF apparently had no evidence who took the photos, or under what circumstances. We expected, therefore, that SRF’s claims to the photographs would fail at trial for lack of proof. Maybe the jury would see that SRF was overreaching, and therefore somehow less credible. But who knew what the jury would make of the history of these parties and their alien religion?
Our “Aw Shucks” defense to SRF’s claim of intentional infringement, was the doctrine called “fair use.” It provided that certain copying—for teaching, research, and the like—did not amount to illegal infringement. It used a “balancing test” that evaluated five elements to determine when copying crossed the line into infringement. We pushed hard on the doctrine in testimony from several sources, to give the jury leeway to let us off the hook, even if they thought SRF owned the copyrights. The 1909 Act did not define what it meant by “fair use,” and over the years appellate decisions had given guidance on a case-by-case basis. We did not know how this jury would feel about fair use. It might come down to whether they saw Ananda’s use of the works as a bona fide religious expression, or as the palming off that SRF alleged it to be.
Getting Ready | August 2002
The lawyers met with Judge Garcia on August 2, 2002, for the important pre-trial conference that had been put off years before. Garcia let us know that normally he holds these conferences in his chambers in a more relaxed setting, so the participants can get to know each other a bit better and smooth the mechanics of trial. For this case, however, the conference would be conducted in open court, every word taken down by a court reporter, “to be sure you behave.” He set a brisk pace for required productions: all exhibits exchanged by September 10; motions on evidence filed by September 20 and any oppositions filed by September 25; proposed jury instructions lodged with the court and trial briefs filed and served by September 23. There were also witness lists, exhibit lists, and deposition excerpts that had to be prepared and exchanged before we could use them at trial.
The trial would begin Monday morning, September 30, 2002. We were to be there by 9:15, and Garcia would begin ruling on our motions at 9:30. We would then start picking a jury by 10:00. Garcia knew the two sides had each filed more than a dozen evidence motions, and he was giving us just two minutes per motion for our argument and his decision. We would go Monday through Friday beginning at 9:00 AM, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when we would start at 1:30. We agreed the trial would take about fifteen court days, to be spread over four weeks. Garcia wanted eight jurors rather than the usual minimum number of six, and he got them. In federal court a jury’s decision must be unanimous, and because SRF bore the burden of proof, the greater the number of jurors, the harder its case became to win.
The evidence motions are called “motions in limine” and are decided just before trial begins. These motions ask the judge to rule beforehand that particular pieces of evidence will or will not be admissible, that specific questions may or may not be asked, or that certain events will not be discussed by counsel or witnesses within the jury’s hearing. Such an order often involves instructing your client that they are not to spontaneously interject the prohibited information. The idea behind the motions is that you cannot “unring the bell” once irrelevant but prejudicial material has been paraded past the jury. Ananda raised 18 issues, and SRF 15, that we thought the judge should anticipate and address before testimony began. Having been burned by Bertolucci, some of our motions sought to prevent SRF from attacking Kriyananda again, or referring to Kriyananda’s vows, Ananda’s religious practices, or the Bertolucci case. We also used the motions in limine to try and exclude many of Yogananda’s statements that he owned “nothing” or that he had given “everything” away.
SRF wanted to admit these quotes at trial because if Yogananda had given everything away, it supported SRF’s argument that Yogananda gave everything to SRF. We pointed out that these statements were not literally true, Yogananda had not, in fact, given away all of his property. Ananda compiled substantial evidence that Yogananda continued to own and actively manage personal property and bank accounts throughout the time in question. Garcia knew of Yogananda’s property ownership because Ananda had earlier used this evidence in support of a summary adjudication motion. Yogananda’s statements about ownership on the material plane must be seen as metaphorical, as some form of affirmation, and an exhortation to non-attachment. Whatever he might have meant, it would be misleading for the jury to hear these quotes and take them for literal truth.
Moreover, their factual inaccuracy could be explained by their religious context. These statements were typically culled from some religious talk, or a letter written to encourage donations or respond to lawsuits. We argued that if the statements were made in a religious context, the court could not make secular sense out of them, at least not without impermissibly determining religious matters. Because we could not know what Yogananda meant by these statements, using them as evidence would mislead more than inform, and they should be excluded as unreliable and irrelevant. We filed our motions and made final preparations before decamping to the capitol.
Trial | Sept–Oct 2002
Everyone arrived in town the Friday before the Monday of trial to set up shop and make final arrangements. We were back at the Holiday Inn, just blocks from the new courthouse, with an additional suite for our “war room.” Ananda stocked it with desks, computers, a printer, copier, and boxes upon boxes of materials gathered over the years. This was the nerve center where we discussed the next day’s events, prepared witnesses, and wrote the last minute motions and papers that are required throughout a trial like this.
On September 30, 2002, trial finally began up on the eighth floor of the new courthouse. The nearby restaurants were not as good as those by the old courthouse, despite a mall across the street. But if I brought my suitcase to court on Friday, and no last minute matters arose, I could hop across the street and catch the 5:15 Capitol Corridor back to the Bay Area, with a bar car to ease me through the delta and along the bay back home for the weekend.
Flynn Thrown Out of Court | October 2002
During the morning break on one of the first days of testimony, I was walking down the window-walled corridor outside our eighth-floor courtroom when I heard Flynn’s loud and unmistakable voice. It was booming through the open door of an attorney conference room. “Just say no! That’s all you have to do, just say no!” As I walked past I turned my head and saw Flynn haranguing Brother Chidananda, the witness then still in the middle of testifying, who would retake the stand immediately after the break. It may surprise some, but there are limits to the ethical coaching of witnesses, called “woodshedding,” and it sounded like Flynn had crossed that line. What surprised me, though, was that he did it shouting at a witness in a small room with an open door off the hallway next to the courtroom. What does that tell you? The door wide open. Compounding the folly was the fact that Garcia had already taken the trouble of prohibiting Flynn from officially appearing as SRF’s counsel in the case. Flynn could not represent SRF in the courtroom, yet here he was, telling an SRF witness what to say when he resumed testifying.
As an officer of the court I had the pleasant duty of bringing such egregious misbehavior to Garcia’s attention. His Honor was upset. We soon learned that Flynn had already caught Garcia’s eye by what the judge described as flitting about the audience and “talking in stage whispers” so the jury could hear. Garcia called Flynn forward, and asked him to explain what he was doing. When Flynn started to explain, Garcia cut him off, and asked whether this was the same Michael Flynn the judge had earlier prohibited from appearing as pro hac vice counsel in the case. The exchange turned ugly, with Flynn sliding quickly from defensive, to combative, then loudly accusatory, and concluded with an angry Garcia ejecting Flynn from the courtroom. It was like a dramatic scripted scene out of a movie, only better because it was playing out live and unrehearsed before an enrapt audience. Garcia had pressed some hidden button and a burly Federal Marshal entered the courtroom, whereupon the judge instructed him, in a clear and forceful voice, that Flynn had been thrown out of this proceeding and was to leave the courtroom immediately. If Flynn did not leave, or if he tried to return to the courtroom, he was to be physically escorted from the building, with a marshal always in place to execute the order as needed. As Garcia talked the marshal adopted an aggressive arms-akimbo hand-near-the-gun posture, and began glaring at Flynn. Flynn would not back down, but soon stormed from the courtroom, venting as he went, the marshal close behind. As soon as the door closed behind them the entire audience broke into hushed conversations, requiring Garcia to gavel the proceedings back to order. It was better than the best Broadway.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. The trial dragged on week after week. SRF effectively abandoned its claims to the remaining photographs and introduced no evidence showing that SRF, its employees, or its equipment had anything to do with any of the photos. Given the factual inconsistencies in Ananda Mata’s earlier declarations and depositions, SRF decided not to call her as a witness, and Daya saw no reason to make the trip. Both begged off with letters from their doctors. SRF’s evidence focused on the informal assignment, the audiotapes, and the magazine articles. And we were worried about the cumulative effect of so many little quotes and those truncated comments about Yogananda giving it all away to SRF. We were unable to put the quotes in a more accurate and meaningful context, or show why Yogananda had said these things, and how he had not meant that SRF should own all of his unpublished writings. The jury was getting tired. The lawyers were too. Late in the proceeding one of SRF’s lawyers commented that the money was nice, but he would pay to be able to get out of having to continue showing up day after day. I doubt any of us at Ananda’s table felt that way. But I sympathized with the jury: the history was long and complex, the writings often obscure, and who really knew what Yogananda wanted when he left for the Biltmore on March 7, 1952? And SRF had possession of the original documents. SRF’s story that Yogananda meant SRF to keep what he left behind provided an easy and satisfying way for the jury to wrap things up and return to their lives outside the courtroom.
In closing argument SRF asked the jury to award it over $33,000,000.00 as damages because Ananda had copied some of its magazine articles. Rather than try to prove that it had suffered any “actual damages,” SRF elected to claim “statutory damages” in an amount fixed by law for each infringement. There were many little supposed infringements, and SRF wanted hundreds of dollars for each time anyone at Ananda copied anything from the magazines. After a decade of losses in court, SRF hoped for a knockout punch on damages for infringement of the magazine’s articles. SRF could never collect tens of millions of dollars from Ananda, but the crushing debt might finally put Ananda out of business.
In the meantime more motions were called for. SRF had not introduced any evidence on the photographs, so Ananda brought a motion for “judgment as a matter of law” on those four remaining photographs, and Garcia granted that motion on October 24. Ananda had now won all of the photographs in the lawsuit. One of those photographs was labeled “PY, Myers Party.” This was the photo of Yogananda’s blessing given at the Myers’ garden party in 1949, when Kriyananda heard his master call for people to go forth in all directions and start World Brotherhood Colonies.
Final Judgment | Oct–Dec 2002
The jury was out for days as we waited around, read the paper, strolled the glass-sided hallway overlooking Sacramento, and made calls to kill time. On October 28, 2002, twelve years and three months after the complaint was filed, the jury returned a verdict. Their decision, with Solomon-like wisdom, gave SRF title to Yogananda’s works on the basis of an implied common law assignment, including the articles in the magazines, but ruled that Ananda’s use of those works had been a “fair use.” There was no copyright infringement and, perhaps more importantly, no copyright damages.
The jury awarded SRF a total of $29,000 in damages for Ananda’s use and sale of six audiotapes through time of trial. After twelve years of litigation SRF received damages insufficient to pay its legal fees for a week of trial. The clerk entered judgment on this part of the case the next day. SRF won only the common law copyrights in the magazine and audiotapes. The jury did not validate SRF as Yogananda’s successor, but rather determined that among the things Yogananda left behind on March 7, 1952, were his common law copyrights. SRF managed to keep the copyrights in the magazine articles and audio recordings for their statutory renewal periods, and the rights in any unpublished writings and talks for so long as they remain unpublished. These rights, though overshadowed by SRF’s losses, were significant because they allowed SRF to control the editing and future release of materials not yet in the public domain.
The judge’s gavel after the jury verdict did not, however, end the proceedings. Additional issues still had to be worked out by counsel, or decided by the judge. The final judgment’s language needed drafting, and post-trial motions might be required, including both sides’ requests for legal fees. SRF was already talking about another appeal.
Ananda stood ready to take the high road home from court. We were happy with the result and weary of the fight. The parties met in strained but productive sessions and in less than two months worked out the terms of a judgment that cobbled together various prior rulings and opinions, and that waived all appeals and post-trial motions. SRF had asked Garcia for “declaratory relief” in the form of a statement that SRF was the owner of certain rights in the magazine articles and the audiotapes. When Garcia signed and entered the four page “Final Judgment Terminating Action” in December 2002, he ruled that SRF owned the copyrights in the following works: (a) nine article series and works appearing in SRF’s magazine between 1943 and 1976, and (b) six sound recordings of Yogananda made between 1949 and 1951. One of the articles successfully retained by SRF was the account in Self-Realization Magazine of Yogananda’s talk given at Myers’ garden party. SRF could still keep some things out of the light, and its many hidden treasures remained secure. After twelve years of litigation SRF had managed not to lose everything. Mission accomplished.
The Final Judgment also confirmed the earlier surviving orders and rulings in Ananda’s favor. Taking all the rulings and results into account, Ananda appeared to have won much and lost little, coming out well on top. Garcia seemed to agree because after the verdict he once stated he “assumed” Ananda would be bringing a motion for its fees. Attorneys’ fees by this time were a very big deal. The “prevailing party” was entitled to its legal fees on many of SRF’s claims together with certain out-of-pocket expenses. Even if some of the legal fees might not be recoverable, and the final number dependent on the judge’s discretion, Ananda still stood to recover many of the millions paid over the years. These fees would dwarf the $29,000 in damages.
But requesting fees and costs meant more motions, and SRF would surely appeal any award. After much discussion and reflection, Ananda agreed to give up its claim to fees and costs if it would buy peace. It did. Both sides waived all post-trial motions and rights of appeal, gave up all claims to fees and costs, and agreed that entry of judgment would “represent the final termination of this action.” On December 16, 2002, Garcia approved the final form of the judgment, signed it, and had it entered by the clerk. The case was over. It was my birthday. Some months afterwards I read a “Judicial Profile” in the daily legal newspaper about Judge Garcia. It quoted him as saying that he did not like jury trials for copyright cases, because the jury always seemed to get it wrong. I think he had our case in mind. When asked for the names of some representative cases he had presided over, he included the SRF lawsuit with Ananda high on his short list.
Karma Kicks Back | Dec 2002 and beyond
The lawsuit hurt SRF with bad press and defections from its ranks. I never thought karma could kick back so quickly. Reporters started snooping around SRF and uncovering more inconvenient facts. In July 1999, for example, Ron Russell broke the story in the Los Angeles New Times that the Wright sisters, Daya Mata and Ananda Mata, were no longer living on Mt. Washington. Tobacco heiress Doris Duke had made it possible for the sisters to move to a nice house on the 200 block of South Canon Avenue in Sierra Madre—with enough money to buy a place next door to house the monastic help. SRF’s litigious energy attracted new lawsuits. In 1994 SRF was sued in Kern County, California and in New York by decedents’ estates over bequests made to the organization, and a similar federal lawsuit followed in 2000. In 1998 an SRF member named Patricia Lyons sued the organization for sexual harassment, and garnered a settlement rumored to be $333,000. The next year Sunset Palisades filed suit, followed by several injury and employment claims, as SRF continued to reap what it had sowed. These years took a terrible internal toll on SRF as well. Between 2000 and 2005 more than fifty monks and nuns are reported to have left the organization.
During the lawsuit, with Ananda’s assistance, Joan Wight published a three-part memoir written by Durga Mata, a nun who joined Yogananda in December 1929. SRF tried to stop the publication of this Trilogy of Divine Love, and claimed that Durga Mata’s writings also belonged to the corporation. But Joan produced a 1975 Confirmation of Gift in which Durga Mata specifically included her writings as part of her gift to Joan. Following a pointed letter from Joan’s lawyers, SRF backed down.
The struggle may have stirred SRF to some action. In response to Ananda’s release of audio recordings, SRF also published those same recordings, and a few more as well. Even so, the recordings released by SRF are nothing compared with the wealth of material still withheld. One might expect SRF eager to share its Master’s vocal vibrations with the world, to get the real deal out there in the cosmos. Yet SRF has released only ten CDs of Yogananda’s talks, this small number reflecting, perhaps, that it is harder to edit audio recordings than writings. SRF also spiffed up the magazine and, after half a century of delay, published a version of Yogananda’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, called Arjuna Talks With God. As SRF learned that Ananda was about to release a work, like the Rubaiyat, it would rush its own version to press and grab shelf space in the bookstores. Thus, the lawsuit urged SRF’s discipleship on to greater, if spiteful, zeal, resulting in the completion of works that had languished for years. Perhaps the real beneficiary of the lawsuits is the public at large, who now has access to these materials concerning Yogananda and his teachings.