Eljamal claims anti-Arab, pro-Jewish bias by judges
Ordered to pay nearly $10 million in two legal cases stemming from disputes with associates in a Shell gas stations venture, a Westchester businessman has claimed he is a victim of discrimination by Jewish judges in White Plains who have repeatedly denied him his civil rights because he is a “Muslim Arab of Palestinian descent.”
Sammy Eljamal, owner of Wholesale Fuels in Thornwood and a longtime owner and operator of gas stations and convenience stores in the region, singled out state Supreme Court justices Lester B. Adler and Joan B. Lefkowitz in a rambling five-page complaint that Eljamal’s publicist said has been filed with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. An attorney representing Eljamal in an appeal of a case in which a Westchester jury in May awarded $4.75 million in damages to Eljamal’s opponent said his client told him the complaint also was filed with the state attorney general’s office.
A copy of the complaint was provided to the Business Journal by Eljamal’s public relations representative, John Fox. Asked about the status of the complaint since its filing, Fox said he was awaiting Eljamal’s comments but had been delayed because the Thornwood-based businessman and Purchase resident was dealing with “some personal issues.”
The complaint especially focuses on the conduct of Adler as presiding judge at an 11-day trial in May that resulted in the nearly $5 million jury award to plaintiff Brent Coscia.
Coscia is general manager of New York Fuel Distributors L.L.C. in White Plains, a company from which Eljamal two years ago was ousted as a managing partner after his failed attempt to stop his removal by disgruntled partners with a lawsuit in state Supreme Court. Coscia in 2011 was found not guilty in Harrison town court of a charge of aggravated harassment brought by Harrison police after Eljamal claimed he had received a threatening phone call from his business colleague. Coscia in turn sued Eljamal and his associate, Bryan Orser, who testified he overheard the threatening call.
The jury sided with Coscia in his claims that Eljamal knowingly filed a false complaint against him and had engaged in a continuing pattern of “malicious behavior” in an effort to force Coscia out of his job, inflict financial and emotional harm and damage his reputation in the fuel oil industry.
Adler on June 18 denied Eljamal’s bid to delay the court’s judgment ordering payment of damages at 9 percent interest until the defendant’s motions to set aside or modify the jury verdict had been ruled on. Eljamal in his complaint called the verdict “extreme and outrageous, far in excess of what was usual or reasonable or what plaintiff had even requested.”
“The entire trial was an injustice and rigged against me from the start,” Eljamal said in his complaint.
Eljamal’s said he believed the judge’s bias was due to the businessman’s motion some six months earlier to have Judge Lefkowitz removed from another lawsuit in his 3-year-old dispute with majority owners in the purchase, operation and supply of Shell gas stations in Westchester, Long Island and New York City. He said Lefkowitz did recuse herself from all cases involving him, while denying his allegations that she showed a “pro-Israeli, pro-Jewish bias” in court and “visibly deferred to Jewish litigants and attorneys.”
Eljamal in his complaint also singled out White Plains attorney Marc S. Oxman, who represented Coscia and also successfully defended Eljamal’s business partner, Leon Silverman, chairman of Silverman Realty Group Inc. in White Plains, in a previous lawsuit. Silverman was represented by a partner in Oxman’s law firm, Oxman Tulis Kirkpatrick Whyatt & Geiger L.L.P., in another state Supreme Court case in which Justice James W. Hubert in April awarded $5 million to a Silverman-owned company as landlord to Eljamal-owned companies leasing eight Shell gas stations in Fairfield County, Conn. The two cases this year have left Eljamal on the hook for nearly $10 million.
Oxman “is politically connected and very active with the Democratic Party in Westchester and most, if not all, the Jewish judges in Westchester are Democrats,” Eljamal wrote in his complaint. He claimed Adler during the trial favored Oxman “at every opportunity.”
“In Westchester County, the judges discriminate against Arab and visible Muslim litigants with impunity,” Eljamal claimed.
Oxman said he had not been aware of the civil rights complaint until contacted by the Business Journal. Eljamal did recently tell him he had met with U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, he said.
Oxman said he has not been contacted by the U.S. attorney’s office or the state attorney general’s office.
Responding to Eljamal’s complaint, Oxman in a statement said it is “replete with inaccuracies and misstatements. He views his dismal record of success in the courts as a product of discrimination. In fact, it is merely a reflection of the courts’ and jurors’ exhaustion with his bad acts and misbehavior.”
Eljamal recently retained attorney Thomas B. Decea, partner at Fishman & Decea in White Plains, to mount an appeal of the judgment entered by Adler in June, which totals $4,785,000 with attorney’s fees. Decea said he is not involved in the civil rights complaint.
The attorney in his appeal, though, will argue some of the same points raised by Eljamal in his complaint regarding Adler’s court conduct.
Among those, Decea said the judge made the wrong charge to the jury regarding evidence needed to award punitive damages; that award amounted to $1.5 million.
Adler also wrongly denied Eljamal’s request to represent himself in the case, Decea said. Eljamal in his complaint said he was forced to keep his attorney who “was not sufficiently prepared” and the results “were disastrous.”
Decea said Adler on the ninth day of the trial dismissed a juror who disclosed she knew a law partner of Oxman’s and his family, but he did not declare a mistrial. The judge also refused to poll jurors to see if they had been influenced by the dismissed juror, he said.
“Collectively, it’s overwhelming evidence that this verdict needs to go,” Decea said.
The attorney said he is representing Eljamal in three cases at the appellate level. “I’m trying to undo what’s been done,” he said. “It’s always an uphill battle. I think there is a significant likelihood of success in the Coscia appeal.”