February 25, 2013 | By Editor
Wisconsin, US (February 25, 2013): Did a couple of process servers from West Allis botch one of the biggest summons deliveries of their careers by mistaking the wrong white-bearded, turban-wearing man for the chief minister of Punjab in India?
Or are a host of witnesses – including diplomatic security agents – lying to protect the minister, unknown foreign policy objectives and their own reputations?
A lawsuit by the group Sikhs for Justice, claiming the minister oversaw massive human rights violations, depends on the answer.
After a four-hour hearing last week, a federal judge in Milwaukee said the evidence certainly suggests a case of mistaken service, not a conspiracy. But enough peculiarities emerged that U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman granted the plaintiffs’ attorneys 30 days to investigate further.
If they don’t find enough to change Adelman’s impression, he’ll likely dismiss the lawsuit.
Parkash Singh Badal, the Punjab chief minister, had planned a trip to the Milwaukee area last summer to attend a private wedding. Two days before he arrived, a gunman attacked the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, killing six people and then himself. Badal, whose region is home to thousands of Sikhs, found himself thrust into the news as he met with survivors and spoke to area reporters.
Seizing a rare opportunity, the human rights group sued in Milwaukee under the Torture Victim Protection and Alien Tort laws, which grants jurisdiction in U.S. courts. The suit contends Badal oversaw torture and murder of Sikhs in India, where the religious minority has been the subject of persecution by the Hindu majority.
The group hired State Process Service of West Allis to serve lawsuit on Badal, which it claimed it did, at the Oak Creek High School auditorium late on Aug. 9.
In federal court Thursday, Christopher Kratochvil, 43, testified he and his brother Joseph went to the school, where a community forum on the temple massacre was being held from 5 to 7 p.m. He said he had watched video of Badal, and had Badal’s photo in his hand.
Kratochvil said he spotted their target near the front of the auditorium, standing with some other people wearing Western clothing. He said he approached, introduced himself and asked if he was Badal. He said neither the subject nor the two men with him denied he was Badal, so Kratochvil handed him the summons shortly before 5 p.m.
He said he and his brother then left the room.
Joseph Kratochvil also testified. He said he watched his brother from about 40 feet away. He thought the subject expressed only a subtle look of surprise but made no other reaction.
Joseph Kratochvil said that he’s never had a service thrown out in court, and that it was not unusual for a defendant to not reply or even deny he is the person named in a lawsuit.
As part of their testimony, both men watched a local TV interview with Badal and said they were certain he was the man they served the summons on Aug. 9.
Martin O’Toole, a federal agent with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, led a detail assigned to Badal throughout his five-day stay in the United States. Security was unusually tight because of the recent temple attack. O’Toole testified that Badal was never at the high school on Aug. 9, but instead was at the State Fair, George Watts & Son gift shop and the Boelter SuperStore.
Badal, who has not returned to the U.S. since the August trip, is represented by former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic and former acting U.S. Attorney Michelle Jacobs, who now have their own private practice.
They presented other witnesses to corroborate O’Toole – friends in Badal’s entourage, other security agents and employees from Watts’ and Boelter who testified about the group visiting their stores Aug. 9.
Biskupic and Jacobs also tracked down a man who testified he was at the Aug. 9 forum at Oak Creek High to serve as an interpreter when Kratochvil handed him some papers.
He was also wearing Indian clothing and had a turban and a white beard, but is shorter and somewhat younger than Badal, who is in his 80s, and about 6 feet 3 inches tall, Jacobs said.
A few questions nag the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
The interpreter, Surinderpal Singh Kalra of Chicago, said he only discovered the summons and complaint he was served on Monday, three days before the hearing. He testified he was getting his car detailed and found the papers in a folder in the trunk, along with an email of the directions to Oak Creek High School. He had testified he originally believed he had left the papers with Justice Department officials at the forum in Oak Creek in August.
Attorney Robert Pavich asked O’Toole if he ever tried to get store security video from Watts and Boelter that would show Badal’s presence on Aug. 9. He had not.
Pavich also asked why O’Toole and another agent went to Christopher Kratochvil’s home Aug. 31, wearing body armor and showing weapons, suggesting the visit was meant to intimidate the process server.
O’Toole said he was told by supervisors to just try to clear up the confusion over reports that Badal had been served. He said he told Chris Kratochvil that Badal was with him all day on Aug. 9 and Kratochvil must have served the wrong person. The body armor and weapons were personal safety he said, because they knew Kratochvil had a concealed carry permit.
Kratochvil had testified that he was intimidated and signed a statement that O’Toole prepared.
But no one, not even the judge, was allowed to see the statement. O’Toole said that would have to be authorized by higher-ups at the State Department in Washington, and the process would take longer than 30 days.
With time for additional briefing, Adelman is not expected to rule on the motion to dismiss for lack of service until May.
Note: Above write-up was published on JSOnline.Com with Title: “Hearing looks at whether official from India really received court summons in Wisconsin” by Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel. Readers/Viewers of Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) may check it on source page at: http://m.jsonline.com/features/religion/hearing-looks-at-whether-official-from-india-really-received-court-summons-in-wisconsin-le8t5po-192914151.html
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