This summer, WW reported
on a convoluted and emotionally fraught legal dispute between the followers of the late Yogi Bhajan, a guru who converted thousands of white Americans to the Sikh religion, and inspired the founding of a corporate and non-profit empire worth nearly $1 billion.
Before his death in 2004, Bhajan left instructions as to the management of the religious non-profits and the companies that supported them, including Golden Temple foods in Eugene, and Akal Security, a federal contractor based in New Mexico. Akal guards airports, federal courthouses and embassies abroad. Golden Temple makes widely available granolas and the Yogi Tea brand (and is involved in separate trademark litigation with Bhajan's widow, Bibiji Inderjit Kaur Puri, who lives in Los Angeles.)
short, small group of Oregon Sikhs—aided by Bhajan's longtime attorney, Roy Lambert of the Portland firm Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt—gained control of the group's businesses and nonprofits, made themselves rich in the process, and literally locked
other members of the group out.
Yesterday, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Roberts ruled in favor of the New Mexico-based religious leaders who sued the Oregon Sikhs and Lambert, who is under investigation by the Oregon State Bar as a result of his conduct leading up to this case.
The plaintiffs had been joined by the Oregon Attorney General's office, which was concerned about violations of state law regarding charitable organizations.
In her opinion, available here
, Roberts found "that the relevant actors, here, were not acting in the exercise of honest judgment in the legitimate furtherance of the [charitable] trust [established by Bhajan]; they were acting in material respects to advance private interests of their own, and acting not in good faith or the exercise of honest judgment but, rather, with reckless disregard for the duties owed by one in a fiduciary position to a charitable trust."
In other words, she agreed with the Sikh plaintiffs from New Mexico and the Attorney General.
The plaintiffs attorney, John McGrory, tells WW in an email that Roberts' ruling "is a tremendous victory," not just for his clients but for "the Sikh community."