Sikhs' Conspiracy Theory Falls Apart in the 7th
CHICAGO (CN) - There is no evidence that the U.S. State Department conspired to stop Sikhs from serving a human rights complaint against an Indian minister, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Sikhs for Justice is a U.S. human rights group that advocates for members of the Sikh religion and seeks recognition of the 1984 Sikh Massacre, which occurred after Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, as a genocide.
Most Sikhs live in Punjab, a northwestern Indian state of India governed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal whom the nonprofit accuses of overseeing police killings and torture.
When Badal visited Milwaukee for a wedding in August 2012, Sikhs for Justice took the opportunity to file suit against him.
The nonprofit hoped to personally serve Badal at a vigil held for six Sikhs recently killed in a white supremacist attack on a Milwaukee area Sikh temple.
Sikhs for Justice hired process server Christopher Kratochvil to serve Badal during the vigil held at a local high school. It showed Kratochvil a photograph and video footage of Badal, which portrayed Badal as a tall, thin, elderly man with a long white beard wearing a turban and glasses.
At the event, Kratochvil walked up to a man meeting this description, said, "Excuse me, Mr. Singh Badal," handed him the summons and complaint, and left the room without waiting for a response.
Badal claims he never attended the event, however, and that Kratochvil served the wrong man.
Another tall, thin, elderly Sikh man, Surinderpal Singh Kalra, testified that he was present at the event, and was served with the papers, but did not understand what they were.
Badal's security detail, provided by the U.S. State Department, also testified that the minister was at a Boelter SuperStore at the time Kratochvil purportedly served him.
On this evidence, a federal judge dismissed Sikhs for Justice's complaint for lack of service, notwithstanding Kratochvil's insistence that the man he served was Badal.
The 7th Circuit affirmed last week, finding that "even eyewitness identification, we now know, is highly fallible."
"Attempting to identify a person from a photo or brief video may be an even more common source of error," Judge Richard Posner added, writing for a three-member panel.
Sikhs for Justice's claim that the minister's entourage intimidated Kalra into testifying he was served rather than Badal "would make a good tale of international intrigue," Posner wrote, "but is too unsubstantiated and implausible to counter the abundant evidence that the defendant was never at the high school on August 9 and therefore was never served."
Posner and his colleagues also rejected the nonprofit's insinuation that Badal's State Department security team was complicit in shielding the Indian dignitary from suit, in that the agent heading the team accosted Kratochvil at his home and asked him to sign an affidavit stating that he had never served Badal.
"The agent's demanding an affidavit from Kratochvil was distinctly odd, as opposed to the defendant's lawyer deposing him," the ruling states. "The government - the agent's employer - wasn't even a party to the lawsuit. Maybe the agent felt that it would be a black mark against him if the foreign official whom he was escorting had been served with a complaint. No matter; the irregularity of the agent's conduct has no bearing on whom Kratochvil served."
Kratochvil and his brother who was with him at the service alone testified to seeing Badal at the high school, and a Justice Department handout listing the attending dignitaries did not mention Badal.
Although a process server is entitled to a presumption of correctness, the lower court properly found "strong and convincing" evidence that Kratochvil was mistaken, the court ruled.
"We add that it seems extremely unlikely that a high official of a nation friendly to the United States would attempt to obstruct justice in a U.S. court," Posner said.