CHICAGO (CN) – Ethnic Serbs accusing a large defense contractor of arming the Croatian troops that committed genocide in the Krajina region can proceed with a class action in the Northern District of Illinois, where thousands of victims reside, a federal judge ruled.
Operation Storm, the largest European land offensive since World War II, killed or displaced more than 200,000 Serbs in 1995, according to the 2010 complaint filed by Genocide Victims of Krajina.
The umbrella group is seeking billions of dollars in damages from defense contractor L-3 Communications and its subsidiary, Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), a corporation they say was founded by U.S. military officers who were downsized at the end of the Cold War.
MPRI staff allegedly helped the Croatian army plan and train for the attack, and it monitored and assisted the execution of the operation.
The complaint says that a division of L-3, “negotiated a contract to train and modernize the Croatian Army into a competent fighting force able to invade the Krajina region and expel the ethnic Serbian population from Croatian territory.”
Virginia-based L-3 asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, or alternatively, to transfer the case to the Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of Virginia. The contractor argued that either of these courts would be more convenient for the witnesses and parties involved.
U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo refused on both counts, finding ample evidence that the Northern District of Illinois has jurisdiction over L-3.
L-3 conducted over $19 million worth of business in Illinois in 2010, including $2 million in sales came from MPRI, according to the 21-page decision. L-3 also employs about 100 people in Illinois, including MPRI personnel, and regularly solicits business in Illinois by communicating with Illinois-based companies and attending trade shows in the state.
Though L-3 made a more compelling argument for transfer of venue, Castillo decided to keep the case in Illinois since it offers the best access to evidence and witnesses.
Genocide Victims of Krajina provided affidavits from the Serbian Consulate in Chicago and the Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church “estimating that the number of Krajina refugees in the Chicago area is in the thousands, more than any other area outside of Serbia itself,” Castillo said.
“These individuals are members of a refugee community struggling to rebuild their lives, and the supportive Serbian community in the Chicago area overwhelmingly makes the Northern District of Illinois a more convenient forum,” Castillo added.
L-3 made a compelling argument for the Eastern District of Virginia’s interest in regulating the actions of a Virginia-based military contractor, according to the ruling. But this interest “must be weighed against the interests of the Northern District of Illinois in redressing the wrongs done to its citizens.”
“L-3 is an international corporation with billions of dollars in revenue and an expertise in logistics,” the Aug. 17 decision states. “While L-3 is headquartered in Virginia, it can bear the expense of litigating in Illinois. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, are refugees from a brutal conflict.”
The court urged both parties to reconsider their settlement positions in light of its decision and exhaust all efforts to settle the case. A status meeting is set for Sept. 27 at 9:45 a.m.