Ex-Bank Manager Fights Communication Blackout at Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A New Jersey bank employee accused of helping another employee embezzle more than $1 million from their former employer implored a Third Circuit panel to let him send letters to the bank’s shareholders proclaiming his innocence.

James Ryu, represented by attorney Stephen Harvey, is appealing a 2017 court order forbidding him from contacting Bank of Hope shareholders while the bank’s lawsuit against Ryu is pending.

The lawsuit stems from a criminal case involving former BankAsiana assistant vice president Karen Chon, who was convicted of embezzling over $1.35 million from the accounts of elderly customers while working at the bank’s Fort Lee branch. Bank of Hope acquired BankAsiana and is suing both Chon – who accused Ryu at her sentencing of helping her carry out the scheme – and Ryu to recover the money.

Ryu denies being involved at all.

Before U.S. Circuit Judges Stephanos Bibas, Kent Jordan and Paul Matey on Tuesday, Harvey said the court order forbidding Ryu from contacting bank shareholders is a restriction of free speech.

“It’s hard to imagine any circumstance in America where you could be mistreated or treated unfairly and unable to speak out about it,” said Harvey.

Jordan asked whether the court issued the order because the letters could be perceived as a threat. 

“I take the problems that they have with your client’s letters to be things like ‘the market’s going to lose confidence in your stewardship because of the way you’ve handled this case against me,’” Jordan said, paraphrasing the letter. “This was a calculated effort to gain commercial leverage against the bank.”

Harvey, however, maintained it is fair for Ryu to reach out to the shareholders.

“His interest is not purely economic,” Harvey said. “He has an interest in his personal dignity.”

On behalf of the Bank of Hope, attorney Michael Yi of Lee Anav argued the Third Circuit does not have jurisdiction to review the order made by the lower court.

“This amounts to an extortion against the bank,” Yi said, noting the lower court had found the letters were “an attempt to coerce a settlement.”

Judge Bibas, however, said Yi’s words seemed hyperbolic since the magistrate judge had merely found the letters were “a tactic to obtain a strategic advantage.”

“I don’t see blackmail, so I think you may be overstating what supports this order,” Bibas said.

The judges did not indicate when they will rule.

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