Fugitive Yoga Guru’s Appeal of $6.7 Million Judgment Dismissed

LOS ANGELES (CN – “Hot yoga” guru and fugitive Bikram Choudhury lost his appeal of a $6.7 million judgment Thursday, after a California appeals court ruled he defied court orders by hiding his assets, including luxury cars and trademarks, to avoid collection efforts.

The founder of a form of intense yoga practiced in 104-degree heat, Choudhury once attracted celebrities and thousands of other acolytes who test themselves during grueling 90-minute sessions. But a string of sexual assault claims shook his global yoga empire.

In May, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Edward Moreton issued a warrant for Choudhury’s arrest after the guru failed to comply with court orders stemming from the $6.7 million judgment in favor of his former British legal adviser Minakshi Jafa-Bodden. Moreton set bail at $8 million.

Choudhury hid his assets, including a fleet of 43 cars, and left the United States for Mexico to avoid the judgment, according to court records.

In 2013, Jafa-Bodden sued Choudhury for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. He appealed, and Jafa-Bodden moved to dismiss the appeal based on the so-called “disentitlement doctrine” which bars fugitives from seeking relief in a court system they are evading.

In an unpublished opinion issued on Thursday, Judge Kim Dunning noted that under California law a defendant on appeal could not “flagrantly disobey court orders” as he sought to overturn a judgment.

“This case presents no exception, and we dismiss the appeal under the disentitlement doctrine,” Dunning wrote in the 11-page opinion.

Jafa-Bodden’s attorney Carla Minnard she said pleased the court had ruled quickly so that her client can proceed to enforce the warrant.

“This sends a very important and very powerful message to shady defendants like Bikram who would get a judgment against them that they don’t like, take off and then try to hide all of their assets, at the same time trying to get the advantage of the courts to entertain their appeal,” Minnard said.

Choudhury’s lawyer Nick Pujji declined to comment.

According to Dunning’s opinion, Choudhury had defied trial court orders barring the transfer of his fleet of cars, a Franck Muller Watch, stock certificates in the guru’s companies Bikram Inc. and Bikram Choudhary Yoga Inc., and intellectual property including registered trademark and web domains.

Dunning wrote that Choudhury had made “conscious and calculated efforts to thwart plaintiff’s lawful collection efforts.” That included the transfer of the IP to a limited liability company owned in part by his son and daughter, and the removal of several luxury cars to a warehouse in Florida, Dunning wrote.

“Under our system, judgment debtors may stay execution of a money judgment by complying with straightforward statutory procedures while challenging the underlying adverse judgment. Or, judgment debtors may forgo that protection and allow their appeal and the judgment creditor’s collection efforts to proceed contemporaneously,” Dunning wrote.

In her lawsuit, Jafa-Bodden claimed the guru created a “hyper-sexualized, offensive and degrading environment for women.” The legal advisor said she was banished from his inner circle and forced to resign after she refused to cover up rape allegations.

Jafa-Bodden’s attorney Mark Quigley told Courthouse News at a hearing this month that he has seen an unsigned declaration stating that the yoga guru is in India.

At the same hearing, Jafa-Bodden accused Choudhury of “gaming the system” and called him a “dangerous” man.

“I don’t think there’s any woman out there who is safe as long as Bikram is on the loose, whether in a Bikram studio, whether in India, Thailand, Mexico, wherever. He is continuing to operate in the shadows,” Jafa-Bodden said.

Choudhury leads his classes with the appearance of an emaciated sumo wrestler – dressed in black Speedos and with a topknot. He opened his first college in India after adapting 26 poses from Hatha Yoga. His yoga franchise became an international phenomenon, attracting millions of devotees and transforming him into a household name.

He has faced multiple lawsuits accusing him of sexually assaulting his students. Court filings describe Choudhury as a racist, anti-Semitic homophobe who preyed on female students.

In 2013, Sarah Baugh, who had trained to teach at Choudhury’s Los Angeles studio, claimed he had sexually assaulted her. More allegations emerged that year when two former students claimed the guru raped them.

Three more women came forward with sexual assault claims. The instructor maintained his innocence.

In a 2015 interview with CNN, Choudhury said he never sexually assaulted anyone and women came to him for sex.

“Women like me. Women love me,” he said. “So if I really wanted to involve the women, I don’t have to assault the women.”

Justices Lee Edmon and Luis Lavin concurred with Dunning’s opinion. Dunning, an Orange County Superior Court judge, sat by designation.

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