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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

New Trial on Armenian Genocide Museum Nixed

(CN) - The protracted dispute over an Armenian Genocide museum and memorial project that never got off the ground should not face a new trial, a federal judge ruled.

The consolidated complaint had pitted the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian Genocide Museum & Memorial against two former board members, Gerard Cafesjian and John Waters, and the Cafesjian Family Foundation.

Their struggle for control of the museum, and allegations over its demise, stemmed from rising tensions between Cafesjian and Hirair Hovnanian, both of whom collaborated on the project in the late 1990s.

"The parties, through the three consolidated actions pending before the court, have spent as much if not more time litigating who is to blame for the museum's failure as they spent attempting to make the museum a reality," U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote Wednesday.

Cafesjian, a founding member of the museum's board of trustees, helped purchase the museum site, a vacant National Bank building at 14th and G Street in downtown Washington, D.C. He stepped back, however, after the board later failed to reach consensus on how to complete the museum.

The Brooklyn-born philanthropist handpicked Waters, his right-hand man, to succeed him, but the board excluded Waters from further participation in the project after Cafesjian sued the assembly for payment of an unpaid promissory note.

Kollar-Kotelly largely dismissed the series of claims and counterclaims after a 12-day bench trial in November 2010.

In that January 2011 final judgment, Kollar-Kotelly found that neither Cafesijan nor Waters had breached their fiduciary duties to the assembly. She also cleared Cafesijian of bad faith claims and said neither he nor Waters had misappropriated the trade secrets of the assembly.

Nearly a year later, the assembly and the museum moved for a new trial based on the alleged perjury of Waters. They said Waters had never mentioned that Cafesjian agreed to award him a bonus and reimburse his expenses if Cafesjian prevailed in the litigation.

The motion relied on claims and counterclaims pending before a federal judge in Minnesota where Waters sued Cafesjian for more than $4.3 million in deferred compensation, $1.2 million in bonuses and more than $500,000 in legal costs.

Cafesjian countered that Waters had embezzled several million dollars from him over a period spanning more than a decade.

Refusing to order a new trial in Washington this week, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said the assembly had a "full and fair opportunity to present their case during the bench trial."

"The plaintiffs fail to show by clear and convincing evidence that Waters committed perjury or otherwise committed fraud or misconduct by not disclosing the compensation purportedly owed and/or promised by Cafesjian," the 33-page opinion states. "The court did not rely on Waters' credibility in rejecting the plaintiffs' claims at trial, meaning the plaintiffs cannot show actual prejudice from any alleged perjury or other misconduct by Waters," wrote Kollar-Kotelly. "The plaintiffs fail to show by clear and convincing evidence that Cafesjian actually promised Waters the litigation bonus, and in any case the existence of the agreement would not alter the legal conclusion that the defendants did not breach any duty by filing the initial suit in this litigation."

In Minnesota, Waters alleged that Cafesijan had destroyed documents from Waters' former office at Cafesijan's GLC Enterprises.

Though the assembly claimed "without elaboration" that the allegations directly impacted the trial, it failed "to show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendants destroyed documents relevant to this litigation or otherwise engaged in discovery misconduct sufficient to set aside the final judgment," Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

By some estimates 1.5 million minority Armenians were killed by the Ottoman government during and after World War I. Regarded by some as the first genocide of modern times, male Armenians were slaughtered in what is now the Republic of Turkey, while women, children, the elderly and sick were deported or forced on "death marches" through the Syrian Desert.

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