Led Zeppelin did not steal ‘Stairway’ anthem from Jewish rocker, jury rules

The British rock band Led Zeppelin did not steal the famous anthem used in “Stairway to Heaven” from another rock band, a federal jury decided Thursday.

The verdict on a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the late Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California, the Jewish frontman for the American psychedelic group Spirit, was announced in federal court in Los Angeles, The Associated Press reported.

The suit charged that Led Zeppelin stole the “Stairway to Heaven” riff from Spirit’s song “Taurus.”

Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin as its opening act in 1968. Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page asked Wolfe in 1969 to show him how to play the intro to “Taurus,” and Led Zeppelin’s members were fans of Spirit and went to see their shows, even beyond the bands’ first tour together in 1968, according to court documents.

Page and Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant appeared in court for the trial.

Wolfe died in 1997 while saving his son from drowning off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii.

The trustee for Wolfe’s estate had filed the lawsuit more than 40 years after the songs were written.

Shangri-La juror said to have hidden her Jewishness

In court papers filed Jan. 7, attorneys for the Hotel Shangri-La in Santa Monica and its owner allege that of 12 members on the jury that unanimously found their clients guilty of discriminating in 2010 against a group of Jewish patrons, one juror concealed her own Jewishness during jury selection. 

The attorneys’ assertion appears in a 21-page memorandum supporting their motion for a new trial, one of a number of post-trial motions filed in recent weeks in the same Santa Monica courtroom where the jury’s unanimous verdict against the Shangri-La and its part-owner, Tehmina Adaya, was first handed down in August 2012. 

In the memorandum, the hotel’s attorneys state that the judge who presided over the trial made errors in law, that the evidence presented was insufficient to justify the final verdict and that the damages awarded by the jury to the 18 plaintiffs — more than $1.6 million in all — were excessive. 

But of all the arguments advanced in the memorandum, the lawyers’ assertions about “misconduct” behind the closed door of the jury room stand out. 

According to the memorandum, Juror No. 7, identified as Yerha Vasquez, “failed to disclose her religious background, Jewish, during voir dire,” the process of jury selection that takes place before a trial begins, which lasted more than three full days before the Shangri-La trial officially commenced. 

The hotel’s lawyers cite another juror as the source for this assertion. In a three-page declaration also filed in court by the defense, juror Debra Clint says that Vasquez “often cried during deliberations about her pain and her past history.” 

Clint’s declaration does not include any mention of Vasquez’s religion.

Steven Richman, a partner in the firm Epport, Richman & Robbins, LLP, who joined the legal team defending the Shangri-La and Adaya after the conclusion of the trial, would not say how he first became aware of Clint’s concerns about what took place in the jury room, but he stood by the memorandum’s claim about Vasquez’s concealing her Jewishness. 

“She [Vasquez] did not disclose her religion or the fact that she believed that she had been harassed before,” Richman said in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 10. 

Clint, who signed her declaration on Nov. 21, 2012, also complained about another juror, identified only as “Ms. Schellpfeffer.” Clint describes Schellpfeffer as “aggressive, forceful and outspoken during deliberations,” and also makes the claim that Schellpfeffer came into deliberations wanting to “ ‘stick it to’ the Defendants.” 

Clint’s statement alleges that Vasquez “aligned herself with … Schellpfeffer, and agreed and voted with Ms. Schellpfeffer on whatever Ms. Schellpfeffer said.” 

The defense memorandum describes Schellpfeffer’s conduct as “a manifest refusal to deliberate,” but one juror’s allegedly dominating deliberations may not be sufficient grounds for a judge to grant a new trial, according to an expert on the topic. 

“That’s not a basis for overturning a verdict,” Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the law school at University of California, Irvine, said. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

In their memorandum, the defense attorneys presented other reasons to grant a new trial. They argue that because the organization with which the plaintiffs were affiliated, the Los Angeles-based young leadership division of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, is not a religious group, the Unruh Civil Rights Act should not apply to them. 

James H. Turken, the managing partner of Dickstein Shapiro LLP’s three offices in California who represented the plaintiffs at the original trial, disputed the defense’s interpretation of the Unruh Act. 

Because Adaya is said to have instructed her staff to remove “the [expletive] Jews” from the Shangri-La’s pool, Turken said the identity of the organization sponsoring the party that Adaya disrupted is irrelevant. 

“They could’ve been there with the United Way,” he said. “If they were Jewish people and she made that comment, that would be a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The defense’s motion for a new trial is scheduled to be heard in court on Jan. 31.


House OKs Palestinian Aid

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved $200 million in aid to the Palestinians. The House voted 389-43 Wednesday on an $81 billion supplemental package, which is mostly for the war in Iraq, but with $200 million in fast-track aid for the Palestinians. An amendment set aside $5 million of the $200 million for an outside audit of the money and removed the president’s traditional national security waiver, which means all the money would be subject to congressional oversight. The provisions are still subject to Senate approval.

Calif. Juries Keeping Jews Off?

An accusation that Jews and black women were excluded from death-penalty cases in California is putting dozens of convictions in question. A former prosecutor in Alameda County said in a sworn declaration that excluding the groups from juries in capital cases was standard practice, The New York Times reported. John Quatman made the statement in the case of Fred Freeman, an inmate who was convicted of killing and robbery at a bar in 1987. The statement is already being used in the case of another inmate who is appealing his decision. County officials denied the claim.

Wolfowitz to head World Bank?

President Bush nominated Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy secretary of defense, to head the World Bank. Wolfowitz, who is Jewish, would take over from current president, James Wolfensohn, who is stepping down effective June 1. Bush said he canvassed other world leaders for support for his nomination. The nomination is not guaranteed, but the bank’s 24-member board traditionally supports the American nominee.

Michigan Defeats Divestment

The University of Michigan student government defeated a resolution to consider divestment from Israel. The Michigan Student Assembly voted 25-0 on Tuesday against establishing a committee to consider dropping the university’s investments in companies that do business with Israel, according to the campus newspaper. Hundreds of students and community members showed up for the meeting. Israel’s detractors wore T-shirts calling Israel an apartheid state, and Israel’s supporters wore blue tape on their shirts for solidarity with the Jewish state, said Wayne Firestone, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition.

The president of the Student Assembly, Jason Mironov, a pro-Israel activist, gave a presentation debunking the charges of the proponents of divestment, and other pro-Israel speakers opposed the move by underscoring Israel’s disengagement plan, Firestone said. Two years ago, the University of Michigan hosted the annual conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, which calls for divestment from Israel.

An Arab Yad Vashem?

Israeli Arabs have opened a Holocaust museum. The Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education was opened in the city of Nazareth this week in parallel to the inauguration of a new museum to Yad Vashem.

“Our objective is to spread information about the Holocaust to the Arab world,” said the institute’s founder, Khaled Mahamid.

He suggested that if Palestinians avail themselves to such knowledge, it could improve their understanding of Israel’s concerns.

“Anyone who is exposed to the Holocaust will have his attitude changed. Jewish consciousness is predicated on the Holocaust,” he said.

Canadian Muslim Won’t Be Charged

A Canadian Islamic leader will not be charged under Canada’s hate-crime laws for controversial remarks he made on a television talk show last fall. A Canadian police commission decided that Mohamed Elmasry, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, would not be charged for telling a television panel in October that all Israelis above the age of 18 were legitimate targets for Palestinian terrorists. Elmasry insisted upon the point after being challenged by the show’s host and other panelists. The commission ruled that the comments, “although distasteful,” did not “constitute a criminal offense.” Elmasry apologized after Jewish groups denounced his remarks and fellow Muslim organizations distanced themselves from them. He claimed he had been misunderstood and that he had only been expressing the average Palestinian’s opinion and not his own. B’nai Brith Canada has requested a review of the decision.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

King David Gets His Day in Court

The high-profile defendant is a head of state accused of adultery and murder. The prosecutor is a trial veteran familiar to a nation of cable TV junkies enthralled by the O.J. Simpson case. The opposing defense attorney is a constitutional expert skilled at raising his own public profile with sound bites handicapping the sensational case of the day. Presiding will be a photogenic judge proficient at leveling legal battlegrounds.

With such a line-up one might expect to see headlines in the supermarket tabloids.

The star-studded mock sanhedrin trial, The People vs. King David, will get underway at Irvine’s Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School (TVT) on April 25.

Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism (UJ), will conduct a pre-trial study of the biblical passage beginning with Samuel, Chapter 11. The school originated the idea of examining biblical events through the lens of modern American jurisprudence and conducted a previous trial in Los Angeles last November. Two years ago, the school first put the patriarch Abraham on trial. A third mock case is planned for November.

"It’s a creative way to teach text," said Gady Levy, the UJ’s vice president of continuing education. "I never expected it to be so successful."

Even as the jury audience is expected to render its verdict, along the way they gain a better understanding of a seminal biblical event and are entertained by legal scholars who play to the crowd but are well-versed in Jewish knowledge.

"I don’t think it’s trivializing," Levy said.

Levy considered — but rejected — the notion of allowing the opposing lawyers more latitude to stage a legal drama.

"If you put on witnesses, you have to bring in a script," he said, which would be untrue to the biblical source. "All the lawyers can use is text and their interpretation of it."

Debating the legal issues raised by King David’s affair with Batsheba and his scheme for the demise of her husband will be Laurie Levenson and Erwin Chemerinsky, the same opposing lawyers in the previous trial. (Hello, counselors, what about double jeopardy?) Former Santa Ana appellate justice Sheila Prell Sonenshine is to preside.

The change of venue is owed to parent Alan V. Thaler, a Fountain Valley civil litigator who has served for three years as a coach to TVT’s mock trial team. Heartbroken his team could not witness the previous sold-out trial, he sought a reprise after seeing it himself.

"This is right up my alley," said Thaler, who as a UC Berkeley undergraduate booked artists on campus by negotiating with the late concert promoter, Bill Graham.

Thaler described the opposing lawyers as well-matched and articulate, with each possessing a flair for comic relief. He considered revising the staging by asking TVT’s principal, Howard Haas, to stand in as King David. When he queried whether Sonenshine could participate, she asked him, "Am I going to be Bathsheba?"

"My instinct was it would be better theater," said Thaler, who ultimately decided against enlarging the cast. "The spotlight will be on Laurie and Erwin. They are the stars."

In her previous prosecution, Levenson, a former assistant U.S. attorney and professor of Loyola Law School, used a PowerPoint presentation. One slide is a photo of Michelangelo’s "David" sculpture. Using a red marker, she circled his genitals and announced: "The scene of the crime."

A bedsheet where the deed was supposedly consummated was also introduced by the prosecution as evidence.

Examining the label, the King’s defender reads out loud, "Fifty percent cotton. I don’t think so!"

Chemerinsky, a longtime USC professor and constitutional law scholar, recently accepted a position at Duke University School of Law.

Projecting a historical story in a modern context set Thaler thinking.

"I thought it was a remarkable historical parallel with Clinton and Lewinsky," he said.

In addition, Thaler came up with an alternate defense argument that he believes would exonerate the defendant.

"I think Chemerinsky could have argued executive privilege," he said, referring to David’s letter ordering his mistress’s husband into battle and harm’s way. "The letter would be privileged. It would never be disclosed. It wouldn’t be admissible."

Local rabbis are to lead post-trial discussion groups about how rabbinic commentators view King David’s lechery and its affect on Jewish history. Under the reign of David’s cursed descendant, the first temple is destroyed, beginning the Jewish Diaspora.

Tickets are $20, which helps defray costs of a trip by TVT’s eighth-graders to Washington, D.C., and New York. Registration for the trial begins at 2:30 p.m at TVT, 5200 Bonita Canyon Drive, Irvine. For tickets and more information, call (949) 509-9500.

Abraham Not Guilty

And the verdict is: not guilty, by a razor-thin margin. An audience of more than 400 people had a chance to flex their "Law & Order" muscles while serving as the jury in the mock trial of Abraham — that’s right, our founding forefather — held at the University of Judaism (UJ) Nov. 24.

At the sold-out event in the Gindi auditorium, Abraham was tried for the attempted murder of his son, Issac. The case was based on the Akedah, in the book of Genesis, otherwise known as the binding of Isaac, in which Abraham takes his son to a mountain and prepares to sacrifice him, only to be stopped by an angel.

At the trial, the patriarch was defended by attorney and constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky, fresh from an appearance before the Supreme Court. The prosecutor was Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor, who at one point during the proceedings wielded a knife in an imitation of the near sacrifice of Isaac. Judge Joseph Wapner of "People’s Court" fame presided.

Gady Levy, dean of the University of Judaism’s department of continuing education, said the idea for the event grew out of a similar trial he organized when he headed the religious school at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood.

"At first I thought, it’s not really for adults, but we decided we could do it if we could get lawyers who were well known," Levy said. He added that other cases from the Torah are being considered for future trials.

The audience, most of whom came earlier in the day to the UJ to study the parsha with local rabbis, voted 225 to 216 — with three "undecided" write-ins — to acquit Abraham.

Both attorneys said they prepared for the trial as if it were an actual one. Levenson, who once worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Abraham’s case presented some unique difficulties.

"When I was a real prosecutor, I never had to prosecute a case I didn’t believe in," she said. "This one was much more of a challenge. It’s really hard putting the father of your people on trial."

Limiting Soft Money

The jury is still out on how the Senate’s campaign finance reform bill would change the political influence of the Jewish community, but experts believe Jewish interests will remain well represented no matter what happens.

After years of protracted arguments, the Senate on Monday set new standards for campaign finance that would affect the way officials receive money and how groups make their voices heard in the political process.

The bill still must pass the House of Representatives, where its chances are considered fair. President Bush has indicated he will sign a campaign finance reform bill that "improves the system."

Legal challenges to the bill are also being considered.

The McCain-Feingold bill would prohibit unregulated contributions by groups or individuals to the parties, known as "soft money" donations. Large donors to the parties — a number of whom are Jewish — would have to find new ways to flex their political muscles.

Among them could be increased "hard money" donations to a greater number of candidates, or financing of issue ad campaigns and direct mail efforts.

Both parties have their share of major Jewish donors, but many agree that the backbone of Jewish giving to campaigns has always been small individual donors. The end result, therefore, could be that Jews would be less affected by the McCain-Feingold bill than other groups.

Some political action committees, or PACs, have bundled such small individual contributions in order to use the group’s power to greater effect.

Dozens of pro-Israel PACs started up in the 1980s, giving money to pro-Israel politicians and working against politicians who opposed Israel. Within a few years, PACs had become a major part of the fundraising establishment.

The campaign finance bill, which passed the Senate Monday by a 59-41 vote, would return some of the influence that PACs lost during the past decade — particularly in recent years, when soft money began to proliferate.

"The big game has always been the hard money," said Tina Stoll, a fundraising consultant in Washington, and the McCain-Feingold bill could force more donors to go that route.

Fund raisers in private homes would continue to be the preferred way to attract premium donors, Stoll said. In addition, she predicted, large Jewish contributors who can no longer funnel money to the national parties would still support state parties and might get more involved in gubernatorial races.

Most experts seem to feel the change would have a relatively small effect on Jewish political involvement.

Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said donors who can’t give million-dollar checks to the parties instead could fund issue advocacy campaigns.

"It’s hard for me to see how this decreases any sort of influence of the Jewish community," Goldstein said.

In fact, the bill would double — to $2,000 — the amount individuals can contribute directly to a candidate. The limit on an individual’s total annual contributions to all federal candidates, parties and PACs also was raised, from $25,000 to $37,500. The amounts would be indexed for inflation.

The bill is "neither a great hindrance nor a great help to Jewish political influence," one source close to the issue said.

The Long Wait

The waiting game continues in Iran, as the judiciary there has postponed at least for another week a decision in the appeals of 10 Iranian Jews convicted on charges of spying for Israel.The delay is ostensibly because the three judges reviewing the appeals are divided on whether the charges the Jews were convicted of actually constituted a crime.

But few observers doubt that domestic Iranian politics are at play.

If anything, they say, the delay undermines the efforts by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami – on the eve of his address to the United Nations this week – to spruce up his image as a reformer and to bolster his claim that he is truly in control of his county and not the Islamic fundamentalists.

The delay also did nothing to defuse a flurry of street protest and behind-the-scenes diplomacy that greeted Khatami as he and 150 other heads of state arrived in New York for the U.N. Millennium Summit.Jewish groups sponsored two media events just blocks away from the United Nations, while an Iranian exile organization held a noisy anti-Khatami demonstration within earshot of visiting dignitaries from around the world.

“We cannot tolerate a situation where it is a crime simply for being Jewish,” said New York Gov. George Pataki, who headlined Tuesday’s first street event, sponsored jointly by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. A second event, held later, was organized by AMCHA – The Coalition for Jewish Concerns.

“Mr. Khatami, to you, your Parliament and your judiciary, human rights and dignity must be the right of every citizen,” Pataki said.

“You claim to be a reformer. Show it and release these 10.”

Convicted July 1, the 10 Jews have already served some 18 months in prison. Their sentences range from four to 13 years, but Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, says his sources indicate that several more may be released, with jail terms reduced for the rest.

But he wouldn’t bank on it.

As delaying the appeals decision demonstrates, said Hoenlein, “the only thing predictable about Iran is that nothing is predictable.”

Thus, the need to prod Khatami, both publicly and privately.

Hoenlein, who met with Iran’s Parliament speaker last week, still holds out hope that he will be able to plead his case directly to Khatami this week. There was talk of such a meeting on Monday at the United Nations, when Khatami spoke with a reportedly “pre-selected” gathering of Iranian emigres, including a few Jews.

From the Jewish side, Hoenlein conceded there was internal debate on whether a meeting with Khatami would somehow be manipulated by the Iranian media for domestic consumption. Hoenlein said a meeting would take place only if Jewish leaders were guaranteed their say. In the end, that point was moot, because American Jewish leaders weren’t invited at all.

“We should meet with Khatami to send the right message that the appeals should succeed and security guaranteed for the entire Jewish community,” Hoenlein said at Tuesday’s media event.

On the arrests and trial of the Jews, however, non-Jewish Iranian Americans have been notably silent.In part, they say, it’s been due to a lack of organization and the fact the community has yet to find its political voice, like, say, the Cuban-exile community. One activist even says she was unaware of the rallies of American Jews.

Nevertheless, Tuesday may have marked a watershed moment. Several at the protest, organized by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, spoke out about the trial, describing as a transparent attempt to frighten the masses and impose conformity on all Iranians.

They also noted Iran’s financial support and training for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.Charges of espionage are a “typical punishment for those the regime wants to discredit,” said Mitra Bagheri, a member of the council’s foreign relations committee, who recently relocated from Paris to New York to help organize Iranians here.

“I don’t think people in Iran believe anything the government says, because it tells big lies, and the truth is always the other way around.”

Says Anahita Sami, 18, the move against Iran’s Jews is part and parcel of the campaign against all of Iran’s minorities.

“It’s so obvious the Jews were not guilty of anything,” said Sami, a student at George Washington University.

“This is happening to innocent Iranians all the time. They want to control people through the word of God and to keep the pressure cooker from exploding by brainwashing them.”

Another activist cautioned Americans not to judge all Iranians by the current regime.

“One thing has to be made clear,” said Kasra Nejat, president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri.

“The Iranian government, the supreme leaders – the whole system is corrupt. It has nothing to do with the Iranian people. That’s why we’re here, because this government doesn’t represent real Iranians.”