Chopra, Weaver dispute in trial again

Legal tussle before 2nd jury, 4th judge

San Diego Union-Tribune, February 24, 2000
By Anne Krueger

SAN DIEGO -- A woman who worked with New Age healer Deepak Chopra lost her job because she accused Chopra and one of his colleagues of sexually harassing her, the woman's lawyer told a jury yesterday.

Attorney Peter Friesen said Joyce Weaver, who worked at the Sharp Center for Mind-Body Medicine with Chopra, began encountering difficulties at work after she rejected Chopra's romantic overtures.

Friesen said the colleague, who is not a defendant in the civil case, also expressed a romantic interest in Weaver.

The attorney said that in May 1995 the colleague told Weaver: "Chopra doesn't want you here anymore. To stay, you have to please me." Chopra's attorney, Carla DiMare, gave a sharply different version of events to jurors. She said that, far from being attracted to Weaver, Chopra was wary of her and considered her emotionally unstable.

"She is fabricating her claims against Dr. Chopra because he is a high-profile public figure and she figured he would just settle (the case) with her," DiMare said.

Weaver is seeking unspecified monetary damages for claims of retaliation and wrongful termination against Chopra and his corporation. A claim of sexual harassment was dismissed.

The trial that started yesterday in San Diego Superior Court is the latest chapter in a long-running legal battle between Chopra and Weaver that is now being played out before the fourth judge to hear the dispute. Last month, a different jury unanimously rejected Chopra's contention that Weaver tried to blackmail him for $50,000 in return for not exposing allegations that Chopra had sex with a prostitute. Chopra denied the allegations.

Then, just as that jury was to begin hearing Weaver's suit against Chopra over these allegations, Judge Thomas Murphy removed himself from the case for comments he had made about attorney DiMare.

Murphy was the third judge to be assigned to the case involving Chopra and Weaver because of challenges by Chopra's attorneys. The current trial is being heard before Justice Richard Huffman of the 4th District Court of Appeal.

The jurors who heard opening statements yesterday were not told of the contentious background of the case. DiMare explained to the panel that Chopra was absent yesterday because of business commitments but will be in court tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Weaver's lawyer, Friesen, told jurors that his client was in charge of putting together Chopra's seminars on topics such as "The Magic of Healing." He said that Chopra doted on her, took her to dinner and once invited her to his home while his wife was away, but that Weaver rejected the romantic overtures.

The attorney said Chopra's colleague had been a friend of Weaver's since before she began working at the Solana Beach center in January 1994 and expressed a romantic interest in her after separating from his wife in the fall of 1994. Weaver wanted to keep her job and steered her conversations with the colleague to work subjects, Friesen said.

Friesen said that when a new chief executive officer, Richard Perl, took over running the center, Weaver went to him with her complaints of sexual harassment. The lawyer said Perl told Weaver, "You're going to have to make peace with your anger or you won't have a future with this organization." Weaver went to a lawyer to pursue her claim of sexual harassment and also took a stress disability leave from her job. In April 1996, Sharp Health Care decided to split from Chopra's center and Weaver was told that she no longer had a job. Friesen said the firing was a retaliatory move. But DiMare said Weaver was just one of several hundred employees who lost their jobs when Sharp had financial difficulties and went through a reorganization.

"She was not terminated because she claimed sexual harassment," DiMare said. DiMare said Chopra tried to stay away from Weaver, incurring her anger, which the lawyer said was demonstrated when she told two roommates "that it was her mission in life to destroy and expose Dr. Chopra." The lawyer also emphasized to jurors that Weaver was always an employee of Sharp -- not Chopra. This point is strongly disputed by Weaver. DiMare said Weaver's tax forms and employment records all indicated that she worked for Sharp Health Care.


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