BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
LOS ANGELES—A hearing took place on Monday, November 21, in Federal Judge Christina A. Snyder’s court in downtown Los Angeles. It was the second in as many weeks, and part of the lawsuit that has pitted against one another attorneys (Mark Geragos/Brian Kabateck vs. Vartkes Yeghiayan) who once jointly fought the French insurance company AXA to secure payment to the heirs of genocide victims who had bought life insurance policies from that company. Much of what was addressed at the two hearings was redundant because at the November 14 hearing, Yeghiayan’s attorney, Roman Silberfeld, was unable to attend and was replaced by another, Gabrielson. The judge was unwilling to finalize anything in Silberfeld’s absence.
Before proceeding, a “refresher” regarding some numbers is necessary to follow what transpired during these two hearings. Approximately 13,000 claims were filed. Of these, about 1000 were paid (the amounts paid varied dramatically, from the low hundreds of dollars to the hundreds of thousands). A sample, of 104, of the PAID claims was examined by both sides. It turns out ten were duplicates or could not be found, leaving 94. Among these some discrepancies have been found which constitute the current heart of the controversy.
Leading up to the later session a filing was made by the Yeghiayan side. It described the status of the negotiations between the two sides and laid out allegations against the other side, Geragos and Kabateck. During the course of the hearing, the judge expressed displeasure with the filing, seemingly agreeing with Kabateck in his contention that it was an end run around the court’s instructions that Yeghiayan refrain from issuing press releases.
Once again, the name of Parsegh Kartalian name came up. He was the administrator who ran the distribution of the millions of dollars that AXA was required to pay to the rightful recipients of the insurance policies’ payouts. One meeting has been held with him, and the Yeghiayan side expressed dissatisfaction with that session.
Geragos (who was also absent from the Nov. 14 hearing) emphatically requested, repeatedly, that Snyder order that he and Silberfeld be locked in a room to hash out the problems and come up with a resolution. The judge did so, expressing concern that otherwise much of the funds due to claimants might be expended on audits of the files. But this is what Yeghiayan’s side is requesting to make sure everything has been properly processed. Geragos and Kabateck counter that to review all 1000 files would be prohibitively expensive while agreeing that a 0.1% correction is owed to those who received payments. This followed on the heels of both sides agreeing at the Nov. 14 hearing that the preceding six weeks (since the last hearing) had been an exercise in futility.
Silberfeld agreed that most of the outstanding issues could be resolved between Geragos and himself. But, he argued that no amount of negotiation could settle the issue of whether the discrepancies discovered in the sample of files examined also affect the other 900 paid claims. He even suggested that some threshold could be established, giving the example of $25,000, as a means of limiting the scope of the work. Then, any claims with payouts higher than that figure could be audited.
In all this discussion, the question of whether the 12,000 rejected claims were properly processed has not been addressed.
At both hearings, Kabateck asserted that the issues raised by Yeghiayan were intended to distract attention from the latter’s misdeeds, as alleged by the former. The judge indicated some suspicion of the same. Along the same lines, Kabateck also complained that he perceived an ever-expanding list of issues to be addressed being raised by Yeghiayan.
Judge Snyder expressed her sense that at some point, an independent accountant will have to look at some of the files. She wants to limit the scope of that work in the interest of saving the compensation fund’s monies. However, she did say that it might become necessary for those who mishandled the process pay for such auditing.
The next hearing is scheduled for December 5.
In the interest of full disclosure, my family is an AXA claimant. The claim was denied. No explanation was given.