LOS ANGELES—Attorneys representing heirs of Armenian Genocide victims seeking life insurance payments on relatives’ policies before 2010 will appeal a ruling by a federal court, which rejected a California law that allowed the pursuit of such matters, attorney Mark Geragos told Asbarez Thursday. The appeal is set to be filed prior to September 10th.
In a telephone interview, Geragos, who is one of three attorney representing the victims’ heirs, said that attorneys will appeal the August 20 decision, which said the law amounted to unconstitutional meddling in US foreign policy, and ask for the matter to be heard by the entire US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal panel, what is known in legal terms as an “En Banc” hearing.
“It’s an absurd ruling… A wrongheaded ruling and we hope to get an ‘En Banc’ hearing,” said Geragos, explaining that the state law is preempted.
“Feds have not expressed an opinion they’ve said they have no opinion,” said Geragos. “This is purely an insurance issue. We are suing a company that’s in Europe. They had policies to pay.”
Representative Adam Schiff also called the court’s reasoning “peculiar and misguided.”
“This decision was focused on a law that Chuck Poochigian and I crafted when I was in the State Senate. I didn’t believe that our work was preempted by federal law then, and don’t believe it is preempted now,” Schiff told Asbarez.
The California Legislature passed the law giving heirs of Armenian Genocide victims until the end of next year to file claims for old bank accounts and life insurance policies, effectively extending the statute of limitations on such matters.
Schiff also said that the fact that California and 41 other states have recognized the Genocide should have prompted the court to make a different ruling.
“The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals is an affront to the Armenian American community and, if allowed to stand, sets a dangerous precedent by rewarding the Turkish Government’s efforts on the federal level to deny and cover-up the Armenian Genocide,” said Armenian National Committee-Western Region board chairman Vicken Sonentz-Papazian.
“The message this decision sends is that if you can threaten, cajole and stonewall the U.S. government into inaction on a ‘foreign policy’ issue, you can eliminate a valid and righteous claim of an American citizen in a U.S. court of law,” added Papazian.
Class-action lawsuits brought by heirs of Genocide victims in California and other states led to a $20 million settlement with New York Life Insurance Co. in 2005 and a $17 million settlement the same year with French life insurer AXA.
Geragos said the time had come for Armenians throughout the world to focus on the reparations issue.
“Clearly we should be bringing suits all over the world,” said Geragos, adding that in a society where such matters are decided by the judiciary, the community should become more active in the pursuit of large corporations, such as insurance companies and banks, that might be holding assets that belonged to Genocide victims.
“We have been focusing on the political aspects of the Genocide. We need to marry the political with the legal,” added Geragos.
“There should either be a reversal [of the ruling] by a higher court or legislative action to reframe the statute,” said Schiff who called on the community to urge an appeal. He also said he would be looking into possible federal legislation that might rectify the situation.
Geragos also urged the community to become more active in this matter, urging community organizations such as the ANC, the Armenian Bar Association and others to file amicus briefs in support of the ‘en banc’ review.
“This is a temporary setback and we will overcome this,” said Schiff. “Unfortunately, it just adds injury to injury.”