Brian Kabateck

Commemorating Genocide: Kabateck Still Pursuing Legal Remedies for Historical Injustices While Advocating Economic Boycott of Turkey

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LOS ANGELES – Brian Kabateck is a Southern California attorney specializing in consumer fraud who frequently appears on television and other news media. He has played an important role in lawsuits against insurance companies withholding money from heirs of victims of the Armenian Genocide and is still involved in one such current lawsuit.

Half-Armenian, and growing up on stories of the Genocide, Kabateck did not hesitate to become involved in these cases from the late 1990s. He was co-lead counsel in the first successful lawsuit against the insurance companies, Martin Marootian et al. v. New York Life Insurance Company, which was filed in 1999 and settled in 2004 for 20 million dollars, and achieved a similar settlement in Kyurkjian v. AXA, a French insurance company in 2005.

Martin Marootian (Washington Post photo)

Kabateck declared that the documents he obtained in the AXA case, including historical materials, records and names of policy holders, have been given to the library at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, along with the results of the work of the administrative boards created. Some of the insurance money from the Armenian Genocide cases went to create the Center for the Study of Law and Genocide (https://www.lls.edu/academics/centers/centerforthestudyoflawandgenocide/#) at Loyola, which focuses on remedies for victims of genocide. According to Professor Stanley Goldman, the director of the Center, the files will be eventually transferred to the University of Southern California, whose Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research already has the papers donated by Kabateck’s co-lead counsel Vartkes Yeghiayan.

Unfortunately, a third case, against Victoria Versicherung AG, a German insurance company, and two other German companies, ended on appeal with a defeat in 2013 which created an impasse for future Armenian Genocide insurance suits. The California legislature had passed a statute establishing California as a forum for Armenian Genocide insurance cases and extending the limitation period for these cases. This statute, often called the Poochigian bill after its main proponent, was deemed unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in agreement with an en banc Ninth Circuit Court decision, as it supposedly interfered with federal foreign policy, which at present does not recognize the Armenian Genocide.

Kabateck commented, “I am still upset and angry that the Ninth Circuit [Court of Appeals] took away the right to sue for insurance claims, which the California legislature, I thought, validly enacted, and that we have been unable to continue to pursue those cases.” He continued, “I think [this] is a shame because there are a lot of insurance companies out there that got away scot-free without having to pay for the consequences.” He added that the Obama administration weighed in against the Armenian position through the Solicitor General of the United States and declared that the administration wanted the Poochigian statute invalidated.

Kabateck explained that a new statute is necessary to allow suing the insurance companies today but it would have to be reworded in a suitable fashion. He declared that this situation was a source of incredible frustration for him personally.

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He explained that “even in my office, I have a plaque with a handwritten note from Hillary Clinton thanking me for all I have done for her campaign. Underneath it I have a couple of emails that we found in the Hillary email release where she is communicating with the foreign minister of Turkey about our case.” Kabateck said, “Before my legal career is over, I would still like to find a way to make this right.”

Kabateck was also involved as co-counsel with Vartkes Yeghiayan and Mark Geragos in Varoujan Deirmenjian et al. v. Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank et al. the 2006 class action suit against several German banks on behalf of Armenian Genocide victim’s heirs for bank deposits and other assets held by the banks. This suit was dismissed in 2010 by a California federal district court as time-barred, and the dismissal was upheld by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013.

However, Kabateck still has hopes for a case for Armenian properties seized by the Republic of Turkey. In 2010, he, along with attorneys Geragos, Berj Boyajian and Ara Jabagchourian, filed on behalf of Garbis Davoyan of Los Angeles and Hrayr Turabian of New York City, and many other Armenians. This class action suit is the first against the Republic of Turkey (as successor to Ottoman Turkey) and targets the Central Bank of Turkey and the Ziraat Bank. It was consolidated with a similar case, Bakalian v. Republic of Turkey, in 2011, and dismissed in 2013 by Judge Dolly M. Gee in a California federal district court, basically as a political and not judicial issue.

It then went on appeal and was argued in the summer of 2016 in Circuit Court. However, the judge, Pregerson, died before the case was ruled on, so it had to be reset and there is no new hearing date yet.

Under these circumstances, Kabateck said, “we have to go back and have an argument on the case.” The approach is primarily that of a stolen properties case involving events that occurred during the Armenian Genocide.

While civil lawsuits concerning the Genocide in the US are encountering obstacles, Kabateck encouraged promoting legislation for economic embargos of Turkey or divestiture of various state and other American institutions, such as is being pursued right now in California. Kabateck said, “This is why I am encouraged by the legislation that is now impending… the chances are good of it being passed.”

He said that he has been in touch with its proponents, such as California Sen. Anthony Portantino, and finds that in general politicians in Sacramento are sensitive to Armenian issues such as the Genocide. He added, “I think it has a good chance of being held legal constitutionally because it is not so much setting foreign policy as the state making the decision.”

Kabateck suggested that any Armenian or person concerned with issues of justice in California should contact their Assembly member or Senator to show their support, along with of course the organized Armenian groups in California. This could be a model for other states. Under the present circumstances, he declared, “One more thing we all could do is to boycott and not support businesses or entities that are Turkish or support Turkey, such as Turkish Airlines.”

As far as the accusations of corruption exchanged among the main lawyers who had spearheaded the first Armenian insurance cases, Kabateck merely exclaimed that “It is just a very sad chapter in the whole story. A lot of the money went to do good things. A lot of money went to the families [of heirs]. We brought attention for a short period of time at least to the issues.”

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