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Is Former Bikram Yoga Lawyer's Legal Battle Almost Over?

Bikram Choudhury, founder of Bikram Yoga, continues to contest a more than $7 million verdictthat was decided by a California jury last year. The amount is owed to his former legal adviser, Minakshi "Micki" Jafa-Bodden, who brought a wrongful termination suit against him, his wife and their yoga empire in 2013.

Jafa-Bodden sued her former employer for allegedly firing her in retaliation for investigating sexual harassment and discrimination claims when she worked as the in-house lawyer for the international chain of yoga studios. She also alleged sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

She won punitive and compensatory damages in Los Angeles Superior Court in January 2016 but according to Jafa-Bodden in an interview Thursday, Choudhury has yet to "put up the bond."

Choudhury's lawyers are appealing the 2016 judgment, but Jafa-Bodden's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss that appeal, claiming Choudhury has violated court orders. 

In oral arguments Wednesday, one of Jafa-Bodden's attorneys, Carla Minnard, argued that Choudhury cannot appeal the judgment due to the disentitlement doctrine, which provides that someone cannot seek relief from the judicial system after evading its authority. This week's arguments were limited to Jafa-Bodden's motion to dismiss, not the merits of Choudhury's appeal in the case.

According to Jafa-Bodden's attorneys, Choudhury has violated court orders. A bench warrant for Choudhury's arrest was issued in May, with bail set at $8 million—the approximate amount Jafa-Bodden is owed from trial, plus interest.

In court Wednesday, Choudhury's attorney, Nick Pujji, a partner at Dentons in Los Angeles, argued that the yoga chain founder is faced with legal problems when he is "not a very sophisticated business person," Law360 reported. Pujji claimed that his client was "scared and confused" and had to flee the country because he doesn't trust the American legal system.

In an interview following the proceedings, Minnard said she is confident that Choudhury's appeal will not be allowed to move forward. "I don't think we will ever get to the substance of the appeal," she said. "I think it will get dismissed upon disentitlement."

Minnard said the law is in her client's favor. "Given the state of the law and given the numerous violations of the trial court's orders by the appellant, I think I would say we have a fair level of confidence, but anything can happen," she said.

Jafa-Bodden noted that this motion is "obviously important for us procedurally." She had previously been awarded ownership of Bikram Yoga's IP rights and franchises. However, she said she has not yet obtained control of those assets.

According to the Bikram Yoga website, a teacher training is scheduled in Acapulco starting in September. Jafa-Bodden claims this is a violation of the cease and desist letter sent to Choudhury's lawyers July 10, and obtained by Corporate Counsel, which ordered Choudhury to stop "selling franchise territory, opening new yoga studios, advertising Bikram teacher trainings, seminars, lectures, master classes and any other solicitation, licensing or marketing of the Bikram brand…"

Pujji, Choudhury's lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment on the case or on whether he believes the upcoming training violates the cease and desist order.

"That's really the essence of this whole case," said Jafa-Bodden. Choudhury is "brazen, he's undeterred and he doesn't consider himself to be bound by any of the court orders."

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Stephanie Forshee

Stephanie Forshee is a writer for Inside Counsel magazine. Previously, she has worked for the Puget Sound Business Journal, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal and Auto...

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