Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By David Ganezer
Observer Staff Writer 

Judge Won't Stay Corona Cemetery Lawsuit, Pending Criminal Investigation

Ex Parte Application for a stay pending outcome of criminal investigation is denied

 

Potter's Field was sold, in part, to a mosque. The problem is it is already full of bodies

5/1/17: Riverside County Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters denied the Corona Cemetery Association's motion to stay a civil, class action lawsuit against it pending the outcome of a criminal investigation.

Apparently seeking records to prove an allegation that bodies were improperly buried in the "Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery," aka Corona Cemetery Association, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department last week served a search warrant on the Corona Cemetery.

The cemetery moved the court for a stay of a civil class action, arguing that its constitutional privilege against self incrimination would be compromised if it were forced to proceed with the civil case.

"Our Real Estate Fraud Task Force is conducting an ongoing and open investigation. At this time, no arrests have been made and no charges have been filed. If that changes, I will provide any update. However, because this is an ongoing investigation, no further comment is available," wrote John Hall, Public Information Officer for the Riverside County DA's Office, confirming the service of a search warrant.

Attorneys for the Cemetery have asked the Superior Court, to stay a civil class action pending against the cemetery. That civil case alleges that 200 graves were sold to a mosque, and 19 people were illegally buried in already occupied ground there in the last two years. Defense counsel want the civil case stayed, until the criminal case is resolved.

"On 4-26-17,Senior Detective Francis Zellers executed a search warrant on CCA," wrote an attorney for the cemetery in court papers filed Friday. "The warrant allowed Detective Zellers and other officers to remove certain administrative documents from the cemetery grounds. It also permitted Detective Zellers to probe and excavate areas of the lower portions of the cemetery."

Not everyone is willing to tolerate such skullduggery.

"You can't simply dig up and move old remains," said Scott Schutzman, attorney for the plaintiffs. "Under the California Cemetery act, the proper procedure is to go to a court and request permission to sell the land. Land may be sold if the next of kin are notified and no one objects. That procedure wasn't followed here," says Schutzman.

Schutzman says that his expert's opinion is that the land sold was used for burials as recently as 2014. It was a Potters Field; an area dedicated as a place of burial for the poor, in accordance with the New Testament. Judas betrayed Jesus Christ to the Romans for 30 pieces of silver, then killed himself, according to Matthew, and the money was used to buy a Potters Field to bury the poor. These are also called Paupers Graves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potter%27s_field

"The cemetery dates from 1892 or prior, and the lower area was once called "Potters Field." It offered $10 burials between 1892 and 1941. The problem is the bodies are still there. It's occupied land, but there are no good maps showing in particular where the graves are," says Schutzman, who represents about 20 class action plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the cemetery association. The plaintiffs are loved ones of the deceased.

The upper Corona cemetery

"In 1994, the cemetery claimed that there were only 266 graves in Paupers Field. Our expert says there are actually 866 graves. The cemetery wrongly claims that the other 500 graves were in the upper section of the cemetery." Schutzman said that proper maps showing each burial, have not yet been discovered, and were not required to be kept until the enactment of the Cemetery Act in the 1930's. So a map from 1932 was not conclusive.

"I think the judge should grant class certification, there should be an injunction against further burials, and my clients should be compensated for their emotional distress," says Mr. Schutzman.

OJ Simpson 20 years ago obtained a stay of civil litigation, pending the outcome of his murder trial. OJ was exonerated of murder, but found civilly liable for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, 18 months later.

 

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