Gwinnett Hindu leader defamation case dismissed

A Fulton County judge last week dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by the controversial leader of the Hindu Temple of Georgia and awarded $11,000 in attorney fees to the opposing side.

The decision is the latest blow to the temple's self-proclaimed guru, Annamalai Annamalai, who goes by the title Dr. Commander Selvam.  The temple filed for bankruptcy in September. Its building and nine-acre property at 5900 Brook Hollow Parkway in Norcross were auctioned at foreclosure this month after the temple defaulted on a $2.3 million bank loan.

Superior Court Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams on Dec. 22 dismissed the case against Gita Kotecha and Basant Tariyal, two leaders in the local Hindu community who made comments critical of Annamalai on a Fox 5 news broadcast in August 2008. The defendants claimed that Annamalai -- who charges fees of hundreds or thousands of dollars for prayer services and horoscope readings -- gives Hindu priests a bad name and does not represent the Hindu faith.

Adams stated that the temple was a matter of public concern and the defendants' comments were not defamatory, according to defense attorney Mark Scott. The judge ordered Annamalai and his former attorney, Alex Roberson, to pay $11,000 in attorney fees.

"We intend to try to collect it against both parties," Scott said.

Brent Sherota, the attorney currently representing the Hindu Temple of Georgia, did not return a reporter's calls or e-mails on Monday.

Opponents claim the lawsuits are retaliation against people who vocalized concerns about the temple's practices or failed to pay exorbitant costs for rituals.  Scott said he doesn't know if he will be able to collect the attorney fees, since the temple is bankrupt and has had a "revolving door" of six different lawyers over the past few years.

Scott hopes the decision to award attorney fees will convince Annamalai to halt a barrage of lawsuits against dissenters. About a dozen other lawsuits he has filed against former devotees or critics are still pending in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, Scott said.

"As long as he continues to file more lawsuits, my clients are going to continue to incur these attorneys fees," Scott said. "The easiest way we can deter these is to get judgments against [Annamalai] for filing them in the first place. So that's the tactic that I'm taking."