Arson for Profit
The Examination Under Oath
It took two months to schedule but the examination under oath began at Dickran Levonyan’s replacement house, just South of Ventura Boulevard, not quite as high up the hill in Sherman Oaks as the house that burned. Sam Hazan, MOM, a court reporter and an Armenian language interpreter traveled to the house to begin the formal part of the investigation of the Underwriters at Lloyd’s and the homeowner’s insurer.
Sam and MOM worked together for two days to prepare for the examination under oath. Reports prepared on behalf of the Underwriters at Lloyd’s by art appraisers, investigators, fire cause and origin investigators, electrical engineers and experts in Caucasian and Persian rugs were reviewed in detail. Sam and MOM were ready.
They were greeted at the front door by Bedros Zazian, Esq. the lawyer retained by Mr. Levonyan to protect his interest. After interviewing three Jewish lawyers his public adjuster recommended Levonyan decided it was best to retain the services of an Armenian lawyer.
As they were led into the living room where the examination was to be conducted, Mrs. Levonyan came into the room, delivered steaming pitchers of coffee and Tea in a Samovar. On the oak coffee table in front of the sofa where Sam and MOM settled to begin the examination were six different types of sweet rolls, Feta cheese, Colby, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Sharp Cheddar.
Pleasantries were exchanged, food consumed – to avoid insulting the hosts – and introductions were made in English and Armenian. Attorney Zazian spoke Armenian and English fluently and learned that he and the interpreter’s families came from the same small village in Armenia close to the foot of Mt. Ararat.
“I guess,” Hazan said to break the ice. “It is time we began. Ms. Reporter, please first swear the interpreter and then the witness.”
“Do you solemnly swear to correctly translate from English to Armenian and Armenian to English the questions and answers posed in this examination under oath?”
“I do.” Replied the interpreter in English.
“Do you,” the reporter said, indicating Mr. Levonyan. “Swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in this examination under oath, so help you God?”
The interpreter interpreted the question and then responded: “I do” on behalf of Levonyan.
Hazan then explained the operating rules that must be followed in an examination under oath, especially when an interpreter was required. The interpreter, trained at the United Nations, interpreted simultaneously so that there was almost no delay between the question and the answer.
“Mr. Levonyan,” Hazan began in a calm and even voice gained from giving the same introduction hundreds of times before. “You have just taken an oath that is the same oath you would take in a court of law. Even though we are sitting here in your living room drinking the excellent coffee your wife has made for us and consuming the wonderful rolls and cheese, that oath is very serious and bears the same solemnity and penalties as if it were given in a court of law. Do you understand that?”
“Yes.” Levonyan replied in English.
“We have with us today a certified Armenian language interpreter. I have been advised that you speak English haltingly and are more comfortable in Armenian. The Interpreter is here to make sure we get the most accurate testimony possible. For that reason, even if you understand my question when I say it in English you must wait until the interpreter fully interprets it before you answer. You must also answer the question in Armenian, not English. Will you do that for me?”
“Ayo.” Levonyan responded.
“Yes.” The interpreter interpreted.
“Fine. As you can see the young woman sitting next to me hitting the keys on that machine is Carol Laurie, a Certified Shorthand reporter. She takes down on the machine everything that is said here. She speaks no Armenian. She will write down nothing you say, even if you say it in English. She will only write down the answers given by the Interpreter. Please try not to confuse us and the court reporter since she has a difficult job.”
“I will do my best.”
“Do you know why you are here answering questions for me today?”
“Not really. My lawyer told me that I must answer your questions or the insurance companies will not pay.”
“You must understand anything you say to your lawyer or he says to you is private. Do not tell me anything about what he has said.”
“I join in that comment.” Attorney Zazian stated belatedly. “Do not tell him anything about what I have said to you.”
“To explain why you are here. When you bought an insurance policy from my clients you made certain promises to them. You promised, for example, to pay a premium. You promised that, if you made a claim, and the insurers asked, you would submit to, and answer questions posed to you, under oath. You are here today to fulfill that promise.”
“I understand. Did the insurers make any promises to me?”
“I am only here, Mr. Levonyan, to ask questions not answer them. However, as a courtesy to you I will answer that question, and only that question. Yes, they made promises to you. They promised to indemnify you (that is, put you back the way you were before a loss) if a risk they assumed by the policy damaged property identified in the policy and if you complied with all the terms and conditions of the policy. For you to fulfill your promise in a way that can be used by your insurers it is necessary that you follow some simple rules.
“In normal conversation you can talk and listen at the same time. The court reporter only has one set of hands. That means you must wait until my question is completed before answering it and I must wait until you complete your answer before I ask my next question. Please try to follow that rule.
“I do not want you to guess at the answer to any question. If I ask you, for example, ‘how big is this room?’ you could not answer accurately without first measuring it, but you could approximate that it is about six meters by five meters. I am entitled to an estimate, but not guesses.
“I am a lawyer.” Hazan continued with the ease of years of giving the same speech to hundreds of witnesses. “That means I suffer from a professional handicap – I sometimes ask questions that only I understand. If you do not understand my question please do not guess at the meaning, make me repeat the question or rephrase it in such a way that you do understand it.
“Your lawyer, Mr. Zazian is present. If you ever need to confer with him please advise me and we will go off the record so you can go to some private place and confer.
“When we are finished with the questioning today Jennifer will transcribe her notes into question and answer form. You will be required to read, or we will have the interpreter read and translate, each question and answer, correct any errors that may exist and sign the transcript of the examination under oath under penalty of perjury. Until the examination under oath is completed and the transcript is corrected and signed by you under penalty of perjury, the proof of loss you are required to present to your insurance companies is not completed and they will not be able to make a decision about your claim. Do you understand?”
“Do you have any questions about the examination under oath procedure?”
Attorney Zazian shook his head from side to side and Levonyan responded: “No.”
“Is there any physical reason why you cannot give your best testimony today?”
“Have you taken any drugs or alcohol in the last 24 hours?”
“Yes. I had some Armenian Cognac after dinner last night and my orange juice glass this morning is filled half with orange juice and half with Cognac.”
“Does the alcoholic content of Armenian Cognac and orange juice affect, in any way, your ability to testify?”
“Counsel,” attorney Zazian interrupted. “It is an ethnic thing and not unusual. I am convinced that Mr. Levonyan has complete control of his faculties and that the consumption of small amounts of Cognac will not impair his ability to testify truthfullyand accurately.”
“Thank you, counsel.” Hazan responded. “Based on your representation I will proceed with the examination under oath.”
Hazan had blocked off three days in a row on his calendar, because of the extensive number of items involved and the need to filter all of his questions through an interpreter.
He knew he could not “interrogate” Levonyan, in the classic sense but must conduct an interview that, by its thoroughness and attention to detail, will ferret out lies if any are told. He expected that Levonyan, his lawyer Bedros Zazian and the interpreter would soon become bored with his questions. That was part of his plan.
A witness, especially one who had grown up dealing with representatives of a repressive totalitarian regime, would only testify to facts the witness believed his questioner wanted to hear. Sam Hazan had steeled himself to be meticulous in his questioning so that a rapport could be established with the witness and so that the witness would believe that he was less than adequate as an interrogator.
His questions began, therefore, with the birth of Dickran Levonyan and elicited every place he had lived since birth, every school he had attended, every type of training he had received (whether at a school or university or on-the-job) and every job he had ever held. Since none of the facts concerned Levonyan, he answered truthfully. He was calm and would, at breaks in the proceedings, refill his orange juice glass.
For the first two hours Sam’s questions only elicited innocuous background information about Levonyan.
Just before they were about to break for lunch Sam Hazan began to ask questions that only he and MOM realized were of importance to his investigation.
“In the last six years that you have owned your gas station, Mr. Levonyan, have you ever been robbed?”
“Yes, in fact only three months ago some black young men wearing baggy pants and showing off red checked boxer shorts took $300.00 from the station attendant as I watched through the window. I called ‘911′ but by the time the police arrived they were gone.”
“Was anything taken other than cash?”
“Was that the only time your gas station was held up?”
“I think there were three other times. We never keep a lot of cash in the station, it goes into the safe or the bank, so they never took more than $500.00.”
“Has your station ever been burglarized?”
“What is ‘burglarized?’”
“Has anyone ever broken into the station and taken things after you were closed?”
“Oh. Yes, once someone broke the door and took 15 radial tires and a Snap-On tool box full of mechanics tools.”
“Did you ever make a claim to your insurance company about the robberies or the burglary?”
“What does that have to do with the fire at my house?”
“I told you, Mr. Levonyan, I don’t answer questions I just ask them. Please confer with your lawyer. He will tell you that I have the right to ask these background questions.”
“Please, Dickran, just listen to his questions and answer them.” Attorney Zazian pleaded.
“If he asks you an improper question I will tell you not to answer it.”
“I will obey my lawyer.”
“Thank you, Mr. Levonyan. Did you ever make a claim to your insurance company about the robberies or the burglary?”
“Yes, the burglary. The robberies were all below my deductible.”
“And who was the insurance company.”
“Farmers and Merchants Insurance Company.”
“Did they pay your claim?”
“Yes, unlike your clients, almost immediately and just what I asked them to pay.”
“How much did they pay you?”
“Four months ago.”
“Have you made any other claims to any other insurance company besides my clients?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Perhaps I can refresh your recollection. Do you remember that before my clients you were insured, at your house by Republican Casualty Insurance Company?”
“I don’t remember the names of insurance companies.”
“Did the roof of the house leak 18 months ago?”
“Yes, it did. Now I remember. The rain came into the living room like there was no roof at all. It ruined the walls, the ceiling, the rugs and some of the furniture. I met with someone named Ron. Was he with this Republican Casualty?”
“I think the name was Rodney Walsh. Do you remember meeting with a person by that name?”
“I think so. Yes, he came with a contractor. I now remember how odd I thought the name Rodney was.”
“Did Rodney pay you for the damage to your house and its contents?”
“Yes, he must have because we fixed it all before the fire.”
“When did he pay you?”
“I don’t remember?”
“How much did he pay you?”
“I think, about $16,500.”
“And who did the work to fix the house?”
“My sons and I.”
“What did you do?”
“We patched the plaster and painted the whole house. We then went to Carpets ‘R Us and bought new carpets and laid it down on the tacks left by the original carpet installers. We did a very professional job and with the money left over I was able to buy a four-year-old Volkswagen Rabbit for my son Hovsep.”
“Thank you, Mr. Levonyan. I think it is now time to go off the record and break for lunch.”
“That’s fine. My wife has made a very nice Armenian lunch with roast lamb, stuffed bell peppers and new potatoes. We would be pleased to have you join us.”
“Thank you, Mr. Levonyan. Please convey our regrets to Mrs. Levonyan, but neither I nor Mr. Montague can accept your kind offer. I’m sure, if you ask him, your lawyer will explain why we cannot accept. It is now 12:14 p.m. We will return at 1:20 and continue until 5:00 p.m. unless we finish sooner.”
Fifteen minutes later Sam Hazan and MOM settled down in a booth at the Great Greek Restaurant on Ventura Boulevard. Hazan’s face was marked by a Cheshire Cat grin that had been carved into his face since he climbed into MOM’s Navigator. Iced Tea was delivered and when it was clear they would not be overheard, Sam, sipping on his iced tea and lemon – no sugar – breathed heavily.
“Well, MOM, it looks like we are on the way to developing a strong defense to this claim.”
“Really, I though you were just calming him down with pleasantries. Did I miss something this morning?”
“The application, MOM. Remember, the application submitted to the Underwriters at Lloyd’s and to the homeowner’s insurer both said that he had never incurred a loss in the past three years. I now have his testimony that one statement in the application for the policy was false.” Sam said, with conviction.
“We always, knew he was a liar. Why is this such a strong defense to the fire claim? His past losses have nothing to do with fire.”
“Of course they don’t. They do, if my understanding of the underwriting standards of the Underwriters at Lloyd’s, especially Richard, is correct we can prove that had the Underwriters known the true facts the policy would never have been issued.”
“So, it was issued. They will just argue that the insurers should never have relied on the information given by Levonyan.”
“That kind of argument, in a California court, will invariably fall on deaf ears.”
“Our law, with regard to the placement of insurance is Draconian compared to that of other states.”
“I always thought California was the most liberal – insured persons favoring – court system in the country.”
“In many ways you are right, MOM, but not when it comes to the placement of insurance. Although California courts invented the so-called tort of bad faith, it also takes very seriously the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. It expects both parties to an insurance contract to deal with the other fairly, and in good faith. And, if it finds that one party was deceived by the other it allows the party deceived to declare the contract of insurance void. As if it never existed.”
Lunch of Spanokopia (spinach pie), lamb kebobs, dolmates and Greek Village salad were delivered as they talked. MOM munched on soft pita bread where he had placed chunks of lamb and heavy Greek yogurt. Looking up at Sam, pensively, MOM asked: “Sam, do you mean that if the Underwriters give Levonyan back his premium and declare the policy void they need pay him nothing? That seems rather severe and to be the kind of evil and unkind action insurers are often accused of doing.”
“I said the law was Draconian in this area. But, really,” Sam said, pausing only slightly to take a healthy bite out of his lamb and crunchy sourdough bread. “It has been the law of California for as long as I have lived that an insurance company is entitled to determine for itself what risks it will accept, and to know all facts relative to the applicant needed to make its decision to insure or not insure. Insurers doing business in California have an unquestionable right to select those whom it will insure and to rely upon him who would be insured for such information as the insurer desires as a basis for its determination to the end that the insurer may make a wise choice in selecting the risks it is willing to take.”
“I understand. If not, the applications would be a waste of time and I would be spending all of my time investigating people before insurance was sold. Why, if they had to do that on every risk, no one could afford to buy insurance since the cost of such a complete background investigation would be more than the premium charged.”
“That’s the reason for the law. An insurer takes the word of the insured as gospel, when making its decision. If the insured is later proved to have made false statements on the application, even if it was unintentional, the Underwriters were deceived and they have the right to rescind the policy (determine it never existed) and put both the Underwriters and the Insured back in the same position they were before the policy was issued.”
“Now I understand why you wanted me to contact that adjuster with Republican Indemnity. He corroborates the testimony of Levonyan and establishes the existence of an earlier claim that was not disclosed to the Underwriters.”
“That’s right, and this afternoon, when we go back, I will continue (without ever showing him the applications that he signed) to obtain testimony from Levonyan that the statements of fact on the applications were false and establish that he deceived the Underwriters, even if he did it innocently.”
“Sam.” MOM started, finishing his last bite of Greek Village salad. “It seems unfair to me that someone could be deprived of his right to collect on an insurance policy just because he made a mistake, without any intention to deceive or hurt anyone.”
“It seems that way, but it is absolutely fair. In fact, Rescission is called an equitable remedy. In the law ‘equity’ is synonymous with ‘fairness.’”
“How is it fair?”
“The best example I can give you comes from a decision of the English House of Lords, their equivalent of our U.S. Supreme Court, called Carter v. Boehm. Mr. Carter was an insurance Underwriter at Lloyd’s. In 1766 he agreed to insure a merchant with a fort in the South Pacific. Mr. Boehm owned the fort which was destroyed. When the news finally reached England that the fort was destroyed Mr. Boehm made claim to Mr. Carter who refused to pay because the property was not really a fort but a trading post and that he was not advised of the pirates working in the area. Boehm appealed claiming he did not deceive Carter. Carter, the evidence showed, knew more about the conditions in the South Seas than did Boehm. He argued he would never have accepted the risk of loss of a fort had he know of the situation faced by the fort.
Lord Mansfield, writing for the House of Lords, stated what has come to be known as the ‘Marine Rule’ in insurance coverage parlance. The Marine Rule was codified in the California Insurance Code in the 1930’s. What Lord Mansfield said was that insurance is a risk transfer device where, for the payment of a premium, an insurer agrees to take on the risks of another, the insured. The essence of the agreement is that both parties agree on the risk being taken and that they must deal with each other fairly and with the utmost good faith.
Mr. Carter had agreed to insure Mr. Boehm against the risk of losing his fort. He did not insure the fort. At the time the agreement was made, Carter knew of the severe risks the fort faced by being damaged since it had already been destroyed by pirates. As a result Lord Mansfield refused to rescind the policy and ordered Carter to pay Boehm.”
“In our case” Sam continued. “The underwriters did not know they had been deceived. Richard de Camp made it clear that he did not know of the true condition and that had he known of the condition of the house, the existence of prior claims, the prior cancellation and the less than professional nature of the appraisal he would never have agreed to the risk. It is our job to prove that the facts represented in the application were not true and that Levonyan knew they were not true when they were made.”
“Do you think we can use that reasoning to defeat this arson, which my investigators tell me was probably set, or caused to be set, by Dickran Levonyan.”
“MOM, I think we have a better chance of defeating his claim using the law of rescission than I do convincing a jury that Levonyan set fire to his own house.”
“It’s time to get back to the Levonyan house.” MOM reminded Sam.
MOM paid the check, left a 20% tip, and rose ponderously to walk to the entrance where the valet was holding his Navigator since it was too tall to fit in the Underground garage. The two men drove in silence back to knock, at 1:15 p.m., at the Levonyan’s door. Greeted with hospitality by Mrs. Levonyan they followed her back into the living room where they again refused an alcohol-laced beverage from Levonyan.
MOM whispered into Sam’s ear, “Hit the highlights of what you want to get today quickly, Dickran is holding what, by my count, is his sixth orange juice and Cognac if he didn’t drink at lunch. I don’t think we will be able to go all the way to 5:00 p.m.”
Hazan looked closely at Levonyan. His physical appearance, demeanor and speech patterns had not changed. Regardless of the number of alcoholic drinks he had consumed Levonyan showed none of the generally understood signs of intoxication. Sam nodded to MOM, acknowledging that he understood the comments, and sat heavily in the sofa.
“Counsel, are we ready to continue?”
“Yes. And, for the record you missed an exceptional Armenian lunch prepared by Mrs. Levonyan.”
“I regret that Mr. Montague and I were required, by the press of other business, to refuse the generous offer of a meal.”
“Back on the record.” Sam said, in a monotone, to the reporter. “Mr. Levonyan, is there any reason why, after lunch, that you cannot give your best testimony this afternoon?”
“Thank you, then I will continue where we left off.” Sam said in the tone reserved for school teachers about to administer a pop-quiz. “You told us about the leaking roof. Have you ever incurred a loss, since entering the U.S., to any real or personal property, whether a claim was made to an insurance company or not, that you have not told us about already?”
“Would the fact that the neighbors below my swimming pool sued me be considered a loss?”
“Tell me what happened to cause them to sue you?”
“Remember, three years ago when there were unnatural rains and we had four inches of rain in Los Angeles in a two-hour period?”
“Yes, I remember. What does that have to do with a loss?”
“Behind my swimming pool, my lot drops down fifty feet to a chain link fence that is the top of the back-yard of a Mr. Cheng Lei. When the rains came part of my hillside fell into Mr. Cheng’s back yard, filled his master-bedroom with 18 inches of mud and made a mess. There was no damage to my property.”
“Why did Mr. Cheng sue you?”
“He claimed that I had removed too much of the brush as a fire prevention action so that the hillside was weakened and caused damage to his property.”
“How much did he seek to recover by the lawsuit?”
“I think he sued me for $1.5 million.”
“Is that suit still pending?”
“No, Republican Indemnity settled with him. I don’t know how much they paid.”
“Is that the same company that paid for your roof leak?”
“Were you visited by the same adjuster about the Cheng lawsuit?”
“No, the adjuster was different. I don’t remember his name. I do remember that he hired lawyer Winston Charles O’Reily to defend me. O’Reily came to my home several times to discuss the lawsuit. A very nice man.”
“I agree. Winston is a very nice man. Will you, Mr. Levonyan, authorize me to speak to your lawyer, Mr. O’Reilly. Since the case is settled, give him permission to allow me or Mr. Montague to review his files?”
“Sure, you don’t need my permission. He’s a lawyer, you’re a lawyer, just talk to him.”
“It isn’t that simple, Mr. Levonyan, I need your permission in writing to speak to Mr. O’Reilly.”
“Don’t worry.” Attorney Zazian interrupted. “Just send me the authorization and I will have Mr. Levonyan sign it. He does not understand the rules of professional conduct under which we lawyers must operate.”
“Thank you, counsel.” Sam replied, with honest gratitude. “I will prepare the authorization as soon as I return to my office.” Hazan paused for a moment, picked up a glass of water and drank deeply, before he continued.
“Mr. Levonyan, why did you change insurance companies from Republican Indemnity, who took care of two serious claims for you, to my client?”
“Because my broker, Mr. Harry Dersogian called me and told me I needed to get a new insurance company.”
“Did Harry tell you why?”
“I did not ask.”
“Did Harry tell you why?
“He told me that because of the money they had to pay to Mr. Cheng and the money they were paying me for the roof leak, I would have to be insured with them for 1,000 years before they made a profit, so they refused to insure me any more.”
“Did you ever receive from Republican Indemnity Company a document called a ‘non-renewal notice’ or a ‘cancellation?’”
“Objection,” Zazian interrupted, “the question is compound.”
“Of course it is counsel,” Sam agreed. “Please answer the question Mr. Levonyan.”
“No.” Zazian interjected. “Don’t answer the question. It is improper. I instruct you not to answer.”
“Mr. Levonyan, will you follow attorney Zazian’s instruction?”
“He is my lawyer. I must listen to his advice.”
“I will take that as a ‘yes’ answer to my question.” Hazan paused, steepled his fingers as if in prayer, and looking over the top of them through his bifocals, said: “Mr. Zazian, I understand that in depositions lawyers often instruct their clients not to answer. I believe you are not familiar with the examination under oath process. I am compelled, therefore, in the interest of good faith and fair dealing, to advise you that if your client continues in his refusal to answer what the Underwriters believe to be a material question the insurers can, for that reason alone, reject Mr. Levonyan’s entire claim. I say this only so you can confer since I prefer not to take advantage of Mr. Levonyan’s lack of knowledge of the law surrounding this issue. I can also refer you to several California Supreme Court decisions that reflect that the failure or refusal to answer a valid and material question at examination under oath can be a ground to deny a claim for failure of cooperation. Do you, after my long speech, wish to confer.”
“No,” Zazian replied, “the instruction remains unchanged.”
“Fine, I respect you decision although I believe it to be incorrect.” Hazan directed his attention back to Levonyan. “Did Republican Indemnity deliver to you, Mr. Levonyan, a notice of cancellation?”
“Did Republican Indemnity deliver to you, Mr. Levonyan, a notice of non-renewal?”
“Did Republican Indemnity deliver to your agent Harry Dersogian a notice of cancellation?”
“Yes, I believe it did.”
“Did you see that notice?”
“No, I just talked with Harry and he told me he had received a copy and that, as of 30 days from the date of our conversation I would have no insurance except that which I am able to purchase before the deadline. He told me that the California FAIR Plan Association is my best bet and that he would help me apply.”
“Did you get a policy with the California FAIR Plan Association?”
“No, I found the policies issued by your clients to be better, more comprehensive, and cheaper. I switched immediately.”
Has any other insurance company cancelled a policy issued to you or your wife?”
“I’m not sure. Our health insurance policy sued us saying we had lied about Anahid’s health when we applied for the policy. We did not. We told the agent about her breast cancer and that was why we needed the policy. I have paid every premium since that day.”
“Did you lie about Anahid’s health?”
“No. We told them the truth?”
“Just like you are telling me the truth today, correct?”
“Of course. I have taken the oath.”
“Are there any other losses you did not tell me about yet?”
“It has nothing to do with the house, but two years ago I was in the 611 South Hill Building, taking some of my diamonds to a dealer I sell to, when I was robbed in the elevator at gunpoint. I lost $200,000 in diamonds.”
“Did you make a claim to any insurer about the loss of the diamonds?”
“No, I don’t have any jewelry insurance.
“Did you make a claim to any insurer about the loss of the diamonds?”
“Counsel, I object. You are badgering my client unnecessarily.”
“I am not, Mr. Zazian, I am merely trying to get an answer to my question. Mr. Levonyan, did you make a claim to any insurance company about the theft of your diamonds?”
“As God is my witness, no.”
“Have you now told me about every claim you have ever presented to any insurance company?
“Ever?” Zazian asked.
“At any time in your life?”
“Yes I have told you everything. On my mother’s grave my answers are not bullshit.”
Sam paused, picked up a glass of water and drank from it. Levonyan stood, without warning or comment, and walked to the kitchen.
“Let’s go off the record for a while so Mr. Levonyan can fill his glass.”
As they waited, MOM sitting beside Sam, held up seven fingers indicating that Levonyan was filling his seventh glass of Cognac and orange juice. Sam decided it was time to ask a question that might offend Levonyan. He knew, from experience, that whenever a witness calls on the deity or swears on the grave of a parent, there is a good probability that the witness is not telling the truth.
Levonyan, considering the prodigious amount of alcohol he had consumed, made the walk to and from the kitchen in a straight line, did not stop at the bathroom and sat calmly, easily and comfortably back in his chair.
“I apologize,” Levonyan said to the interpreter. “I was becoming dry from all these questions and needed to refill my glass of orange juice. I have truly become a Californian with all the orange juice I consume.”
“Are you comfortable and ready to testify more, Mr. Levonyan?”
“Yes, I am ready.”
“When you were about to buy a policy from my clients, the Underwriters at Lloyd’s, you first obtained an appraisal of your fine arts, did you not?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And who was the person you hired to prepare the appraisal.”
“Nathan Krooner, of the Krooner Galleries on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. I had bought some things at his auction and knew him to be a fair man. I noticed on his business card that he gave me the last time I attended an auction that he did appraisals so, when my insurance agent told me I needed an appraisal, I called Nathan.”
“Is it your testimony, then, that the only reason you obtained an appraisal was because it was needed to get an insurance policy?”
“Did Mr. Krooner charge you for his services?”
“How long did he spend in your house doing the appraisal?”
“It seemed like forever but I think he spent at least six hours.”
“What did he do while he was at your house?”
“He looked at everything in the house and wrote many notes?”
“Did he use any tools?”
“Yes, like a measuring tape, a loupe (a special magnifying glass), a ruler, a gauge, a microscope, things like that.”
“He had a tape measure. I remember him measuring rugs and paintings.”
“Did he take pictures?”
“No, because I did.”
“And the pictures you took, where are they?”
“They are here.” Levonyan said, handing over a package of 150 color photographs tied with a rubber band.
“Why did you take these pictures?”
“Because my insurance agent told me it would be easier to settle any claim we might have if I had pictures.”
“And what did you take pictures of?”
“As Mr. Krooner went through my house I took a picture of everything that he told me would be described in his appraisal.”
“Were there any things on the appraisal that you did not photograph?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Did you photograph some of the things that are not on the appraisal?”
“Yes, some things show in the photographs that are not in the appraisal.”
“So this photograph of a seascape that is on top, is that one of the items appraised by Mr. Krooner?”
“Yes. That was my most important painting. It was painted by the Armenian painter Ayvezovsky (he changed his name to a Russian one) who is the most famous of all Armenian artists. Many of his paintings are National treasures and are in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad.”
“Was this an original Ayvezovsky oil painting?”
“How did you get it to the United States if it was a National Treasure of the Soviet Union?”
“I put it in my personal luggage as ‘household goods.’ Of course, since I left from Moscow, I had to go through Russian Customs. Russia, like Armenia, pays its Customs officials very little money. To protect my property so that it could all find its way to the U.S. I had to give the chief Customs Inspector three diamonds weighing more than one carat each.”
“When you arrived in the U.S. did you declare to U.S. Customs that your were bringing into the U.S. a valuable National Treasure of the Soviet Union?”
“Not necessary. All the U.S. government wanted to know was if we brought household goods. We were refugees from Soviet tyranny. They only wanted to help us.”
“I see. And did you take photographs of other valuable things as time went by and Mr. Krooner kept on with his appraisal?”
“How long did you have to wait before you obtained the final appraisal?”
“Two weeks, before it was typed.”
“How did the appraisal come to you?”
“In the mail.”
“Did you give Mr. Krooner any documents that helped him identify the valuable items?”
“I would only help him translate to English letters the Cyrillic names of some of the Russian painters, like Ayvezovsky.”
“Did you tell him how much to put down for the value of any of the items?”
“Of course not. He is the expert.”
“Did Mr. Krooner tell you that he was a convicted felon?”
“Did he tell you that he had been convicted of the crime of purchasing stolen household goods?”
Levonyan rose from the easy chair he was in so quickly he knocked over his half empty glass of orange juice and Cognac. He clenched his fists. His face flushed bright red and then, as his anger rose, became white. The pupils of his eyes dilated and he began to hyperventilate. In English he shouted at Sam, who was also raising himself off the sofa. “I no Bullshit Man!”
Sam and MOM were both standing now, struck dumb by such a violent and non-responsive reaction to a straightforward question. Levonyan struck his right fist into his left palm violently, hit his chest over and over again with both fists and was starting to step over the coffee table to strike at Sam when attorney Zazian stepped between the table and Levonyan and grasped the man, who outweighed him by almost 100 pounds, in a bear hug.
“I believe we must suspend this examination under oath.” Zazian said, while struggling to hold back Levonyan. “My client is clearly fatigued and nothing can be served by continuing this day. Please pack up and leave and we will complete the examination under oath at a more convenient time.”
“I agree.” Said Sam, relieved. He, MOM, the court reporter and interpreter quickly packed while Zazian forced Levonyan into the kitchen. Just as they were going to the door, Levonyan, much calmer but showing the effects of the alcohol for the first time, held out his hand to MOM.
“Montague, you are a gentleman. Not like the Jew lawyer. I will deal with you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Levonyan for liking me. You must, however, deal with Mr. Hazan and me if you want to resolve your claim.”
“I will, only so long as you are always present, my good friend.”
“I will be present, always.”
Levonyan tried to throw his arms around MOM – they weren’t long enough – and planted a wet kiss on the cheek. MOM was sickened by the drunken show of emotion but kept his demeanor blank.
Everyone departed, Hazan and Zazian agreed to delay the next session to a day in the near future, to be agreed. Zazian suggested his office as the location, where the use of Cognac could be controlled. MOM and Sam agreed, as they left the house, to meet in MOM’s office the next morning to have breakfast and to discuss the need to report to the Underwriters the results of the partial examination under oath and its unusual conclusion.
© 2017 – Barry Zalma
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 49 years in the insurance business.
Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.
Check in on Zalma’s Insurance 101 – a Videoblog – that allows your people to learn about insurance in three to four minute increments at http://www.zalma.com/videoblog
Look to National Underwriter Company for the new Zalma Insurance Claims Library, at www.nationalunderwriter.com/ZalmaLibrary The new books are Insurance Law, Mold Claims Coverage Guide, Construction Defects Coverage Guide and Insurance Claims: A Comprehensive Guide
The American Bar Association, Tort & Insurance Practice Section has published Mr. Zalma’s book “The Insurance Fraud Deskbook” available at http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=214624, or 800-285-2221 which is presently available and “Diminution of Value Damages” available at http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=203226972
Mr. Zalma’s three new e-books were recently added and are available at http://www.zalma.com/zalmabooks.html
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