Volume 5, No. 1
January 09, 1995
Mrs. Clow discussed the case with her attorney, Barry B. Langberg, and his law partner Joseph M. Gabriel, both of the firm Langberg, Leslie and Gabriel, during an interview with Ted Morino, managing editor for the ‘World Tribune.’
SINCE Hiroe Clow first revealed the facts of the so-called Seattle Incident in 1992, Nikken and various publications under his control have denied her allegations and called her a liar in print – both in Japanese and English. To redeem her reputation and create a forum in which the truth could be aired, Mrs. Clow subsequently filed a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 17, 1992, charging Nikken and several religious organizations under his direct control with defamation. New evidence has recently been revealed that supports her case.
Barry B. Langberg, Mrs. Clow’s attorney, has shared with the World Tribune evidence his investigation has uncovered regarding Nikken Abe’s activities during his 1963 visit to Seattle. The evidence consists of records of one Nobuo Abe being detained by the Seattle Police Department for suspicion for solicitation of prostitution in March 1963.
The Seattle Incident was first brought to light in 1992 by Mrs. Clow, a pioneer SGI member now residing in Los Angeles. The incident involved Nikken, now high priest of Nichiren Shoshu, and some prostitutes in Seattle in 1963. At that time, Nikken was visiting the United States as the Nichiren Shoshu study department chief to conduct the first overseas Gohonzon conferral (gojukai) ceremonies. Having kept silent for almost 30 years, Mrs. Clow publicly revealed the incident and related events when she became aware of Nikken’s plots to destroy the SGI, the organization for kosen-rufu she had helped build for many years.
Recently, that lawsuit reached an impasse due to technicalities. The Los Angeles Superior Court has made procedural rulings that it has no jurisdiction over the case. Thus the trial concerning the merits of the case will not be taking place for the time being. While Mrs. Clow’s attorney has called these rulings incorrect and has launched an appeal, supporters of Nikken and Nichiren Shoshu have been deliberately twisting the meaning of these decisions by claiming that they indicate that Mrs. Clow is lying. By promoting this view, they are further defaming her integrity and dignity.This is Mrs. Clow’s personal lawsuit. However, the lawsuit is of interest to SGI members because Mrs. Clow is a fellow SGI member and because the outcome of the trial will bear directly on Nikken Abe’s qualifications as a high priest of Nichiren Shoshu.
At this point, therefore, we would like to present the facts of the case via an interview with Mr. Langberg, Mrs. Clow’s attorney, in which he answers questions posed by Ted Morino, managing editor of the World Tribune. Mr. Langberg is a prominent defamation attorney in Los Angeles who has handled such noteworthy cases as the defamation suits of comedienne Carol Burnett and actress Shirley Jones.
World Tribune: Mr. Langberg, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today. To begin, could you recap for us what is meant by the Seattle Incident?
Barry B. Langberg: Yes. The Seattle Incident refers to an event that occurred in Seattle in March 1963, which Mrs. Clow chose to reveal after many years of keeping knowledge of it to herself. That incident involved Nikken Abe when he came to the United States for religious purposes – to conduct a religious ceremony. He was not the high priest of Nichiren Shoshu at the time, but a ranking priest within the order.
On the occasion of that visit, he was accompanied by Mrs. Clow, who essentially was assigned to see to his well-being. As Mrs. Clow has described the incident, she was eventually summoned by the police to come to a street in downtown Seattle where Nikken had become involved in a dispute with some prostitutes some time between the late hours of March 19 and the early morning hours of March 20. The particular area to which she was summoned in those days was very well known for prostitution and for being sort of a rough neighborhood. At that time, Mrs. Clow had to extricate Nikken Abe from a predicament that ultimately led his being detained by the police. That, in brief, is what is referred to as the Seattle Incident.
Moreover, on an airplane while bound to Chicago, Mrs. Clow witnessed Nikken Abe make an improper advance toward an airline stewardess. And, in addition, he even asked Mrs. Clow to tell him where he could find pornographic materials.
WT: We have heard that, while the case is still under way, the most recent decisions by the court have not been in Mrs. Clow’s favor. Could you explain these decisions and what they mean?
Langberg: First, to say that there were decisions made against Mrs. Clow is not entirely true, because this would imply that the court made a decision on the merits or the substance of the case. However, the court has never ruled upon the merits of this case. On the contrary, the defendants, who include Nikken, have done everything possible to avoid a decision being made on the merits or the substance of the case. There are two cases, really, involving defamatory remarks made about Mrs. Clow in two separate Nichiren Shoshu-related publications – in the Daibyakuho, a Japanese publication, and in a special English-language edition of the Dai-Nichiren. The only significant decision the court has made in either of these cases concerns a request by those defendants who do not reside in California – primarily Nikken, Obayashi (the Nichiren Shoshu overseas bureau chief) and Nichiren Shoshu in Japan. These defendants asked the court not to proceed with the case against them on the grounds that they do not have sufficient contact with California for the court to have jurisdiction over them.
Being a question of jurisdiction, this, of course, clearly has nothing to do with the merits or facts of the case. In particular, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether Mrs. Clow is telling the truth and nothing at all to do with whether these incidents really happened. The defendants have done everything possible to avoid having the court hear the merits of the case.
All we wish to do is to come in to court, present our evidence before a jury, and have the jury decide who’s telling the truth about what really happened in Seattle and what really happened on the airplane. On the other hand, the defendants have avoided this by attempting to convince the court that it doesn’t have jurisdiction over them – that the court should not hear this case on the merits.
WT: What kind of approach are you taking to have the court examine the merits of the case?
Langberg: As a matter of fact, Mrs. Clow is so intent on having a chance to present the evidence and clarify the truth that we have recently offered the other side an opportunity to have the evidence presented in the forum of a very simple and quick process. That offer is that we will abandon the current appeals, Mrs. Clow will give up her right to have her case heard by a jury, and the two sides will agree on a retired judge to hear the case. This process has a basis in the California constitution and the decision of the retired judge would have the same effect as a decision of the regular trial court.
The retired judge would then be appointed to sit as the trier of fact, and the evidence presented to him to make a decision based on the evidence that he hears. We are confident that any trier of fact, whether it be a judge or a jury will know what the truth is upon hearing the evidence.
Of course, the jurisdictional decisions are now on appeal to a higher court, and we believe there’s a very good chance that higher court will rule in our favor.
WT: Nikken himself has said that if what Mrs. Clow says is true, he could not remain in his position as high priest and would quit immediately. He has thus confirmed that his status hinges upon the outcome of this lawsuit. It seems that he should therefore definitely accept your proposal. By the way, upon what does the court base its decision that it lacks jurisdiction over the case?
Langberg: To understand this point, let’s look at what we and the defendants have been advocating. What they’ve done so far is to convince the trial court that the State of California lacks sufficient contact with Nikken to exercise jurisdiction over him. They have asserted to the trial court that Nikken really doesn’t control the California corporations known as NST (Nichiren Shoshu Temple) and NSH (Nichiren Shoshu Hokkeko), that he has power over them in name only, and that he exercises no practical control over these corporations and no control over the individual Nichiren Shoshu temples here in the United States.
We have, however, presented substantial evidence to the contrary. Nikken, for instance, appoints the chief priest of each temple, makes financial decisions, and makes decisions about acquiring property. We think that we’ve presented very compelling evidence that he actually, personally controls these entities.
In addition, they have made unfounded statements, presenting, for example, a so-called expert on Japanese customs and religions who testified that Nikken not only doesn’t have the power to control these entities but that the process by which a person becomes the high priest is one in which he is adopted into the family of the previous high priest. I’m not an expert on Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, but I have asked some people who are, including people in the family of the previous high priest, and they certainly disagree with this statement – they think it ludicrous that anything like that could be said.
We took the deposition of Jiho Takahashi, the chief priest of the San Francisco temple. On the first day of that deposition, the Rev. Takahashi indicated that he really knows very little about the workings of the California corporation NST and its relationship with the Japanese corporation Nichiren Shoshu. He also indicated that he doesn’t know much about the financial aspects of NST – that although he was at the board meetings, he didn’t hear much. On the second day of questioning, however, we showed him a two-inch stack of documents, most of which were minutes from board meetings in which he himself had functioned as secretary, taking down minutes containing comments on Nikken’s involvement in financial aspects of NST and signing off on them. This was totally contradictory to what he had told us the first day.
This is just a small portion of a tremendous volume of evidence showing that California really does have jurisdiction over Nikken and Obayashi in this case.
WT: Why, then, did the court decide that it has no jurisdiction over this case despite such evidence to the contrary?
Langberg: The reason, I think, is obvious, and that is that the trial court has basically misunderstood the case and Mrs. Clow’s motives in bringing it. This misunderstanding is evident in the court’s stated position.
The trial court has taken the position that this case is really part of a religious conflict between the Soka Gakkai and the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood. As part of that religious conflict, the court held that the case should be heard in Japan, which it views as the most appropriate venue because that is where the major portion of this conflict is occurring.
We believe that the trial court has allowed this view to override all of the evidence that has been presented – and much of that evidence is very compelling and uncontradicted. In taking this view, we have to say that the trial court has very much misperceived the true nature of the case.
WT: Could you elaborate further why you think the court has come to a mistaken conclusion by viewing the case as part of a larger religious conflict?
Langberg: First of all, the act of libel is of a very personal nature. In this case, Nikken and others have called Mrs. Clow a liar, thus deeply defaming her personally. No one else but Mrs. Clow can bring this case to the court.
The second point I want to make involves my personal impression of Mrs. Clow’s motivation. Of course, Mrs. Clow can speak for herself, but my understanding is that she certainly was motivated by this religious conflict. In other words, the background of the religious conflict was undoubtedly weighing heavily on her mind when she finally decided to make this information public.
But the defamation suit that Mrs. Clow brought to the court is a matter entirely different from the religious conflict between Nichiren Shoshu and the SGI. The defamation suit is a response to vile statements that were made about her, that hurt her reputation here in California, not in Japan. She lives here in California, and her reputation is here in the community where she lives. Mrs. Clow’s personal reputation and the damage it has suffered through such statements is in no way related to any religious conflict.
What is important is the fact that these statements were published first in Japanese in the Daibyakuho, and then, because Nikken and others were not satisfied with these statements being published only in Japanese – because they wanted to ensure that people here in California could hear these lies about Mrs. Clow – they published them in English. Why, may I ask, would they publish these statements in English if the whole import of the matter lies solely in Japan, as the defendants claim? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? An English publication would not have been necessary to defame Mrs. Clow in Japan; they could have done it entirely in Japanese. They needed an English publication because they intended to direct it here, to California, where Mrs. Clow lives and where it would hurt her the most.
To sum up, then, this lawsuit is Mrs. Clow’s lawsuit, brought by her to try to redeem her reputation. Anyone who thinks that the lawsuit is being controlled or manufactured by anyone else has been utterly misled. I, as Mrs. Clow’s attorney, am the only person making any of the legal decisions in this lawsuit, and I make those decisions based only on Mrs. Clow’s interests.
Another point worth noting is that these defendants have hindered us from getting at the truth in every possible way. The jurisdictional objections are one major hindrance. But even when we were conducting discovery (the process of obtaining data or documents that a party to a legal action is compelled to disclose to another party either before or during a proceeding), the other side refused to answer questions and produce documents properly. They refused to the extent that the court had to order them to produce documents and answer certain questions, imposing on them a fine exceeding $6,000 because of their improper refusals. It’s extremely clear that they don’t want to have this case heard on the merits in front of a jury. And, in particular, it seems that they don’t want it heard in California, where we have reasonable access to the evidence, and where the process can be accomplished in a relatively short period.
WT: Nikken Abe flatly denies Mrs. Clow’s allegations. Can you share with us your view on the truth of this matter?
Langberg: Certainly. We think that there is very strong evidence to establish that Mrs. Clow, and not Nikken, is telling the truth. First of all, the only evidence that anyone who knows Mrs. Clow’s character would need is her word, because she’s clearly not the kind of person who would advocate a story like this unless it was true. Also, if you think about it, it’s an amazing story for anybody to think up out of the blue. It would take a truly strange imagination for anyone to simply manufacture something like this – something that happened in Seattle in 1963, in which a Buddhist priest solicited prostitutes and was detained by police in the red-light district. Again, knowing Mrs. Clow, you would easily realize that fabricating a story like this would be the last thing she would do.
In case anyone needs additional proof beyond this, however, we have, quite amazingly, been able to locate it. I say amazingly because the length of time that has passed since the incident would normally make it very difficult to come up with any solid evidence. I believe this is what prompted the defendant to deny the charges – his assumption that we would never be able to prove something that happened so long ago. I believe, however, that we will be able to prove it in court. I can say this because we have employed investigators and conducted a tremendous amount of research in order to confirm what Mrs. Clow has said.
WT: Nikken and others claim that the place which Mrs. Clow points out as the site of the incident was not an unsavory area at the time, as she describes. Do you have any evidence to contradict this?
Langberg: It is not difficult at all to refute this claim. The neighborhood of 7th Avenue where the incident took place is within a certain area in Seattle known as the Pike Street area. There is no question that this area was fraught with prostitution and related activities during those years. We have any number of people who lived in the area at the time, who worked in the area at the time, including former Seattle police officers, who can all testify unequivocally that it was an area that hosted a high level of prostitution activities.
WT: Have you obtained any tangible evidence that supports Mrs. Clow’s description of the incident?
Langberg: Yes, we have. We retained the assistance of another law firm, a large firm in Miami by the name of Steel, Hector & Davis, and through their contacts and sources they were able to determine that a record exists in government files under the name Nobuo Abe reflecting the 1963 event. The detention – the police involvement – is reflected in the file based on a written record that must have been made at the time by the police officers reflecting Nobuo Abe’s involvement with prostitutes. We have received from the above law office a letter that confirms this fact.
WT: Could you share with us any of the contents of that document?
Langberg: Of course. The letter from Steel, Hector & Davis reads:
Dear Ms. Clow:
You requested us to investigate whether the United States government has maintained any records of an investigation concerning an individual known as Nobuo Abe, a foreign national, born Dec. 19, 1922. Subsequent to this request, we engaged…a highly-prestigious private investigation firm.
The letter goes on to cite the reputation and qualifications of the firm and its director, but I will not go into specifics here. The document continues:
[The investigation firm] reported to us on Nov. 17, 1994, that a source within the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C. was contacted and the source confirmed to the firm that there is a record for Nobuo Abe. According to the firm’s report to us, the record refers to:
Suspicion of Solicitation of Prostitution
Seattle Police Department
From 1974 to 1979, I served as an Assistant United States Attorney and Special Attorney with the United States Department of Justice. Following my government service, I have been practicing law primarily in the area of criminal defense. Based on my experience, the contents of the record on Nobuo Abe, as revealed to us by [the firm,] indicate to me that some type of inquiry or investigation regarding suspicion of solicitation of prostitution was conducted in March, 1963, by the Seattle Police Department on Nobuo Abe.
I am able to testify as to the truthfulness and accuracy of my statements in this letter.
Very truly yours,
(signed by) Rebekah J. Poston
WT: This is an impressive piece of evidence that seems to prove the truth of Mrs. Clow’s statements. However, while the evidence you refer to cites recollections and records pertaining to a Nobuo Abe, I understand that the priesthood has protested that Nikken’s name at the time was pronounced Shinno Abe (though the Japanese characters used in the name Shinno could also be pronounced Nobuo). Would this claim present a problem in a trial?
Langberg: This is quite a simple matter. At the time, Mrs. Clow thought Nikken’s name was pronounced Nobuo Abe, and this was the name she reported to the police. From the beginning, Mrs. Clow has been consistent about this point. The correctness of Mrs. Clow’s memory is proven by the evidence I have just now shared with you.
In addition, it is my understanding that the Japanese characters for Shinno, which Nikken claims was his given name at the time, would most naturally be pronounced Nobuo by any Japanese person reading them. Shinno would be a rather rare and unusual pronunciation of those characters, while Nobuo would be usual. Mrs. Clow’s only access to Nikken’s first name at the time would have been through the written documents provided her, since I understand by Japanese etiquette she would never have addressed him by or inquired about his first name and, therefore, would never have been informed of the way he pronounced it. It is quite obvious that Mrs. Clow’s impression at the time, through seeing the name only in written form, was that his name was Nobuo Abe, and this was the name she reported to the police when asked.
I would like to pose the following question: How many Nobuo Abes – or Japanese men whose written name could easily be pronounced Nobuo Abe – were around the Pike Street area of Seattle in March of 1963 and were detained for solicitation of prostitution – a fact also verified by the government file? The truth is obvious. They can say whatever they want about the name, but I think if they do, it will be very superfluous to the fact that the legal evidence clearly indicates that Mrs. Clow is telling the absolute truth.
Lastly, I would like to say that the moment I first heard Mrs. Clow say what she had to say, I was convinced that she was telling the truth. As we continued our investigation, my conviction of her truthfulness steadily deepened. The evidence I have shared with you this time is also proof of her truthfulness. Of course, we do possess further evidence that also supports Mrs. Clow.