Rather than reveal its investor’s identities as ordered by a federal judge, the apartment company owned by Jared Kushner has asked the judge to transfer a tenants’ lawsuit against it back to the Baltimore court where it was first filed.
Westminster Management “respectfully requests that this Court remand this matter to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City,” the company says in a filing submitted Friday by Baltimore attorney Michael E. Blumenfeld.
The company owned by Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, had moved the case from Baltimore Circuit Court to U.S. District Court in November by asserting in federal filings that all of the firm’s investors, including Kushner and his parents, reside outside of the state.
Federal rules require parties to file proof of such out-of-state residency before the case proceeds. The company, Westminster Management, asked the federal judge to shield most of those disclosures from public view because it claimed the case had generated unfair media coverage.
“Given the tenor of the media’s reporting of this case, including politically-motivated innuendo no doubt intended to disparage the First Family, there is foreseeable risk of prejudice to the privacy rights and reputations of innocent private investors,” Westminster wrote in court papers.
The news media have been “making outrageous allegations, and assigning guilt and illegal conduct not only to the Defendants but to their investor members and the families of those members,” including the Trump and Kushner families, Westminster wrote.
The tenants have opposed the attempt to conceal investors’ identities. Media companies including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, ProPublica, WMAR-TV and the Associated Press have also filed their opposition.
Judge James K. Bredar ruled late last month that Westminster cannot seal the court records from public view. He gave the company until Friday to file the identifying information.
“Under the common law, there is a presumption that the public has access to all judicial records, and in this instance the Defendants have failed to overcome that presumption,” Bredar wrote.
Westminster said in a court filing that four of its members reside in other states: Kushner, “a resident of New York, New York and Washington, D.C.”; his parents, Charles and Seryl Kushner of New York; and Westminster MGT GP Corp. of New York.
In a separate filing, Westminster said Jared Kushner and his brother, Josh, are members of another corporate entity, JK2 Westminster, and that all are based in New York. Another entity, Carroll Park Holdings LLC, has one member, Delaware-based Middle River JV LLC.
A spokeswoman for Kushner Cos. offered limited comment.
“Our counsel on this matter has determined that the case should be remanded to state court,” Christine Taylor wrote in an email.
Andrew Freeman, an attorney for the tenants, said Bredar will not be able to keep the case in federal court.
“To keep the case in federal court there has to be evidence that [all Westminster’s investors are] residents of states other than Maryland,” Freeman said. “They have not provided that evidence. In the absence of that evidence the court couldn’t keep it in federal court.”
In state court, Freeman said, Westminster will not be required to identify all its investors. “We can’t force them to reveal that,” he said. “I think all of this is a sideshow. I’m looking forward to moving ahead with the substance of the case.”
David Gray, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said “defendants always love delay.”
“Someone who is important to the Kushner organization may have said, ‘Please don’t identify me,’ ” Gray said. “Now the case has to get cycled back into the state court process. They bought themselves extra time.”
The Evening Sun
Jared Kushner was CEO of the Kushner Cos., the parent company of Westminster Management, from 2008 until Jan. 19, 2017, when he stepped down to join the Trump administration. He retains ownership of the firm.
Two tenants filed the class action in Baltimore Circuit Court in September. Tenae Smith and Howard Smith, who are not related, allege that Westminster Management has been charging improper fees and threatening eviction to force payment. They also allege that the company has violated the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act by using collection tactics they say are meant to “abuse or harass” them.
Tenae Smith lives in the Dutch Village apartments in Northeast Baltimore. Howard Smith lives in the Carroll Park apartments in Middle River. They are seeking damages in excess of $75,000 and attorneys’ fees.
Tenae Smith is challenging a lease she has held since 2009; Howard Smith’s lease dates to September 2014.
Westminster argued in a motion to dismiss the case that the claims were “barred by Maryland’s three-year statute of limitations.” The company also argued that the tenants failed to present enough facts to claim Westminster has violated the state’s real property article, debt collection act and consumer protection act.
Matthew Hill, an attorney for the tenants, said the legal maneuvers have been frustrating.
“We’re disappointed that Westminster has wasted the last three months by removing the case, filing multiple motions and then choosing to withdraw the removal rather than reveal its investors,” Hill said.