Baltimore-area tenants of the apartment company owned by Jared Kushner say they have filed a lawsuit today alleging the firm has been charging improper fees and threatening eviction to force payment. (Baltimore Sun video)
The apartment company owned by Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law of President Donald J. Trump, has asked a federal judge in Maryland to hide the names of the firm’s investors to protect them from what it says has been unfair media coverage of a lawsuit filed by Baltimore-area tenants.
“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 Management wrote in court papers filed last week.
Two tenants filed a class-action lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court in late September saying the firm has charged them improper fees and threatened eviction to force payment.
A judge moved the case to the U.S. District Court of Maryland this month after Westminster invoked a rule that allows such a transfer if the defendants are not residents of or companies in Maryland.
Westminster Management 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 says 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.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump moved to Washington this year after both became White House advisers for President Trump. Jared Kushner was CEO of the Kushner Cos., the parent company of Westminster Management, from 2008 until Jan. 19, when he stepped down to join the Trump administration. He retains ownership of the firm.
The companies being sued by the tenants still need to prove to the court that none of their investors are Maryland residents or companies to keep the case in federal court. Westminster Management operates 17 apartment complexes in Maryland, mostly in Baltimore County.
In its filing of Nov. 20, Westminster asked Chief Judge James K. Bredar to shield the identities of other investors because there is “unprecedented interest in this case.”
The 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 says. “There has been widespread coverage of those allegations as if fact, when they have not been substantiated.”
Westminster says publicly revealing the names of additional investors would deprive them of their privacy and of their right to an impartial decision by the court “versus the court of public opinion.” The company says it can prove to the court, under seal, that none of the additional investors are residents or companies in Maryland.
“Defendants’ remote and private investors are understandably reticent to have their identities exposed to similar media disclosure, scrutiny, speculation, and scorn,” Westminster says. The company included a Sept. 27 Baltimore Sun article about the lawsuit as an exhibit.
Tenants Tenae Smith, who lives in Dutch Village apartments in Northeast Baltimore, and Howard Smith, who lives in the Carroll Park apartments in Middle River in Baltimore County, are seeking damages in excess of $75,000 and attorneys’ fees. They want their lawsuit to be certified as a class action.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Andrew D. Freeman, said he had no comment about the Westminster filing.
Westminster said the judge needs to rule on what right the public has to know the identities of “private investors/members of remote companies and partnerships not involved in the day-to-day operations,” especially since no allegations have been made against them.
“The identities of Defendants’ private investors also has absolutely no bearing on the merits of the complaint before the Court in this case,” the company says. The investors have the right “to be free from unfair sensationalism by journalists and entertainers.”