Monday, April 04, 2011

Maryland Appeals Court Upholds Prenup Interpretation By Bet Din

In Lang v.Levi, (MD Ct. Spec. App., April 1, 2011), a Maryland appellate court upheld a decision by a Jewish arbitration panel (Bet Din) refusing to award a wife liquidated damages under provisions of a pre-nuptial agreement.  When Julie Lang and Zion Levi were married, they agreed that if they separated, Levi would pay Lang $100 per day until he granted her a Jewish divorce document (get).  The Bet Din however decided that no damages were due to Lang because because Levi was willing to give her a get soon after the parties stopped living together and Lang initially refused. Lang claims the Bet Din exceeded its authority and that its decision was irrational. The court disagreed. It also held that the Establishment Clause barred it from inquiring whether there is a basis in Jewish law for the procedures used by the Bet Din that resulted in an initial decision being reversed.

The court also rejected Lang's argument that the procedures of the Bet Din violated the requirements of the Maryland Uniform Arbitration Act by requiring her counsel to submit questions to witnesses through Bet Din members instead of permitting direct cross examination.  The court said that so long as the proceedings conform to notions of basic fairness and the litigants have knowingly and voluntarily agreed to the procedures, an arbitration proceeding in a Bet Din is valid, even if it does not comply with the requirements of the MUAA.