It was a battle for the Buddhists, but one where they came out victorious.
A Guadalupe County jury decided in favor of New Braunfels’ only Buddhist temple and its resident monk Hung Van Nguyen Friday afternoon, ruling the Buddhists are not in violation of the Ashby Acres Subdivision deed restrictions in a lawsuit filed against them by neighbor Gerry Meyer.
Meyer, a resident one of the five subdivision lots, sued the temple and its monk, arguing they were in violation of the lot’s uses specified on the Ashby Acres Subdivision deed restrictions.
After deliberating most of Thursday and until about 3 p.m. Friday, a Guadalupe County jury of five women and seven men concluded the five-day civil suit and ruled 10-2 the Buddhists are not in violation of the lot’s uses, which allows residential and limited commercial and agricultural uses.
Michael Morris, the attorney who defended the Buddhists, said he and his clients are thrilled with the results and thank the members of jury.
“Like it said in Matthew 25, Jesus says ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,’” Morris said. “(My law partner) Beverly and I feel dedicated to provide our services for those we can, and feel an obligation to do the work we’ve been called to do, regardless if it’s popular or easy.”
District Judge Dwight Peschel oversaw the case in the Guadalupe County Justice Center, located in Seguin. Peschel decided late Wednesday evening each party would be responsible for their own legal fees.
According to testimony given during the trial, Meyer paid about $122,000 in legal fees to his lawyer Paul Fletcher. The Buddhists legal fees amounted to about $35,000.
“We did as much as we could for the temple at reasonable and necessary costs,” Morris said. “The temple is accepting donations.”
In closing arguments Thursday morning, Morris defended that Nguyen spends 92% of his time pursuing residential activities on the lot, and only spends about 8% of his time teaching.
“He resides there all the time. If you look at the full tax list it states on there it’s his residence,” Morris said.
The suit was simply retaliation against the Buddhists for not agreeing to be a part of an HOA proposed by Meyer, who had been friendly and even helped build the temple before that, Morris argued.
“He told them, ‘You can build whatever you want.’ And then he switched — why? Because he didn’t get his way with the HOA,” Morris said.
Fletcher argued in his closing statements that, by using the property for mostly religious uses, the Buddhists were not using it for its allotted uses.
“This doesn’t fit neatly into limited commercial use or limited agricultural use,” Fletcher said. “It’s a religious organization, which means it’s not primarily residential and it is a non-profit corporation, as indicated on their tax exemption application.”
Meyer did make it known he plans to appeal the decision, Morris said.
“A court of appeal normally goes with the jury, they do not generally take away a jury’s decision,” Morris said. “Even if he appeals, we feel confident common sense and justice will win out.”
In the end, the truth won, said Anh Dang, a member of the temple and temple representative.
“This is exactly how it feels to have faith; stand up for what you believe and have faith that humanity, compassion, kindness and justice will prevail,” Dang said with tears in her eyes.
The temple is at 1410 W. Klein Road, New Braunfels, in Guadalupe County. For more information about the temple, visit www.daotambuddhisttemple.com.