Court rules for Jewish man in Shavuot dispute

(RNS) — An Orthodox Jew has won a new trial after Maryland’s highest court ruled that a lower court erred when it denied his requests to suspend a trial so he could observe a religious holiday.

Alexander Neustadter had argued he could not be in court during two days of a medical malpractice trial because of his observance of Shavuot, the holiday marking the giving of the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. He had sued Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., alleging negligent medical care of his father, who died in 2003.

The Court of Appeals of Maryland ruled Feb. 24 the trial court “abused its discretion” by denying Neustadter’s requests for a two-day suspension of the trial. During those two days, the hospital presented its defense. The next day, the jury sided with the hospital in its verdict.

“The court unreasonably juxtaposed the convenience of jurors, witnesses, and attorneys against (Neustadter’s) request for a religious accommodation,” the high court ruled.

Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish organization, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, arguing the trial should have been suspended.

“The court’s ruling has affirmed the important principle that freedom of religion mandates that an individual’s religious observance be accommodated — in the workplace, in academic institutions, and yes, even in the courtrooms of our country,” said Abba Cohen, an Agudath Israel attorney.

Holy Cross Hospital spokeswoman Yolanda Gaskins said the hospital “does not comment publicly about ongoing litigation.”

— Adelle M. Banks

© 2011 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Posted March 3, 2011

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