BALTIMORE -- Rather than reveal its investors' identities by Friday as ordered by a federal judge, the apartment company owned by Jared Kushner intends to transfer a tenants' lawsuit against it back to the Baltimore court where it was first filed, according to federal court filings.
The company "respectfully requests that this Court remand this matter to the Circuit Court for Baltimore City," states 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 Maryland because it claimed all of the firm's investors, including him and his parents, reside outside the state.
But federal rules require parties to file proof of such out-of-state residency. 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 Management wrote in court papers.
The tenants opposed the attempt to conceal investors' identities and were supported in their effort by lawyers from various media companies including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post, ProPublica, WMAR-TV and The Associated Press.
Judge James K. Bredar ruled late last month that Westminster cannot seal the court records from public view and 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. could not immediately be reached for comment.
Two tenants filed the action in Baltimore Circuit Court in late September alleging 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.
The tenants -- Tenae Smith, who lives in the Dutch Village apartments in Northeast Baltimore, and Howard Smith, who lives in the Carroll Park apartments in Middle River -- 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 Management stated in an earlier, unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case that the claims are "barred by Maryland's three-year statute of limitations." The motion also stated 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 Public Justice Center who is one of the lawyers representing 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.
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