NJ court tosses landlord’s jury victory after lawyer put Islam on trial
ELIZABETH — The state has convinced an appellate court to toss a jury decision that sided with a city landlord accused of discriminating against a Muslim woman who tried to rent an apartment.
A three-judge panel on Wednesday ordered a new trial in the discrimination case against William Greda, finding that the judge and defense attorney unfairly put the religion of Islam on trial.
Court rules prohibit using religious beliefs or opinions to be used as evidence against the credibility of a witness. The appellate decision on Wednesday said that Greda's attorney engaged in a "clear and direct attack" on the Muslim woman's credibility by suggesting that the Islamic faith allows Muslims to lie.
The Attorney's General's Office under then-Gov. Chris Christie sued Greda after Fatma Farghaly and her friend attempted to see an apartment that Greda had advertised for rent in 2016. Farghaly said Greda, who is a Polish immigrant, asked her if she was Muslim and then told her "I don't rent to Muslims."
When she tried to record Greda telling her the reason why he wouldn't rent to her, the owner of the 17-unit Maple Garden building told her male friend to "go ahead, hit me" and angrily told both to leave.
Greda later claimed that Farghaly's friend spit and hit her, which is not seen on the video and which the two people denied.
Greda and his wife told state investigators that the reason he did not want to rent to Farghaly was because she wanted her husband, mother-in-law and two children to move in with her. But state prosecutors pointed out in court that Farghaly is single with no children.
Before the trial in 2018, Greda told a news reporter that Farghaly and her friend were "Muslim extremists" who were trying to extort him on behalf of ISIS. He also admitted the same thing in court, adding that when the state sent two undercover investigators pretending to be Muslims interested in renting an apartment, he was afraid the "two Muslims" were "coming to finish [him] off."
Despite his testimony, the jury rejected all of the claims against him by the state and Farghaly.
The appellate decision on Wednesday granted the state's appeal, which argued that Superior Court Judge Alan Lesnewich should not have allowed attorney Vincent J. Sanzone Jr. to cross-examine Farghaly about her religion.
Sanzone quizzed Farghaly about the concept of "Taquyya," which anti-Islam bigots use to portray Muslims as untrustworthy or liars.
The defense attorney asked asked Farghaly "to explain what the Quran stated about lying, and she testified the Quran permits Muslims to lie about their religion in cases where it is necessary to do so in order to remain safe," the appellate decision summarized.
The attorney then quizzed Farghaly about the term "infidel," suggesting that her religion required her to view any non-Muslims as infidels, asking her pointedly whether her tax accountant and physician were Muslim, which they were.
"You never heard any Muslim referring to a non-Muslim as an infidel?" the attorney asked her on the stand.
"If they want to do that, but that's not welcome in our religion," she replied. "We have to respect and honor every religion. Like our prophet Mohammed says."
"What do you call people who are non-Muslims?" he asked her.
"Christians, Catholic, Atheists, Buddhism, Hinduism," she answered.
The appellate decision said the "questioning sought information that had no substantive, probative value to any factual issue presented in the matter."
The appellate decision also faulted the judge for not allowing Greda's TV interview as evidence. The judge said that because News 12 New Jersey could not provide the unedited recording, he didn't have confidence that it had been fairly edited because "news broadcasters are not necessarily Walter Cronkites anymore." The appellate decision, however, found the trial judge's reasoning to be "erroneous," pointing out that in a deposition Greda did not dispute that he had been fairly portrayed in the interview.
State law prohibits landlords of multi-unit buildings from refusing to rent or sell property based on race, creed, color, national origin, nationality, ancestry, marital status, domestic partnership or civil union status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex, or mental and physical disability, including AIDS and HIV-related illness.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.