Sikhs sue temple in Livingston in bid to see how money is spent

LIVINGSTON -- Some local Sikhs are praying for light to shine in their temple.

A handful of the Peach Avenue temple members are suing their leaders to pry open financial records so they can double-check that the congregation's money has been properly handled for the past two decades.

"Why do we want to know this? The temple has been operated in secrecy," Fremont-based attorney Mark Cohen said. "There has to be more transparency."

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 24, asserts that the membership records, bank statements and expenditure reports are public documents that any temple member has a right to review.

Temple leaders have refused to hand over the records for the past six months because they've told Cohen that updated bylaws mean the temple doesn't have any official members, so the paperwork can remain confidential.

Jakrun Sodhi, the temple's lawyer, wrote in a letter to Cohen that his clients would not turn over any documents "at the mere allegation of mismanagement."

Modesto-based Sodhi did not return requests for comment.

In October, Cohen asked for a copy of the revised rules and said he has not received a copy.

"I think that when people refuse to disclose the finances of the temple, it creates a presumption of suspicion," he said.

A Merced County Superior Court judge is expected to decide whether temple leaders must release the records during a Feb. 1 hearing. The judge later will rule on which set of bylaws is official.

This is the second time recently that the Peach Avenue temple has been thrust into the spotlight.

Mohani Thiara, one of the Sikhs fighting to make the temple's business public, led a campaign to halt construction of a community center that was to be built next to the temple.

Thiara, along with other Sikhs, abhorred the notion that people could be drinking alcohol, eating meat and dancing on land that's considered holy and next to their place of worship.

While any work on the community center, expected to be constructed last year, seems to have stalled, the project hasn't been entirely scrapped: A parking lot paved next to the temple left a dirt pad where the hall was scheduled to be built.