The Ottumwa Courier

January 9, 2009

Settlement apparently reached in MUM student's death

By MATT MILNER, Courier staff writer

FAIRFIELD — Maharishi University of Management and the family of Levi Butler appear to have reached a settlement, just days before the sides were to go to trial in Butler’s 2004 slaying.

Levi Butler was stabbed to death in the university’s dining hall in Fairfield on March 1, 2004, by fellow student Shuvender Sem.

Sem, who had attacked another student earlier the same day, was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The federal lawsuit filed in February 2006 on behalf of Butler’s estate accused the school, founded by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and requiring transcendental meditation twice a day, of gross negligence for not preventing the student’s death.

MUM officials did not report the earlier attack to police, and Butler’s family says in court papers that the school discouraged that victim from seeking medical attention.

Steve Eckley, an attorney representing the estate, said Butler’s family is satisfied with the terms of the settlement, which were agreed upon late Wednesday night and needed approval from one additional official with the university’s insurance company. He said the terms of the agreement were confidential.

“I would add that I think this was a good settlement for both sides,” he said early Thursday. “I think it was wise for the university to settle, and I think it was wise for my client to accept the offer that was made.”

Trial in the case had been scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.

The impetus for the settlement seems to be a dispute over whether MUM President Bevan Morris would testify before a jury. Butler’s family wanted Morris to testify, but the university presented the court with a motion to quash that subpoena.

The school said Morris’ deposition, taken in September 2007, was sufficient for the trial. A defense attorney said Morris, an Australian citizen, was in Australia and “had no plans to be in Iowa in January.” In court papers filed Jan. 2, the school bristled at the suggestion it was trying to prevent Morris from testifying to protect itself:

“Plaintiff’s assertion that the University is attempting ‘to prevent its President from having to face a jury by keeping him out of Iowa while the trial approaches,’ is a meritless and unjustified attack on the integrity of the University and its counsel. No on is attempting to ‘hide’ Bevan Morris or ‘keep’ him out of the country. As he testified in his deposition, he only spends a few weeks a year in Iowa. Currently, he is in Australia, with upcoming plans to travel to Holland, where he spends a great deal of time doing work in furtherance of the Maharishi’s programs. He has no plans to return to Iowa for several more weeks, at least.”

MUM attorneys also argued Morris was not named in the Butler family’s suit. The family’s attorneys responded with a 54-page rebuttal stating that “it is difficult to imagine a case in which a nonparty could be more intertwined with the named defendant.”

The rebuttal included documentation taken from MUM’s web page listing Morris as International President of Maharishi Vedic Universities, president and chairman of the Board of Trustees of Maharishi University of Management, along with several other titles and multiple ties to organizations affiliated with the school.

A federal judge issued an order Tuesday regarding the school’s motion and the plaintiff’s response. While the federal courts’ online records do not provide the text of the judge’s order, its proximity to Thursday’s settlement strongly suggests it played a role in bringing both sides to the negotiating table.

This is not the end for legal proceedings in Butler’s death. The family has another case filed in California. That case, in which Butler’s parents seek damages for his death, was stayed pending the federal lawsuit in Iowa.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.