A Russian man who is trying to sue a State Department diplomat for his role in a car accident in Russia must now try his luck in California, a federal judge in Alexandria has ruled in transferring the case out of Northern Virginia.
Alexander Kashin, 27, was paralyzed from the chest down after the Toyota Camry in which he was riding was broadsided Oct. 27, 1998, in Vladivostok, allegedly by a Chevrolet Blazer driven by Douglas B. Kent. Kent was the top U.S. diplomat in Vladivostok, and no criminal or civil charges were pursued in Russia after American officials invoked Kent's diplomatic immunity.
Kashin hired John J. Gallagher, a Philadelphia lawyer, to pursue the case, and Gallagher enlisted private investigators to try to find Kent, who left Russia not long after the accident. In June, the investigators found Kent living at Courthouse Place apartments in Arlington and served him with the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, originally filed by Gallagher in Philadelphia, was transferred to U.S. District Court in Alexandria. But Kent's attorneys argued that Kent was only living in Arlington temporarily while taking Spanish language training for his next State Department assignment in Panama. They said his formal residence was in California.
In a ruling issued Dec. 2, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled that Kent "has never and does not currently reside" in Virginia. Kent now works at the U.S. Embassy in Panama City.
But Hilton did not rule on Kent's argument that the case should be dismissed because it was filed in Pennsylvania, where Kent never has lived. Instead, the judge transferred the case to the Southern District of California.
Kashin has moved from Russia to Philadelphia to await the outcome of the case. Gallagher said he would ask Hilton to reconsider his ruling.
"We searched long and hard and found [Kent] in Arlington, Virginia," Gallagher said, "and we believe he was living there for more than a year." He said Kent's claims that he was a California resident were unsubstantiated.
Kent's attorney, J. Michael Hannon, declined comment.