San Jose official rejects court order issued against business owner
4 mins read

San Jose official rejects court order issued against business owner

San Jose Councilman Bien Doan’s request for an injunction against a well-connected Vietnamese-American businessman has been denied, ending a trial that exposed political resentment among the older generation of Little Saigon residents.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon ruled Wednesday that there was not enough evidence to show that Hai Huynh — a bail bondsman Doan portrayed as having ties to organized crime — posed a threat to Doan’s safety.

Doan claimed Huynh had aggressively attacked him and threatened him at least three times since his election to the San Jose City Council, prompting him to install security cameras and a metal gate on his home. But Geffon doubted any of those situations rose to the level of criminal threats or genuine fear.

His decision was based not on witness testimony or their recollections during deposition, but on hard evidence — a series of text messages from June 2023 between Huynh and Doan in which Huynh warns the councilman of a defamation lawsuit.

Text messages from June 2023 between Hai Huynh (left) and San Jose Councilor Bien Doan (right).

“This is almost seven months after (Doan) stated he was afraid for himself and his family because of threats he had received,” Geffon said of the exchange. “Councilor Doan’s response was telling. He did not act like someone who was afraid. … This is not a situation where the petitioner was walking on thin ice.”

Doan declined to comment on the matter.

Huynh said he felt vindicated.

“I am very happy. This is a fair verdict,” Huynh told San José Spotlight outside the courthouse. “People tried to silence me because I have been trying to expose pro-communists in the city of San Jose for a long time.”

Huynh’s attorneys in closing arguments portrayed Doan’s request for an injunction as a political move tied to a broader battle for loyalty — and enduring division — among Vietnam War refugees.

“Unfortunately, there is a problem in our community — we are not united,” Huynh’s attorney, Minh Steven Dovan, said during closing arguments. “That is a fact.”

Three people, two men and a woman, are standing next to the building.
San Jose City Council member Bien Doan lost his bid for an injunction against business owner Hai Huynh (right) in Santa Clara County Superior Court on July 10, 2024. Photo by Brandon Pho.

Dovan said much of the recent hostility between Huynh and Doan stems from Doan’s attendance at a 2023 gala hosted by the Vietnamese American Business Association, a group that some community members — including Huynh — see as favorable to the Vietnamese government.

The organization’s chairman, Cal Waste Solutions CEO David Duong, appeared in court Tuesday to testify that Huynh is viewed by many in the community as a gangster-like “Godfather” figure. Duong is the latest prominent Vietnamese-American businessman whose political activities in Oakland have been the subject of FBI search warrants.

Duong found himself in the middle of Doan and Huynh’s dispute when he arranged a meeting between them last September at the Paloma Cafe in the Grand Century Shopping Mall. Doan claims Huynh told him in Vietnamese, “You better be afraid of me.” Huynh’s defense team denied making that statement. But Duong confirmed it in his own testimony.

The case prompted other prominent names from Little Saigon to give testimony, including county councilor candidate Betty Duong, an organizer of the Ha Trieu flag-raising ceremony, and Nghe Lu, a Vietnamese media journalist.

San Jose City Attorney Maren Clouse, who represented Doan, denied that Doan’s request was politically motivated. She said Huynh had repeatedly positioned himself near Doan at public events. She also expressed concern that Huynh surrendered the gun to police after a judge granted Doan a temporary restraining order pending the trial. That temporary order expired Wednesday.

“This case is not about disagreements over who supports whom,” Clouse said at the hearing. “Council Member Doan should not have to do his job as a councilman in fear.”

Geffon agreed that Doan’s request was not politically motivated. But he also didn’t buy the vile portrait of Huynh that Doan painted. He pointed out that Huynh had various business licenses that would not have been allowed if he had a troubled past. He dismissed the notion that Huynh was a crime-related Godfather.

“We have no evidence to support that claim,” Geffron said.

Contact Brandon Pho at (email protected) or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Cal Waste Solutions made a donation to San José Spotlight.