San Jose official denied restraining order against business owner

San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan’s request for a restraining order against a well-connected Vietnamese American businessman has been denied — capping a trial that laid bare the political rancor within Little Saigon’s older generation.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Eric Geffon ruled on Wednesday there is insufficient evidence that Hai Huynh — a bail bonds businessman who Doan painted as having connections to organized crime — poses a danger to Doan’s safety.

Doan alleged Huynh aggressively confronted and threatened him on at least three occasions since his election to the San Jose City Council, prompting him to install security cameras and a metal gate at his home. But Geffon doubted that any of those occasions rose to the level of a criminal threat or genuine fear.

His decision didn’t come down to witness statements or recollections during testimony, but hard evidence — a set of June 2023 text messages between Huynh and Doan in which Huynh warns the councilmember about a defamation lawsuit.

June 2023 text messages between Hai Huynh (left) and San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan (right).

“This is almost seven months after (Doan) indicates he’s in fear for himself and his family because of threats he received,” Geffon said of the exchange. “Councilmember Doan’s response is telling. He does not act as someone who is in fear … This is not a situation where the petitioner was walking on eggshells.”

Doan declined to comment on the decision.

Huynh said he feels vindicated.

“I’m very happy. This is the right ruling,” Huynh told San José Spotlight outside the courthouse. “People tried to silence me because I tried to expose pro-communists in the city of San Jose for a long time.”

Huynh’s lawyers during closing arguments painted Doan’s restraining order request as a political move tied to a larger loyalty battle — and an enduring divide — among refugees who remember the Vietnam War.

“There is unfortunately an issue in our community — we’re not united,” Huynh’s attorney, Minh Steven Dovan, said during closing arguments. “That’s a fact.”

San Jose Councilmember Bien Doan lost his request for a restraining order 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 animosity 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 — view as sympathetic to the Vietnamese government.

The organization’s chair, Cal Waste Solutions CEO David Duong, appeared at the courthouse on Tuesday to testify that Huynh is seen by many in the community as a gangster-like “Godfather” figure. Duong is another prominent Vietnamese American businessman whose company’s political activities in Oakland have been subject to FBI search warrants.

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

The case brought out a roster of other well-known names in Little Saigon to testify, including county supervisor candidate Betty Duong, flag-raising ceremony organizer Ha Trieu and Nghe Lu, a Vietnamese media reporter.

San Jose Chief Deputy City Attorney Maren Clouse, who represented Doan, denied the notion that Doan’s request was politically motivated. She said Huynh repeatedly placed himself near Doan at public events. She also raised concern over the fact that Huynh surrendered weapons to police once the court granted Doan a temporary restraining order for the duration of the trial. That temporary order expired Wednesday.

“This case is not about disagreements about who supports who,” Clouse said at the hearing. “Councilmember Doan should not have to go about his work as a councilmember in fear.”

Geffon agreed that Doan’s request wasn’t politically motivated. But he also didn’t buy the nefarious portrait Doan painted of Huynh. He pointed to the fact that Huynh held various business licenses that would not have been allowed if he had a troublesome record. He pushed back on the notion that Huynh is a criminally-connected Godfather.

“We don’t have any evidence that is true,” Geffron said.

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

Editor’s Note: Cal Waste Solutions has donated to San José Spotlight.

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