While Sang Ji and Jung Choi sit in San Benito County Jail awaiting trial on criminal charges that they murdered Yoon Ji in Hollister last year, a civil court judge has ordered the suspects to pay $40 million in damages to the dead woman’s two daughters.
Sang Ji and Yoon Ji had been married for about 23 years at the time of Yoon Ji’s death, but the marriage had been on the rocks recently, according to briefs filed by the couple’s daughters in a wrongful death lawsuit in San Benito County Civil. The lawsuit was filed by Serena and Catharina Ji shortly after their mother’s death in December 2017, with their father as well as Jung Choi and Bongkee Choi as defendants. The latter defendant lives in South Korea, and is the brother of Jung Choi.
The civil complaint also offers many details of Yoon Ji’s death at the age of 49 that San Benito County Sheriff’s investigators—who arrested Sang Ji and Jung Choi on suspicion of murder in December—have declined to reveal.
The lawsuit claims that Sang Ji and Jung Choi were involved in an extramarital affair, and conspired to murder Yoon Ji and cover up their involvement in her death. Before Yoon Ji’s death, Jung Choi fraudulently removed more than $175,000 in “community property assets” from a safe in the married couple’s Hollister home, and transferred the proceeds to Bongkee Choi in South Korea, the lawsuit alleges.
The property removed to the safe had belonged jointly to Sang and Yoon Ji, according to the lawsuit. Sang Ji did not want to divorce his wife out of fear of losing a portion of these assets, but he also did not want to be married to her anymore, Serena and Catharina Ji allege.
“In order to avoid having to pay (Yoon Ji) half of the marital assets via divorce, Choi and (Sang) Ji under false pretenses and via premeditation as to murder and to fraud, murdered (Yoon Ji) in a cowardly fashion via multiple beatings to the head on or about Nov. 29, 2017,” reads the sisters’ lawsuit. Yoon Ji allegedly died of “multiple cranio-cerebral injuries.” The defendants allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and buried her remains in a ravine on the 2300 block of Salinas Grade Road, not far from Yoon and Sang Ji’s home.
Sheriff’s authorities recovered Yoon Ji’s remains, buried in a shallow grave, in December 2017.
On Feb. 20, San Benito County Superior Court Judge Harry Tobias ordered Sang Ji and Jung Choi to pay each of the two daughters $20 million in damages.
The order is a “default judgment” issued after the defendants blew their deadline to respond to the initial lawsuit. James Hann, attorney for Serena and Catharina Ji, said the law allows defendants in a civil suit 30 days to respond to the initial complaints. Sang Ji and Jung Choi have been in jail since before the Ji sisters filed the lawsuit, and never answered the complaint. Defendant Bongkee Choi has not been served with the lawsuit, according to the court file.
Hann declined to comment on the likelihood of the Ji sisters ever recovering the $40 million judgment.
“The reality is, no amount of money can make up for losing—literally and figuratively—both parents,” Hann said. He clarified that not only is their mother deceased, but their father could spend the rest of his life in prison if he is convicted of the murder.
The sisters were seeking damages primarily for pain and suffering, loss of society and companionship, emotional distress and loss of consortium, according to their lawsuit. Furthermore, Catharina Ji, 19, relied on her mother for up to $30,000 each year for her college expenses in San Diego. Serena Ji is 23 years old. The lawsuit says both claim their residence in San Benito County.
“Now as the plaintiffs enter their young adult lives, they must learn to live without the support of their mother who was plaintiffs’ best friend and confidant,” the lawsuit says.
Catharina Ji wrote in a document supporting the lawsuit on file, “My mother was my best friend. We were extremely close, and my relationship with her is one that I will never be able to have with another person.”
She and her mother used to talk on the phone every night, and her mother paid for all of her expenses while she has attended college, the document states.
Serena Ji added in a similar declaration, “Everything she did was for us…She worked diligently every single day, neer taking a single day off except for my college graduation. She woke up at 5am to open the laundromat and make breakfast for my dad and wouldn’t get home until almost 11pm to close and clean it at the end of the day.”
Yoon Ji and Sang Ji owned Hollister Laundromat together before Yoon Ji’s death.
The civil lawsuit judgment will not impact or rely on any resolution or proceedings in the criminal case against Sang Ji, 49, and Jung Choi, 45. Both are charged with murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted. They remain in jail in lieu of $2 million bail.
Their next hearing in the criminal proceedings is scheduled for 1:30pm March 23 at the San Benito County Courthouse, to set a preliminary hearing.