Although their days of fighting in courthouses and the media appear to be winding down, the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN, and the Church of Scientology remain locked in a battle over allegations that CAN fell victim to a Scientology-sponsored litigation campaign designed to destroy the Scientologists' foe.
CAN was ordered to liquidate under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code June 20 when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Barliant, of the Northern District of Illinois, converted CAN's Chapter 11 to Chapter 7 after the network could not devise a satisfactory reorganization plan. The group filed for Chapter 11 last October after losing a $1.1 million verdict in a case in which it was charged with a role in the kidnapping of a Seattle member of a Pentecostal church.
The plaintiff was represented by Scientology attorney Kendrick Moxon. In re: Cult Awareness Network, debtor, 95B 22133. [NLJ, July 8.]
Although largely a shell with assets to be sold to satisfy creditors, CAN continues to litigate against the church. In Illinois state court, CAN alleged that Scientologists filed at least 24 "baseless lawsuits" to drive CAN out of business. It lost in the lower courts and is asking for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Motions in the latest phase of the case were filed in May and June. Cult Awareness Network v. Church of Scientology International, 80868.
Driven Into Bankruptcy?
CAN is represented pro bono by Chicago's Mayer, Brown & Platt. The firm's James C. Schroeder declined to comment. But in court documents, CAN claimed that the church, its Illinois affiliate and Bowles & Moxon, the church's Los Angeles law firm, "conspired to file and prosecute" CAN and its affiliates and "instigated, assisted, and financed individual Scientologists who participated in the respondents' scheme" to drive CAN into bankruptcy.
And, court papers added, the purpose of the Scientologists' suits was "not to recover on any legitimate legal claims, but rather to harass and intimidate CAN, to suppress CAN's legitimate public education activities, and to bring about CAN's ultimate demise."
In seeking to have the appeal heard, CAN said the Illinois Supreme Court should grant leave "to restore the vitality of a long-established tort that vindicates the integrity of the judicial system against those who would harness the courts in the service of improper purposes."
Church attorney Eric M. Lieberman, of New York's Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman P.C., said it would be inappropriate to grant leave to appeal because there is no basis for revisiting the issue. He said CAN's claims of conspiracy are meritless and noted that in some of the cases it complained of, CAN had sought sanctions but had lost.
Mr. Lieberman said that the Scientologist suits were coordinated but that this was done to address a similar group of violations of law by CAN--discriminating against Scientologists by not allowing them to be CAN members. He denied that there was a plan to destroy CAN through litigation.