After three years of being litigated in Tampa, a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology's Clearwater operation has been transferred to Pinellas County. The move, which became effective Friday, followed a July 28 order from Hillsborough Circuit Judge James S. Moody Jr.
Moody has presided over the case since it was filed in February 1997 by the estate of Lisa McPherson, the 36-year-old Scientologist who died in 1995 after 17 days in the care of Scientology staffers in Clearwater. Now, however, Moody is leaving the case, having been tapped recently for a federal judgeship. Rather than hand the case to another Hillsborough judge, he sent it to Pinellas.
In a May 3 hearing, Moody questioned why the case against the Pinellas-based church was being litigated in Hillsborough County. His comment prompted attorneys for the church and for three Scientology staffers who are also defendants in the lawsuit to file a motion asking that the case be moved. They argued that the alleged acts against McPherson took place in Pinellas, where the church has its headquarters.
Ken Dandar, the Tampa lawyer representing McPherson's estate, could not be reached Friday. He has said in the past that McPherson's family wanted the case filed in Tampa to lessen the chance that Scientologists would be part of the jury pool. The filing was made possible because the church's Clearwater branch kept a Post Office box in Tampa.
As of Friday, the case had not been assigned to a judge in Pinellas.