Court refuses application to stop action for damages

Irish Times/July 14, 2001
By Mary Carolan

The High Court has refused an application by the Church of Scientology (COS) to strike out an action for damages taken against it by a Dublin woman who claims she suffered a distinct personality change after being subjected to mind control techniques by the church.

Mr Justice Butler found there was no wilful refusal by Ms Mary Johnson (35) to comply with the order for discovery. However, he noted that the High Court had to make that order for discovery because Ms Johnson had agreed to make discovery in those terms.

It "beggared belief" that the order involved Ms Johnson having to make discovery of documents relating to her intimate relationships, he said. Mr Michael Cush SC, for Ms Johnson, had earlier told the court his client agreed to such an order to avoid embarrassment and intimidation by the defendants and because she was anxious that the proceedings, initiated in 1995, should advance.

Ms Johnson, who operates a sports equipment shop at Westwood, Foxrock, Co Dublin, has sued the COS and three named persons, Mr John Keane, described as a "mission holder", and Mr Tom Cunningham and Mr Gerard Ryan, both described as members of the COS. Yesterday Mr John Trainor SC, for the COS, sought an order to strike out the action because of Ms Johnson's alleged failure to make discovery of a large number of documents.

Mr Trainor argued that Ms Johnson had failed to discover documents relating to her medical and psychiatric history in addition to other items, including diaries. He said these documents were crucial if his clients were to defend the action and receive a fair trial.

Mr Cush argued that his client had complied with the order and suggested some records were being sought to embarrass Ms Johnson. He said Ms Johnson had understood the order for discovery related to personal diaries only and not appointment diaries, which she had destroyed at the end of each year. He asked Mr Justice Butler to view the application in the context of Ms Johnson agreeing to make wide-ranging discovery to avoid embarrassment and intimidation.

He said the judge must also take into account the conduct of the defendants, who were using court procedures to delay the action. He said Ms Johnson's first affidavit of discovery was made in 1997, and the first complaint about it was made only 21/2 years later. Dismissing the application to strike out the action, Mr Justice Butler said while the court order for discovery was properly made, he had never seen such an oppressive order.

It included 28 categories of documents with sub categories, some of which were "plainly ludicrous", including documents relating to any intimate relationships she had had with any person other than the third named defendant or with whom she had shared a residence. While the discovery order was valid, he had to decide if there was a failure to comply with it, and if there was such a failure, was it wilful and likely to lead to an unfair trial.

The judge said he had to put the application in the context of the huge and extensive discovery ordered. Ms Johnson claimed she had complied with the order. While some matters were "slightly questionable", the judge said, he was not satisfied there was any wilful refusal to comply. Even if there was, there was a solution through making a further order. He also could not see that the defendants' right to a fair trial was prejudiced.

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