Church, Foe On Same Side For Once

Tampa Tribune/April 21, 2002
By David Sommer

Clearwater -- A leading critic of Scientology on Friday turned on the lawyer he had paid to champion his cause.

Multimillionaire Robert Minton remains a church critic, according to his new attorney, but he no longer trusts or supports Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar in a lawsuit against the church stemming from the 1995 death of Lisa McPherson.

Minton was never a party to the McPherson wrongful death lawsuit, and Dandar has never represented him, Minton testified in a related lawsuit Friday.

But Dandar accepted more than $2 million of Minton's money to keep the wrongful death lawsuit going, and then told Minton to lie under oath about the total amount, Minton testified.

Also, Dandar persuaded Minton and others to sign sworn affidavits that bore false testimony, Minton told Pasco- Pinellas Circuit Judge Douglas Baird.

Minton is recanting that testimony because he fears going to jail for perjury, he said on the witness stand.

And he now believes Dandar is simply a greedy lawyer out to exploit McPherson's relatives by taking 40 percent of any award in the pending wrongful death litigation, Minton said.

"Mr. Dandar is a lying thief. ... I am now of the belief that Mr. Dandar is only in it for the money, that all his noble statements'' are lies, Minton testified.

Dandar said afterward that he believes the church has discovered something that Minton wants kept secret. He said Minton told him without explanation that if any harm came to Minton's family, Dandar would be to blame.

Minton would not comment on Dandar's statements. His attorney, Bruce Howie, said Minton only wants to settle the litigation against the church and get on with his life.

Under cross-examination by Luke Lirot, who is representing Dandar, Minton invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when asked if he was being investigated for tax evasion.

Friday's hearing was a continuation of the church's ongoing quest to have Dandar removed from its lawsuit against McPherson's estate. That lawsuit, which Baird already has decided in the church's favor, is over a breach of contract arising from the wrongful death case.

Baird has yet to decide how much money the estate - and possibly Minton - should pay the church.

Dandar also represents the estate in the wrongful death case, pending before another judge. If Baird grants the church's request to remove Dandar in this case, he might also be removed from the wrongful death case, leaving the estate without a lawyer.

Dandar could also face discipline from the Florida Bar. "I'm fighting for my life here,'' he said.

McPherson, a church member, died while under church care after removing herself from psychiatric treatment, which the church opposes.

The church's Flag Services Organization, a Clearwater retreat for spiritual counseling, was charged in criminal court with abuse of a disabled adult and practicing unlicensed medicine. Those charges were dropped after former Medical Examiner Joan Wood recanted her original findings in the case.

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