Judge: Attorneys Off Track In Church Suit

Associated Press/May 3, 2002
By David Sommer

St. Petersburg -- Even if a leading Scientology critic lied in court about paying more than $2 million to fund a lawsuit against the church, "Who cares?'' said the judge in the case.

Millionaire church critic Bob Minton likely will face contempt of court proceedings and could be prosecuted for criminal perjury, but that does not affect a wrongful death lawsuit brought against the church by the Lisa McPherson estate, Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer said Thursday.

"You guys are spending too much time on stuff that doesn't have anything to do with this trial,'' the judge told a panel of church attorneys.

Last month, Minton stunned church critics by testifying in favor of the church in a related lawsuit.

Minton said Tampa attorney Ken Dandar told him to lie about the more than $2 million Minton has given Dandar to fund the McPherson lawsuit. Testifying before another judge, he called Dandar a ``lying thief'' who was milking the case for as much money as possible.

Whether or not Minton chooses to spend his money underwriting the lawsuit on behalf of McPherson's elderly aunt has no effect on the issue of whether McPherson's death while under church care in December 1995 was an accident or homicide, Schaeffer said.

The judge repeatedly wondered aloud why Minton would fund the lawsuit without a contract stating the bulk of any monetary award would be donated to groups critical of the church, as he now contends.

"I don't know what the funny business is, but there are weird things going on when someone gives someone $2 million and there's not a written agreement,'' Schaeffer said. ``There is something crazy going on.''

Schaeffer also had sharp words for Dandar.

She scolded Dandar for implying in court records that the church was ``blackmailing, extorting or otherwise convincing Robert Minton to change his deposition testimony'' without firm evidence to back up the allegation.

"No wonder people look so askance at lawyers these days,'' the judge said.

Schaeffer might remove Dandar from the wrongful death case if she becomes convinced he urged Minton and others to lie about funding of the lawsuit and other financial matters, the judge said.

And Dandar is likely to undergo close scrutiny from the Florida Bar as well, she said.

But neither issue would cause her to dismiss the lawsuit, which is the main goal of church attorneys in advance of a four-month trial scheduled to begin June 10, Schaeffer said.

The case is simple, the judge repeatedly told church attorneys.

Either McPherson died from an accidental blood clot while undergoing a religious procedure to heal mental problems or she died after becoming dehydrated and falling into a coma while church officials ignored the situation, Schaeffer said.

Dandar's Tampa attorney, Luke Lirot, said during a break he will try the McPherson case if Schaeffer kicks Dandar off it.

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