Judge rules wrongful death suit against Church of Scientology should proceed

Sarasota Herald Tribune/January 14, 2003

A circuit judge has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology should proceed.

In her ruling Monday, Judge Susan Schaeffer said the cause and manner of Scientologist Lisa McPherson's death in 1995 "is legitimately an issue that needs to be decided by a jury."

But the judge also said she found no proof to support the McPherson estate's allegation that the church's worldwide leader, David Miscavige, decided to let McPherson die.

"The most significant thing about the order of Judge Schaeffer was that we were completely vindicated of the false and scurrilous allegation that church leaders intended harm to Lisa McPherson," said church spokesman Ben Shaw.

McPherson's estate claims she died from severe dehydration after 18 days in the care of the church. The church claims McPherson died from a pulmonary embolism, the result of a minor traffic accident she had the day before she was brought to the church.

The church had sought to have the suit dismissed, alleging that Tampa attorney Ken Dandar, who is representing McPherson's estate, urged a witness to lie under oath.

The witness was Robert Minton, a millionaire and one-time vocal critic of the church, who gave Dandar up to $2 million over five years to bankroll the case against Scientology.

Schaeffer ruled that Minton lied when he testified during a 35-day hearing last summer that Dandar had urged him to say the money was from anonymous Europeans who oppose the church.

In a 67-page order dated Jan. 12, Schaeffer said she believes Minton did not want to disclose a foreign bank account for tax reasons.

"What is clear to anyone who attended the ... hearing is that Minton has cheated the United States government in the amount of income taxes he has paid them," Schaeffer said.

The judge said she would forward her order to the state attorney so Minton can be investigated for perjury.

Schaeffer also ruled Dandar could continue representing the estate. But she did not endorse the estate's claim that the church extorted Minton's testimony.

Meanwhile, Judge W. Douglas Baird issued a separate ruling in a Church of Scientology lawsuit against the McPherson estate.

Baird said he plans to refer allegations that Dandar inappropriately mixed funds Minton gave him to the Florida Bar.

Dandar said the money was a loan to do with as he wished.

"I'm willing to go to the Bar to explain what happened," Dandar said.

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