Clearwater -- A leading critic of the Church of Scientology who switched sides last year now wants to disqualify the judge on the Lisa McPherson wrongful death case.
Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer blames multimillionaire Robert Minton for the breakdown of settlement negotiations in the case and has concluded Minton is a criminal because he invoked his constitutional right not to answer questions in court, a motion filed late Friday states.
Schaeffer should disqualify herself because Minton is a defendant in the church's counterclaim against the McPherson estate, Minton attorney Anthony Battaglia wrote.
McPherson, a longtime church member, died in December 1985 after a 17-day stay at Scientology's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. The church contends the lawsuit is baseless.
The judge has put the counterclaim on hold until the original lawsuit is settled. A trial scheduled to begin today was postponed indefinitely while the church appeals an order issued by Schaeffer on Jan. 12. In the order, Schaeffer denied the church's bid to have Ken Dandar removed as the estate's attorney. That bid was based on testimony from Minton, who said Dandar told him to lie under oath about $2 million Minton purportedly gave Dandar to fund the lawsuit.
Schaeffer concluded it was Minton who was lying about Dandar and said he did so to cover up Minton's own tax evasion.
Minton's new motion also attacks Schaeffer for issuing her order on a Sunday, which Minton contends is against Florida law and renders the order void. And because the order is void, the judge "may be liable for substantial damages to Minton'' for defamation, the motion states.
"Because Minton has potential tort claims against Judge Schaeffer, the latter has a direct pecuniary interest in seeing Minton discredited, lose valuable rights, or become incarcerated, and hence, the outcome of the case before her,'' the motion states.