A bid by the Church of Scientology to win an immediate $10 million judgment against a renegade ex-official was rejected in Marin Superior Court yesterday, setting the stage for a jury trial next month.
Gerry Armstrong, a former researcher and archivist for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, split from the church in 1981 and has criticized it vigorously ever since. Armstrong, a onetime San Anselmo resident who has exiled himself to Canada, says the church is bent on world domination, crushes internal dissent and violates its members' civil rights.
In 1986, the church paid $800,000 to settle a civil suit filed by Armstrong, who claimed he was being harassed by church leaders. The settlement required Armstrong to stop divulging information he gained as a highly placed church insider.
But Armstrong, 57, continued to speak out in media interviews and Internet postings, even after Marin Judge Gary Thomas issued a 1995 injunction ordering him to stop. In 2002, the church sued Armstrong for $10,050,000, or $50,000 for each of 201 instances where he allegedly breached his settlement agreement by publicly discussing the church.
The church filed a motion asking Marin Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee to award it the money without proceeding to a jury trial. But Duryee denied the motion yesterday, saying church attorneys had failed to establish that the 201 incidents were violations of the settlement.
The case is scheduled to go to trial on April 9.
Andrew Wilson, a Sausalito-based attorney for Scientology, declined to comment on Duryee's ruling. Armstrong, reached at home in Chilliwack, British Columbia, said the decision "keeps me in the battle yet another day."
"It certainly is not a happy day for Scientology," he said. "Scientology dearly fears anyone they're up against getting a fair trial."
Armstrong, who is representing himself against the church's lawyers, was not in court yesterday but participated in a conference call. He said he cannot attend the trial because there are warrants out for his arrest for allegedly violating the injunction by Judge Thomas, who is now retired.
Scientology was founded in the early 1950s when Hubbard, a prolific novelist and Hollywood writer, published "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health." Adherents describe the book as a guide to self-improvement and an approach to "problems of the mind," including insanity, crime and war.
Scientology's official Web site describes the movement as "an applied religious philosophy" with the goal of bringing an individual to a "sufficient understanding of himself and his life and free him to improve conditions in the way that he sees fit."
The religion is practiced in 129 countries, according to the Web site. Among its prominent adherents in the United States are actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Kirstie Alley.
Hubbard died in 1986 at age 74.