A Marin Superior Court judge agreed yesterday with the Church of Scientology that a renegade ex-official formerly of San Anselmo had breached a contract with the church.
Judge Lynn Duryee did not award the church the $10 million it sought, but ordered Gerry Armstrong, a former researcher and archivist for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, to pay $500,000 in restitution to the church.
Armstrong, who has moved to Canada, split from the church in 1981 and has criticized it vigorously ever since. He 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 lawsuit 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 Superior Court 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 in which he allegedly breached his settlement agreement by publicly discussing the church.
At a recent hearing, Duryee disputed some of violations of the settlement, and the church whittled the number down to 131 acts for yesterday's hearing.
After opening statements by Ford Greene, the San Anselmo attorney for Armstrong, and Andrew Wilson, the church's Sausalito-based lawyer, Duryee said the defense did not provide evidence that the settlement was ambiguous and said she would treat the hearing as a sentencing because the issues had already been decided in Judge Thomas' court.
"There is no question the 131 acts did happen," Duryee said. "There is no ambiguity in the agreement and the defendant did take the money."
Because a previous judgment had already awarded the church $300,000 from Armstrong - who cited bankruptcy and did not pay it - Duryee ordered the defendant to pay the church another $500,000, or equal the amount the church had paid him.
Duryee sentenced Armstrong to 35 days in jail for past contempt-of-court citations, issued when he failed to show up for proceedings in Thomas' court, but said she considered his time served.
Wilson urged the judge to stiffen the financial penalty to the $50,000 per breach the church had asked for and to force the defendant to serve time.
"This wasn't contempt of the church, this was contempt of the court, not once, not twice but three times," Wilson said. "He needs to be put in jail not because he spoke out but because he thumbed his nose at the court."
Greene told the judge he agreed with her order and said his client's appearance in court showed he was not thumbing his nose at the court.
"He came to Marin County knowing there were prior contempt citations," Greene said. "He is not a scofflaw."
Outside the courtroom, members of the church did not hide their contempt for Armstrong.
"He passed himself off as a victim when in fact he made a career of it since 1986," said church spokeswoman Linda Hight.
"I'm glad we won because that is the only thing that counts, and I think Mr. Armstrong got the message," Wilson said. "The point is you keep an agreement and you do what the court tells you to do."
When asked if he intends to turn over the money to the church, Armstrong responded: "The short answer is never. I will outlast them."
Armstrong said the goal of the Church of Scientology is to silence him.
"When you can silence someone about a religion, just imagine," Armstrong said.