Dispute flares again between lawyer and Scientology

The Tampa Tribune/April 14, 2010

Tampa - A lawyer suing the Church of Scientology has filed a motion asking to withdraw from the wrongful death case - but he doesn't really mean it.

Kennan Dandar says the state judge who ordered him to withdraw doesn't have jurisdiction in federal court. He also says he doesn't want to abandon his client, who blames the church for her son's death.

The highly unusual motion is rooted in the longstanding animus between the church and Dandar.

The order to withdraw wasn't available, although court records suggest it may be related to Dandar's involvement in an earlier wrongful death lawsuit against the church.

In court filings in the current case, the church said Dandar "has a substantial rap sheet of litigation misconduct. It is clear that he is a rogue lawyer who operates unconstrained by facts, law or ethics."

Dandar responded to that accusation by writing that the church was engaging in character assassination as part of its "doctrine to attack anyone who makes claims against Scientology, particularly the plaintiff's lawyer."

The exchange took place in June and July in what turned out to be an unsuccessful motion by Scientology to have the federal court sanction Dandar for filing the lawsuit against the church on behalf of Victoria L. Britton in the death of her son, Kyle Thomas Brennan.

The lawsuit alleges Scientologists, including Brennan's father, took his antidepressant prescription from him and gave him access to a loaded gun.

The church says Brennan committed suicide with no provocation. A Clearwater police investigation concluded no one else was responsible for his suicide.

Dandar also represented the relatives of Scientologist Lisa McPherson in their wrongful death lawsuit against the church. McPherson died in 1995 after 17 days of care by Scientology staffers in Clearwater.

That lawsuit was settled out of court in 2004, but only after years of courtroom conflict.

In the McPherson case, Scientology was awarded $4,500 in legal costs for an improper legal maneuver by Dandar.

In another scuffle, a judge denied a Scientology request to remove Dandar from the McPherson case after a church critic who gave more than $2 million to fund the lawsuit told a judge he lied at Dandar's behest.

The judge concluded the critic lied about Dandar, and that Dandar had not lied or tried to get anyone else to lie to the court. However, the judge also said Dandar's account of how he spent the critic's money was not credible.

Now the Britton litigation has deteriorated into another war between the lawyers.

In a declaration filed with Dandar's unusual motion to withdraw, Britton says she searched for another attorney to take the case. But once they heard it was against Scientology, no one else would represent her.

"I am now very frustrated, desperate and worried that I will not have an attorney to pursue this litigation," Britton says in the declaration. "I do not want Kennan G. Dandar to withdraw from this case because I believe he is the most qualified. … I have no one else to turn to."

Dandar said he could not comment on his motion or on why a state judge ordered him to withdraw from the federal case.

However, Britton's declaration says the order was issued in June. There are several sealed entries on the docket for the McPherson case during that month.

Among the items listed as sealed are a motion to enforce the settlement agreement and a notice of a confidential emergency hearing. The docket also indicates there's a pending appeal in the McPherson case before the Florida Supreme Court.

Dandar says in his motion that he is awaiting a response from the state Supreme Court over the state judge's order.

The church is urging the federal court to grant the motion to withdraw, saying Dandar has known for more than a year that his involvement in the case was improper.

"If this case had merit, which it does not, (Brennan's) estate will find capable replacement counsel," lawyers for the church wrote. "American jurisprudence is rich with those have undertaken unpopular causes."

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