Monday evening, we learned that Debbie Cook, who dared to question the health of her religion, is being sued by the Church of Scientology. That night, Joe Childs and Tom Tobin of the Tampa Bay Times broke news of the lawsuit, which alleges that by sending out an e-mail complaining about how Scientology had gotten away from its founding principles, Cook violated the terms of a non-disclosure agreement she signed when she left church staff in 2007.
But that wasn't the only Scientology legal news we received this week.
Attorney Ken Dandar's bizarre recent court saga -- which we thought was completely, finally done with in December -- had one of those horror-movie endings where you thought the monster was dead but actually it had one last burst of beyond-the-grave energy and comes briefly back to life so it can be electrocuted or blown up or grated in a woodchopper so there's just no more question that it's dead and the credits can roll.
Yeah, it was something like that. So while we wait for more news in the Debbie Cook saga, let's take a look the Ken Dandar case that would not die, and which produced one of the harshest judicial denunciations of Scientology and its legal shenanigans that we've seen in a while -- and while we're at it, let's place it in a list of the all-time judicial smackdowns of L. Ron Hubbard's wacky creation, for good measure!
Dandar, you'll remember, was the attorney who represented Lisa McPherson's family in its wrongful death suit against the church, which was settled in 2004. As part of that settlement, Dandar made (or didn't make, or sort of made, depending on who you ask) a promise that he would not bring future lawsuits against the church.
But he subsequently took up another wrongful death suit against Scientology, this time in the wake of the suicide of a young man named Kyle Brennan. Scientology's attorneys went to Pinellas County Senior Circuit Judge Robert Beach, who looked at the 2004 settlement and agreed that Dandar had to abide by it by removing himself from the Brennan case. Dandar fought that order, but then eventually agreed that he'd take himself off the federal suit.
The federal judge in the Brennan matter, however -- U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday -- told Dandar not to quit the case unless he could find another attorney to take his place.
The problem is, with Scientology's reputation for nasty legal shenanigans, it's really difficult to find any attorney who will take on a case against the church. So Dandar was stuck -- he couldn't comply with the federal judge's order to find a replacement, and he couldn't comply with the state judge's order to drop the case or face sanctions. Dandar found himself being fined $1,000 a day by the state court, climbing up to $130,000 -- but then Merryday, the federal judge, told the state judge he couldn't levy those fines..
Legal publications found it a fascinating quandary about which court should take precedence -- a state or federal court order?
Ultimately, Dandar was able to find a replacement -- his old friend, attorney Luke Lirot, agreed to take his place. And then, just a few weeks later, the case itself was dismissed as Judge Merryday found the evidence against the church in Brennan's wrongful death claim to be lacking.
Finally, Dandar was out of his pickle and could relax, right? Well, no. As we learned this week, Scientology went back yet again to try to have Dandar sanctioned on the same matter, even though the sanctions had been thrown out earlier.
Here is the concluding paragraph from Judge Merryday's order from last week, knocking down yet again the church's attempt to punish Dandar on a matter that had already been settled. You can practically hear him seething...
This litigation, along with simultaneous and associated litigation in the state courts (described in excruciating detail elsewhere in this record), is the sort of "scorched earth" litigation that impairs and adulterates the better judgment and professionalism of counsel, involves the courts in tangled and exhausting disputes tangential to the main dispute, and causes a marked decline in the public's confidence in the bench and the bar. The parties and their counsel should direct themselves to the necessary matters at hand and reject the temptation toward further provocation and retaliation, pursued either in over-zealous excess or as a tawdry litigation tactic designed as a general deterrent. Without reason to hope the parties and counsel will heed my advice but with knowledge that sanctions aplenty (and more) have attached elsewhere, I add nothing further to the sad folly of these parties' aggravated relations.
For some thoughts on Merryday's entire order, we turned to our legal expert, Manhattan attorney Scott Pilutik...
Sometimes Scientology's litigation armada, in their zeal to punish and deter on behalf of their vindictive (but religious!) client, concocts procedural weaponry beyond that which the law allows. Here, not only did they move for sanctions after the case was over, but it was the same sanctions motion that had already been denied. It's like winning a baseball game and then immediately demanding that the other team forfeit to try and get a second win.
Merryday's order also suggests that the case was closer than Scientology would have everyone believe. It was hardly meritless, there just wasn't enough evidence -- the vast majority of which was in Scientology's exclusive control. And likely never left it.
When a party spends more energy and money than it could hope to gain by making the motion, the legal system is being abused, so it's great that Merryday at least recognized this by calling Scientology out for its "tawdry" and "scorched earth" tactics.
In fact, judges have called out Scientology repeatedly over the years, both for its legal tactics, but also for the practices of the church itself. Here's just a sampling of some of the most memorable pronouncements from the bench over the years. And before we start the countdown, let's remember these heartwarming thoughts from Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard: "The purpose of a lawsuit is to harass and discourage rather than to win," Hubbard wrote in 1955. "The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway . . . will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly."
With that as background, let's go to the bench:
#5. Justice Kevin Victor Anderson QC, State of Victoria, Australia, Board of Inquiry, 1965...
Scientology is evil; its techniques are evil; its practice is a serious threat to the community, medically, morally, and socially; and its adherents are sadly deluded and often mentally ill... (Scientology is) the world's largest organization of unqualified persons engaged in the practice of dangerous techniques which masquerade as mental therapy.
#4. Justice Latey, High Court of London, 1984...
Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious...It is corrupt, sinister, and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has its real objective money and power for Mr. Hubbard... It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestionably and to those who criticize it or oppose it. It is dangerous because it is out to capture people and to indoctrinate and brainwash them so they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living, and relationships with others.
#3. US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, RTC vs Lerma, October 1996...
The dispute in this case surrounds Lerma's acquisition and publication on the Internet of texts that the Church of Scientology considers sacred and protects heavily from unauthorized disclosure. Founded by L. Ron Hubbard, the Scientology religion attempts to explain the origin of negative spiritual forces in the world and advances techniques for improving one's own spiritual well-being. Scientologists believe that most human problems can be traced to lingering spirits of an extraterrestrial people massacred by their ruler, Xenu, over 75 million years ago. These spirits attach themselves by "clusters" to individuals in the contemporary world, causing spiritual harm and negatively influencing the lives of their hosts.
#2. Judge Paul G. Breckenridge Jr, Church of Scientology of California v. Gerry Armstrong, June 1984...
In addition to violating and abusing its own members civil-rights, the organization over the years with its "Fair Game" doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in the Church whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and the bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile. At the same time it appears that he is charismatic and highly capable of motivating, organizing, controlling, manipulating, and inspiring his adherents. He has been referred to during this trial as a "genius," a "revered person," a man who was "viewed by his followers with awe." Obviously, he is and has been a very complex person, and that complexity is further reflected in his alter ego, the Church of Scientology.
#1. And our favorite, this declaration by Judge James M. Ideman, who in 1994, sounding exhausted by years of harassment, removed himself from a case that had originated over a Scientology breakaway group led by David Mayo...
Portions of this petition will become moot because I have decided to recuse myself from this case. Plaintiff has recently begin to harass my former law clerk who assisted me on this case, even though she now lives in another city and has other legal employment. This action, in combination with other misconduct by counsel over the years has caused me to reassess my state of mind with respect to the propriety of my continuing to preside over the matter. I have concluded that I should not...The past 8 years have consisted mainly of a prolonged, and ultimatly unsuccessful, attempt to persuade or compel the plaintiff to comply with lawful discovery. These efforts have been fiercely resisted by plantiffs. They have utilized every device that we on the District Court have ever heard of to avoid such compliance, and some that are new to us....This noncompliance has consisted of evasions, misrepresentations, broken promises and lies, but ultimately with refusal. As part of this scheme to not comply, the plaintiffs have undertaken a massive campaign of filing every conceivable motion (and some inconceivable) to disguise the true issue in these pretrial proceedings. Apparently viewing litigation as war, plaintiffs by this tactic have had the effect of massively increasing the costs to the other parties, and, for a while, to the Court....Yet, it is almost all puffery -- motions without merit or substance...
You sort of get a sense for what Debbie Cook may be up against in coming days. Well, we'll do our best to keep you up on the latest in her case.
And one last thing: we second the sentiments of an excellent editorial published last night by the Tampa Bay Times, which noted Scientology's hypocrisy when it whines about its own free speech rights while suppressing the rights of its members. We agree in the strongest terms with the Times' call for openness in any ensuing court proceedings...
If this case moves forward, the judge should ensure that all depositions, court filings and court hearings are public. The public should be able to observe how the Church of Scientology seeks to wrap itself in First Amendment protections to avoid scrutiny and strip those protections from members of the church who were seeking to reform it.
The Tampa Bay Times may have changed its name, but it hasn't changed its stripes, and for that, we are grateful.