Latest Scientology legal battle unfolds in Coastal Bend as private investigators sue church

Corps Christi Caller/September 21, 2012

Ingleside - Two private investigators have sued the Church of Scientology in a San Patricio County district court.

Attorneys for Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold said the church owes their clients for unpaid work, including casing the neighborhood of Ingleside on the Bay resident Mark "Marty" Rathbun, a former high-ranking church official.

Karin Pouw, a spokeswoman for the church based in California, said she had no comment because church attorneys had not had a chance to review the most recent lawsuit filing, received by the court clerk Thursday. It was filed in basic form, with few details, in July.

Rathbun defected from the church in 2004 and settled in the small bayside community where he began counseling other defectors, writing a blog criticizing the church, and fostering a movement of Scientologists who adhere to the philosophies of church founder L. Ron Hubbard but reject the practices of the organized church and its leadership.

In April 2010, a small film crew that called itself the Squirrel Busters started pestering Rathbun, filming outside his house, following him and his wife around, and even trying to have him arrested after he swiped one of their microphones as they taunted him outside his home. A county prosecutor rejected the charges, saying no jury would convict someone who had endured so much harassment. The crews drew the ire of the townspeople, who defended Rathbun and tried to pass ordinances restricting their activities. They left nearly seven months after they arrived.

"Squirrel" is Scientology jargon for a heretic. Rathbun said the film crew was nothing but a thinly veiled harassment campaign sent by church leader David Miscavige, but the Squirrel Busters and the church steadfastly denied any connection. The crews never produced the documentary film they said they were working on but posted several bizarre videos on YouTube.

Now, an attorney for the private investigators said it was the pair's work on behalf of the church that paved the way for the Squirrel Busters campaign.

For Ray Jeffrey, one of the attorneys for Marrick and Arnold, this is not his first brush with the church. He represented Debbie Cook, another former high-ranking church official who sent ripples through Scientology circles in a New Year's Eve email to thousands of Scientologists criticizing aggressive fundraising practices and calling for changes.

The church sued her in San Antonio, where she lives. Jeffrey helped negotiate a settlement in which Cook gave up no money but agreed never to speak out against the church. Yet the settlement came only after a day of embarrassing court testimony from Cook, reported by the Tampa Bay Times, in which she detailed how church workers essentially were imprisoned and beaten.Jeffrey said Marrick, 52, of Colorado, and Arnold, 53, of California, approached him because of his work on the Cook case and the difficulty explaining the complexities of the inner workings of the church.

"If you go try to tell a lawyer about this who has no knowledge of it, it could take them months just to get the lay of the land," Jeffrey said.

He is working with three other attorneys, including Tom Harrison, of Corpus Christi.

According to the lawsuit, Marrick and Arnold have a 25-year history with the church that began after the 1986 death of its founder, Hubbard. Its new leader, Miscavige, employed the two former law enforcement officers - neither of them Scientologists - to spy on Pat Broeker, the filing claims. Broeker claimed he, not Miscavige, was Hubbard's chosen successor.

In 2009, when Rathbun began speaking publicly about his role in the church, he described how he sent private investigators - now identified as Marrick and Arnold - to track Broeker.

Jeffrey said his clients developed a great working relationship with Rathbun.

"Flash forward to 2009 and they're sent to Ingleside on the Bay to surveil the very guy that they were hired by," Jeffrey said. "The next thing they knew, there was this Squirrel Busters harassment campaign going on at Marty's home and they were very, very troubled by that. They realized they might have some real difficulties with their employer."

Jeffrey said his clients started missing payments from the church after Rathbun went public in 2009, and the money stopped by the beginning of 2012. The lawsuit alleges theft of services, fraud and breach of contract.

The church is known for using its legal muscle to pursue critics such as Cook. Rathbun said it is a sign of the church's troubled public image that it finds itself on the other end of the lawsuit.

Scientology increasingly has come under criticism as more former members and officials speak of church policies they say cause members to become separated from their families, devastated financially and subjected to mental and physical punishments. Rathbun's tell-all reports, the bizarre antics of Scientology's sweetheart celebrity, Tom Cruise, Janet Reitman's investigation in her book "Inside Scientology," and the stunts of the Squirrel Busters have heaped on the image problems.

"This whole patina of terror is losing its luster and people are not afraid of them anymore," Rathbun said. The lawsuit, he said, "is a very audacious sort of move, and I think it's a sign of the times."

Yet Jeffrey said his clients have no desire to use the lawsuit as a platform to belittle the church.

"They don't have any ax to grind with Scientology," he said. "In particular, they never did anything illegal or that harmed anybody ... They just wanted to retire."

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