Lawsuit against Church of Scientology filed in San Patricio County district court dropped

Corpus Christi Caller, Texas/November 29, 2012

Corpus Christi - Two private investigators who sued the Church of Scientology in a San Patricio County district court in September have dropped the lawsuit.

Mark "Marty" Rathbun, a former high-ranking church official who was named in the lawsuit, said it is likely the plaintiffs reached an out-of-court settlement with the church, following a pattern in other lawsuits between the church and its critics. Court records show District Judge Janna Whatley dismissed the case Nov. 15, but the dismissal order makes no mention of a settlement.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs and church officials could not be reached for comment.

If they did reach a settlement, investigators Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold join a growing group of former church officials, members and associates who have reached deals, potentially sparing the church from testimony that could embarrass it and protecting the defectors from legal repercussions for speaking ill of Scientology.

Such was the case with Debbie Cook, another former high-ranking Scientology official who was sued by the church this year for criticizing it. She reached a settlement, but not before a day in court where she testified that church workers were detained and beaten. In her settlement she agreed never again to speak out against the church.

The church is known for using its legal muscle to pursue critics such as Cook, but Marrick and Arnold turned the tables by suing the church, Rathbun has said, suggesting it is a sign of the organization's troubled public image that it now finds itself on the other end of a lawsuit.

Marrick and Arnold claimed the church owes them for unpaid work, including casing the neighborhood of Ingleside on the Bay resident Rathbun, who defected from the church in 2004 and is at the front of a movement of Scientologists who embrace founder L. Ron Hubbard's teachings but shun the organized church.

Rathbun discovered that he, his wife and visitors, including other former church members, were being filmed and photographed from a house hear his own. This, he said, followed the monthslong harassment campaign by film crews who called themselves Squirrel Busters (a squirrel is Scientology jargon for "heretic"). He said the two investigators once surveyed the neighborhood for the church to pave the way for the surveillance. The church has denied the claims but acknowledges use of private investigators and a program to eliminate its relationships with people associated with Rathbun.

According to court records, the church successfully blocked the private investigators' attempt to force church leader David Miscavige to appear in court in person, exposing the ecclesiastical leader to a public cross examination. The church argued that he wasn't required to appear because he has never conducted activities in Texas.

Rathbun said he was prepared to rebut the church's position before the case was dropped. Marrick and Arnold also named Rathbun as a defendant in the suit because he once hired them when he was a church official. Rathbun said enjoining him in the lawsuit was a move aimed at solidifying the Texas court's jurisdiction over the case. Church operations are based in California and Florida.

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 antics of Scientology's marquee celebrity, Tom Cruise, Janet Reitman's investigation in her book "Inside Scientology," and the stunts of a Scientology-related film crew that harassed Rathbun have heaped on the image problems.

In January, another salvo is expected in the form of another book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief," an investigation by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright, building on a previous investigation of the church he produced as a staff writer at The New Yorker.

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