New Braunfels --During six months of presiding over a harassment suit filed against the Church of Scientology, state District Judge Dib Waldrip has endured bickering lawyers, long-winded arguments and objections that seemed designed mostly to delay.
But on Monday, when yet another important hearing was slowly sinking into the legal tar, the judge finally had enough. Hurling his spectacles to the courtroom floor, Waldrip delivered a good tongue-lashing to all present.
“We're spending time doing nothing, nothing except burning money and the court's time and resources and the Comal County taxpayers' money,” he exclaimed. “I'm about to the limit.”
Filed last year by Monique Rathbun, wife of prominent church dissident Mark Rathbun, the suit claims she was subjected to a four-year church-sponsored campaign of harassment, dirty tricks and surveillance.
Among other things, she claims she was followed wherever she went, a sex toy was sent to her workplace and her mother and ex-husband received disturbing visits from church representatives.
Church lawyers, however, have argued all the activity was legally protected, and that the real issue is a religious dispute involving her husband, an outspoken critic of church leader David Miscavige.
“The complaint filed in Texas is nothing more than a pathetic get-rich scheme cooked up by unemployed blogger Marty Rathbun,” who, the church claims, “is now resorting to his wife in an attempt to extort money from the church,” according to a church statement released Monday.
With as many as 20 lawyers in the court, the case has moved torturously slowly.
And for Waldrip, who has a heavy docket and critical deadlines looming, the tedious pace and regular head-butting among the lawyers has been a matter of growing annoyance.
It came to a head Monday in a dispute over claims by the plaintiffs that the defendants had deliberately concealed and tampered with evidence they had been told to produce.
Specifically at issue was a massive volume of still photographs and video that the church's private investigators and others known as “Squirrel Busters” had taken of Rathbun and her husband between 2009 and 2013.
“We have strong evidence that defendant Church of Scientology has destroyed or is withholding evidence that you ordered them to produce,” said Ray Jeffrey, a lawyer representing Rathbun.
Church lawyer Ricardo Cedillo, who soon took the brunt of the judge's umbrage, argued he had followed the letter of the judge's order.
“We have produced everything we have that meets your instructions,” he told the judge.
But Waldrip couldn't conceal his annoyance when he learned the videos had been cut.
“Give me the whole version. I don't want cuts. Why were you cutting?” he exclaimed.
The disputed video was made by two Scientology employees who were waiting outside the Rathbuns' home in Ingleside on the Bay. They took footage of Monique Rathbun arriving home from shopping before they were confronted by a sheriff's deputy.
When the one-minute-long cut version and the full 10-minute version of the segment were shown on a courtroom screen, it was obvious that significant material, as well as the audio, were missing.
“There was no reason to parse that video. It all involved Mrs. Rathbun,” remarked the judge, who said the video issue may be addressed in a pending motion for sanctions against the defendants.
In that motion, the plaintiffs accuse the defendants of “obstruction, evasion, possible spoliation of evidence and outright perjury” in failing to produce evidence during discovery.
And while the case on its surface is about the church's alleged misconduct toward Mrs. Rathbun, church leader Miscavige is playing a leading role. Rathbun's lawyers hope to depose Miscavige to prove he was the mastermind of the hostile actions against her.
Miscavige's lawyers, meanwhile, are fighting to avoid this, and are expected to appeal an order by Waldrip, renewed Monday, that he come to Texas to give sworn testimony.
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