David Miscavige, head of the Church of Scientology, cannot be forced to testify in a harassment lawsuit filed by the wife of a prominent church critic who lives in Comal County, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that Monique Rathbun, who alleged that Scientologists conducted a three-year harassment campaign when her husband, Marty Rathbun, began speaking out against church activities, did not prove that Miscavige had “unique or superior knowledge” to offer in a deposition.
However, the court did not rule out the possibility that “additional, less intrusive means of discovery” could establish Rathbun’s right to force Miscavige to answer questions, under oath, in a future deposition.
Marty Rathbun is a former high-ranking member who left the Church of Scientology in 2004 and later accused Miscavige of physically and psychologically abusing other church members, court records show.
In her lawsuit, Monique Rathbun claims church members responded by conducting covert surveillance of their Bulverde-area home, following them with cameras and hiring private investigators to spread disparaging information about her husband under the guise of interviewing family, friends and co-workers.
Her lawsuit argued that Miscavige, “the unquestioned ruler of all Scientology organizations,” was the only person who could have authorized the activities.
Lawyers for the church, including former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, have denied the harassment charges, saying an investigation was ordered into allegations that the Rathbuns were “squirrelling” — distorting and disseminating Scientology beliefs — to protect the faith’s integrity.
Church lawyers argued that Texas courts have no jurisdiction to order testimony from Miscavige, a California resident who does not conduct business in Texas. Nor is there evidence that Miscavige ordered the investigation of the Rathbuns, church lawyers said.
In its ruling, the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned state District Judge Dib Waldrip’s order allowing Monique Rathbun to depose Miscavige.
Waldrip’s order, the appeals court ruled, violated the apex-deposition doctrine, which seeks to balance a litigant’s need for information against a high-ranking executive’s right to be protected from expensive, harassing or burdensome depositions.
“Monique has not demonstrated that deposing Miscavige is likely to lead to (relevant) information … which is not obtainable through less intrusive means,” said Justice Scott Field, writing for the court’s unanimous three-judge panel.
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