Spurned attorneys look for answers in Scientology case

San Antonio Express-News/August 29, 2017

By Gilbert Garcia

Why did Marty Rathbun flip?

That was the question that hovered over the legal proceedings in a Bexar County courtroom Tuesday morning.

It’s the question that has gripped Scientology watchers for more than a year, a question that compelled a team of three high-powered local attorneys to file a petition last month against Rathbun, the former second-in-command of the controversial Church of Scientology, and his wife, Monique.

Marty Rathbun spent 27 years in the church. During that time, he was known for being a hardball operator. For example, Joseph Yanny, a former Scientology lawyer, said in 1988 that Rathbun told him to steal the medical records of a Scientology critic from the Betty Ford Center for blackmail material.

By Rathbun’s own admission, he arranged to tap the phone of actor Tom Cruise’s then-wife, Nicole Kidman (a Scientology skeptic), as part of an effort by church leader David Miscavige to keep Cruise in the Scientology fold by breaking up the Cruise-Kidman marriage.

Rathbun left the church in 2004, and after hiding out for a few years, emerged as one of Scientology’s most prominent and caustic critics. In response, church loyalists camped out next to the Rathbuns’ home in the South Texas coastal town of Ingleside, videotaped their every move and made their lives’ miserable.

The pranks allegedly included the mailing of an adult toy to Monique’s place of employment and the sending of flowers to one of Monique’s female co-workers, with a romantic note made to appear as though it came from Monique.

After moving to Bulverde in 2012 to escape the alleged stalking, the Rathbuns hired attorneys Ray Jeffrey (the former mayor of Bulverde), Elliott Cappuccio and Marc Wiegand to file a harassment lawsuit against the church. The lawsuit offered not only the possibility of a payout from the church but also the hope that the elusive Miscavige could be forced to testify.

Then, without warning (and without cause), Monique and Marty fired their lawyers in January 2016. Four months later, the couple dropped its lawsuit against the church.

Jeffrey, Cappuccio and Wiegand smelled something foul.

They couldn’t help but notice that Marty — after years of harsh attacks against Miscavige and the church — started softening the tone of his blog in early 2016 and began to redirect his fire at what he called the ASC (Anti-Scientology Cult). They found it strange that in 2015 the Rathbuns, without informing their lawyers, moved back to Ingleside, where they somehow found the means to purchase a home appraised at $264,000.

They wondered what Monique meant when she said, in a motion to dismiss the case, “My husband and I have effectively achieved the primary purpose that the lawsuit was originally intended to serve, by our own independent efforts.”

The Rathbuns’ former attorneys had worked for 2½ years on a contingency basis, meaning they didn’t earn a penny from their efforts. They suspected that Marty and Monique dropped the lawsuit (and their criticisms of Scientology) in exchange for a secret payment from the church.

So Jeffrey and co. did something that lawyers hate to do: They initiated legal action against a former client. It’s something that Jeffrey says he has never done in 32 years of legal practice.

The attorneys’ petition is a request for an order that will allow them to take depositions from the Rathbuns and comb through the couple’s financial records. It would allow the attorneys to see what kind of case they have before they commit to a lawsuit against the couple.

Jeffrey stood Tuesday in front of District Court Judge Karen Pozza and told her, “Your honor, you didn’t know it when you woke up this morning, but you’re dipping your toe into the world of Scientology-related litigation.”

He added: “It sure looks likely that some sort of a settlement was done behind our backs.”

The Rathbuns’ new attorney, Richard Reynolds, tried to get Pozza to throw out Jeffrey’s 12 exhibits, but the judge admitted all of them. At the end of the hearing, she asked Jeffrey and his co-counsel to narrow the scope of their request and said she would come back with a ruling on Thursday.

It was a low-key hearing on a procedural matter in a near-empty courtroom. But the drama was unmistakable. For decades, the Church of Scientology has been an institution driven by paranoia and the intimidation of anyone who attempts to penetrate its wall of obfuscation.

Jeffrey and co. are trying to knock some bricks out of that wall.

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