After months of trying to serve papers to the famously elusive leader of Scientology, David Miscavige, in a labor trafficking suit, a judge in Tampa, Fla. has ruled that he can be considered served.
Tampa federal Magistrate Judge Julie S. Sneed made it clear in a ruling that Miscavige, who has 21 days to respond to the suit, has been “actively concealing his whereabouts or evading service.”
Sneed also said in the ruling: “A defendant who beclouds his whereabouts should not be entitled to benefit from the process server’s consequent confusion.”
But there’s a hitch: Scientology officials have reportedly often managed to stay out of court over the years by insisting that contracts signed by members of Sea Org, the worker-bee arm of the church, mean they must take any grievances to an internal religious arbitration board.
The current case involves three plaintiffs who once belonged to the Sea Org and who allege they were forced into the church as kids and had to work into adulthood for almost no pay. Valeska Paris, along with married couple Gawain and Laura Baxter, filed the complaint last year after quitting Sea Org more than a decade ago.
Scientology officials claimed in court documents Paris and the Baxters both signed contracts that preclude them from suing and they instead must take their grievances to the church’s arbitration system, a legal defense they have used before. Scientology included copies of contracts in the court documents.
“While this is a major accomplishment, it is a small step in the overall scheme of things with respect to this lawsuit,” Mike Rinder, a former top executive in the church who left in 2007, wrote on his blog of Miscavige being served. “The war of attrition and seeking to exhaust the plaintiffs time, money, patience and resolve is just beginning.”
According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, process servers tried 27 times over four months to serve Miscavige in both Los Angeles, where Scientology has a formidable presence, as well as its headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., the Tampa Bay Times reported, citing court records. Security guards had repeatedly refused the documents, saying they didn’t know where he was.
That Miscavige appeared to avoid being served runs counter to the very original tenets of the church, ex-Scientologist Jeffrey Augustine who runs The Scientology Money Project, told The Post.
“Scientology is supposed to make you be able to confront or experience anything in life,” Augustine said. “It’s the church’s core belief. The fact that Miscavige is not able to confront or experience being served a subpoena therefore falsifies the entire premise of Scientology.”
Though Miscavige and the church have long been vague about where Miscavige lives (sources have long told The Post that he lives in the Hacienda Gardens gated community in Clearwater) and his exact position, the judge specifically laid out Miscavige’s job titles in her ruling.
“Miscavige is alleged to be the leader of the Church of Scientology, the Chairman of the Board of Defendant RTC and the head of Scientology’s Sea Org, an unincorporated association of individuals” whose members staff and manage the Organizational Defendants and all Scientology-related entities,” Sneed wrote in her decision. “Miscavige is effectively the most senior officer of all of them regardless of whether he is listed as an officer or director in their corporate filings.”
Former top-ranking Scientologists previously told The Post that 62-year-old Miscavige, who seized power after Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986, is deathly afraid of going to court and will do anything to evade the tenacious attorneys who have been trying to serve him with papers. Veteran Scientology watchdog Tony Ortega reported as far back as 2019 that Miscavige may have “gone to ground” to avoid being served in a myriad of pending legal cases — including the Danny Masterson rape mistrial.
A Scientology spokeswoman told The Post Wednesday that “the judge’s findings are erroneous. We understand the order will be appealed.”
“The case is nothing but blatant harassment and was brought and is being litigated for the purpose of harassment—hoping that harassment will extort a pay day,” she added. “The allegations in the complaint are absurd, ridiculous, scurrilous and blatantly false. The lawsuit is a sham and a scam.”
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