People who have found themselves in litigation with the church often complain that Scientology plays dirty, and gets away with murder in America’s courts.
What’s unusual is not hearing that Scientology is up to its old tricks in a lawsuit currently going on in the Atlanta area that involves Scientology’s drug rehab program Narconon, but that the judge in that case has called out Scientologist executives in the case for reprehensible behavior.
Yes, that’s right: for once, a judge is calling a Scientologist’s lies what they are — lies.
We’ve written numerous stories about the Patrick Desmond wrongful death lawsuit, which has already uncovered stunning behavior by Narconon executive Mary Rieser.
As we reported earlier, documents in the lawsuit suggest that Rieser convinced a Florida court that her rehab center was licensed for in-patient care, when the state of Georgia has never certified the Narconon center there to house patients.
Now, Judge Stacey Hydrick has come down hard on Rieser in the strongest terms for holding back evidence in the case that Desmond’s family was entitled to.
“The Court finds that [Narconon Georgia] repeatedly and wilfully obstructed the discovery process both by failures to respond fully to legitimate discovery requests and, even more egregiously, by false responses,” Hydrick states in a sanctions order she signed Monday.
In 2007, Patrick Desmond was ordered by a Florida court to undergo drug rehab at an in-patient facility. His parents sent him to Narconon Georgia, not knowing that executive director Mary Rieser’s facility was not licensed for that kind of care. But records show Narconon Georgia flouted its licensing by running an unlicensed housing facility, which was rampant with drug and alcohol abuse. In 2008, Desmond got intoxicated at the housing complex, then left and used heroin for the first time, which caused him to overdose and die.
In the wrongful-death suit, Desmond’s family has spent years trying to get records about what Rieser did about the housing unit’s problems before Desmond’s 2008 death, and what records she had about the eyewitness accounts of fellow patients. As you can read in Judge Hydrick’s order, below, Rieser claimed for years not to have those records, which turned out not to be the truth.
Hydrick’s punishment? Narconon’s original answer to the lawsuit is struck from the record, and Rieser’s obfuscations will be presented as fact to a jury, if this case goes to trial next year as planned.
Last night, we asked Desmond family attorney Jeff Harris for his reaction to the sanctions order.
“This is how courts ought to deal with discovery shenanigans from a legal standpoint. You give them a chance to play by the rules and if they don’t — drop the hammer. I’m sort of amazed at their conduct because the biggest corporations in the world wouldn’t have tried to go this far,” he told us.
We have gone to some pains to explain for the rest of the media that Narconon is very much a Scientology front group. Records show that Rieser immediately notified Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs (OSA) about Desmond’s death, and there’s little doubt that she’s been in constant contact with OSA ever since. Rieser is herself a Scientologist, Narconon rehab centers are licensed through Scientology’s “social betterment” nonprofit ABLE (The Association for Better Living and Education), and ABLE is staffed only with Scientology Sea Org executives.
We turned to OSA’s former executive director, Mike Rinder, for some perspective on Rieser’s ties to OSA, and the sanctions for holding back evidence in this case. We wanted to know, for example, if Scientology leader David Miscavige would be involved in this case behind the scenes. He sent us this response:
I don’t know about Miscavige’s involvement in this, but you can be sure OSA is directly and heavily involved. And this sort of discovery abuse — claiming documents were shredded the day after they were written, or not disclosing them or lying about them in deposition — isn’t anything new when it comes to dealing with wrongful death cases. [Former Scientology executive] Marty Rathbun wrote about this on his blog with regard to the McPherson case. This is the “greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics” theory of legal practice. They see this case as “trying to destroy Narconon” and therefore any tactics are justified because “if Narconon is destroyed a lot of people will not be saved from the ravages of drugs.”
(As Rinder points out, Rathbun has now admitted that he destroyed records that were pertinent to the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson in a clear obstruction of justice.)
Well, take a look at the sanctions order for yourself and give us your thoughts. It seems stunning that a judge in this country takes a stand like this against such dishonesty — and maybe that’s the shame of it, that a judge doing what’s right comes as such a shock.