Things have really heated up in Laura DeCrescenzo’s forced-abortion lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. As we reported earlier, the church has been ordered to turn over more than a hundred of DeCrescenzo’s “pc folders” — which contain notes taken while she underwent intense interrogations at the hands of church officials, and which should yield thousands of pages of supporting evidence for her allegations of abuse in Scientology’s “Sea Org.” But with only days to go, the church is fighting mightily not to release that material.
We have learned that a petition filed by Scientology was denied by California’s Appeals Court, and on Monday the church then filed a petition with the state’s Supreme Court.
If that petition is denied, Scientology may even petition the US Supreme Court. The church claims that it should not be forced to turn over what it says are confidential confessionals protected by clergy-penitent privilege — even though it’s the penitent, DeCrescenzo, who wants access to the documents.
“They are fighting tooth and nail not to produce those pc folders,” DeCrescenzo tells us.
The church has been racing to beat a May 6 deadline to produce the documents, but this week Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald M. Sohigian agreed to wait until a May 16 meeting to discuss a new production date.
That gives the church more time for its appeals, and we’ll be waiting to see how they come out. For now, the church struck out with the state appeals court, which denied its petition without a written order. Here’s the brief that the church submitted…
A sample of its language, which is set at a high pitch…
Unless this Court issues a Writ of Mandate or Prohibition, Petitioner-Defendant Church of Scientology International (“CSI”) will be compelled to disclose volumes of privileged material protected by the clergy-penitent privilege in violation of California law and the California and United States Constitutions.
The Superior Court had ruled that because DeCrescenzo’s auditors shared her “confessions” with others, such as case supervisors, examiners, and directors of processing, there is no priest-penitent privilege under California statute — the law says the privilege applies only if the priest is not allowed to communicate with anyone else, not even another priest. By Scientology’s own reckoning, DeCrescenzo’s auditing records were compiled and reviewed by some 250 church officials — some of them people DeCrescenzo says she didn’t even know.
But Scientology claims that all of those people were “ministers” and kept DeCrescenzo’s interrogation notes confidential. So to differentiate between Catholic confession — which is kept secret by a single priest — and Scientology’s auditing folders — which are apparently read and shared by a small army — is to favor one religion over another, violating Scientology’s First Amendment rights.
The church says relatively little about the fact that it’s DeCrescenzo — the “penitent” — who wants these documents for her lawsuit.Of course, the church doesn’t mention that Scientology has a long history of being accused of violating the confidentiality of its confessional files. Many ex-church members over the years say that things they told only in auditing suddenly began showing up in anonymous attacks on the Internet after they spoke out critically about the church, for example. But in this brief, at least, Scientology insists that it keeps such files absolutely secret, and to force them to turn them over would be a terrible violation of the church’s religious rights.
The appeals court didn’t buy it. We’ll see if the state supremes do.
Laura DeCrescenzo started working as a staff member for the Church of Scientology at only nine years of age, and at 12 she joined the Sea Org, signing its billion-year contract. For the next 13 years (from 1991 to 2004) she was like other Sea Org employees — utterly dedicated, working 100-hour weeks for pennies an hour and enduring harsh interrogations about every aspect of her private life.
Laura was married at 16 and got pregnant at 17 — which was against the rules. Like other young women in the Sea Org, Laura says she was given no choice about terminating the pregnancy by an organization that wanted her back to working long hours.
Five years after the abortion, DeCrescenzo then had to endure another of the Sea Org’s horrors, the “Rehabilitation Project Force,” its prison detail. In the RPF, Sea Org members wear black boiler suits and perform manual labor, running from place to place and making sure not to speak to anyone, eating even worse food than regular Sea Org members. After three years, DeCrescenzo was still waiting for word that she’d completed the program and could go back to her regular duties. But she seemed stuck in the program and, desperate, tried a stunt she knew would get her kicked out of the Sea Org: she gulped down a cup of bleach in what appeared to be a suicide attempt.
The stunt worked and the Sea Org offloaded her — but then hit her with a $120,000 “freeloader debt.” She spent the next four years still in the church, trying to pay off that money. (One way that young people are convinced to join the Sea Org is that they will be able to receive expensive Scientology “auditing” for free — but if they ever leave the Sea Org, they are hit with the freeloader debt for full price of the services they received. Although the church cannot legally enforce a freeloader debt, some members spend years paying it off in order to remain in the church’s good graces.) DeCrescenzo estimates that she paid off about $10,000 of the debt before she finally left the church itself.
She then decided to file her lawsuit in 2009, but the church’s main strategy has been arguing that DeCrescenzo waited too long to file a suit regarding her time in the Sea Org. DeCrescenzo’s attorneys have countered that in the four years after she had left the Sea Org, she was still under the influence of the church, which maintains control over its members through the threat of intense interrogations.
A federal and then a lower state court agreed with Scientology’s argument that DeCrescenzo should have filed her suit by 2008. But then California’s state appeals court disagreed, and restored the case in the superior court. And that’s where we are today.
Scientology’s intense efforts to avoid handing over DeCrescenzo’s folders suggests that it might be a make-or-break moment for the church. If so, and if Scientology throws in the towel and writes a big check to make the case go away, it would be the fourth time in a year that it’s paid large sums to end a lawsuit headed for disaster. Former church employee Debbie Cook (April 2012), former church private eyes Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold (November 2012), and the Desmond family (February 2013, in a wrongful death lawsuit against Scientology’s drug rehab system, Narconon) each were paid undisclosed amounts to end lawsuits that had produced damaging documents. If Scientology can’t avoid turning over her folders, Laura D. may be next.
Scientology Paying Top Dollar for Google Ads
VICE magazine’s Johnny Lambo did some very clever calculating to figure out that Scientology is paying between $4 and $7 each time you click on Google Ads that appear when you enter certain keywords in searches.
Those are huge amounts compared to other religions, which pay between $0.55 (Judaism) and $2.77 (Baptist) each time you click on their keyword-based ads.
We’ve noticed before that Scientology has been pouring a lot of money into advertising, particularly after former executive Debbie Cook revealed in her infamous 2012 New Year’s Eve e-mail that Scientology leader David Miscavige had amassed a billion dollars in the International Association of Scientologists (IAS) defense fund, but didn’t seem to be spending much of it on advertising campaigns that brought in new people. Since then, there’s been a flood of ads on the Internet and television, culminating in this year’s Super Bowl ad. (Which probably cost a lot less than most journalists seemed to think.)
Lambo ended his piece with this funny note…
DISCLAIMER: I realize giving this information might make it seem like I’m saying you should go and google a bunch of Scientology-related terms and click the sponsored links to waste a bunch of their money. But you toooooooootally shouldn’t. This information is presented for entertainment purposes only and blah blah blah.
Oklahoma Vote Watch
We hear that Oklahoma’s State Senate will vote this afternoon at 2:30 Eastern on SB 295 — or the Stacy Bill 295, as Robert Murphy likes to call it, after his daughter, Stacy Dawn Murphy, who perished at Scientology’s flagship drug rehab center, Narconon Arrowhead, last July.
Look for an afternoon story on it here at the Bunker.
For as long as we can remember, we noticed that as soon as we put up a new post here at the Underground Bunker and made a note of it on Facebook, one of the first people who would react and start getting the word out about our stories was a Toronto ex-church member named Denise Byrne.
We were saddened to learn that Denise passed away on Friday after a short illness.
We are grateful for all the support we received from Denise, and we would love to hear more about her in the comments from people who knew her. Her son Adam Holland has announced that there will be a memorial service for her tomorrow afternoon at the Trull Funeral Home in Toronto.
Posted by Tony Ortega on May 1, 2013 at 07:00
E-mail your tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.