We’re in Los Angeles this morning for a crucial hearing in Laura DeCrescenzo’s lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. DeCrescenzo is suing over the abuse she says she suffered while a member of Scientology’s “Sea Org,” including, she alleges, being forced to have an abortion by the church at 17.
The hearing comes less than two weeks after DeCrescenzo filed explosive new evidence gleaned from thousands of pages of documents that Scientology was forced to turn over after the church appealed all the way to Supreme Court to try and keep the material hidden. Please see our story about the contents of those files, which describe Laura’s struggles as a homesick 12-year-old working 98-hour weeks for pennies an hour.
There were also documents which bolstered Laura’s assertion that the church knew that she had not wanted an abortion when she found out she was pregnant in February 1996. She was told by supervising Sea Org officials that she needed to do what was best for “the greatest good for the greatest number of dynamics,” and she felt pressured to terminate the pregnancy.
Laura submitted that evidence because today, she’s trying to convince Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian that Scientology’s strong methods of persuasion and control kept her from filing her lawsuit in a more timely fashion. She left the Sea Org in 2004, but she remained a member of the church until the summer of 2008. Only then, after she learned that her parents had left the church, did she begin to criticize Scientology itself. She left the church for good in January 2009 and then filed her lawsuit in April 2009.
But Scientology argued that Laura should have filed her lawsuit regarding her treatment in the Sea Org within four years of leaving the Sea Org. Judge Sohigian agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. But Laura appealed, and an appeals court sent it back to Sohigian, telling him that he should have considered evidence that Laura was still being manipulated by Scientology after she had left the Sea Org.
Scientology should not benefit, the appeals court argued, if it took active measures to convince Laura that she should not sue within a timely fashion.
Is the stunning new evidence that Laura filed enough to convince Sohigian this time around that she filed her lawsuit in time? We’ll be anxious to find out. We’ll be adding live updates at the bottom of the post.
A logistical note: This story will pop up at 7 am Eastern, our standard time for a new morning post. But that’s only 4 am in Los Angeles, so please be patient as we get with the swing of things out here. We expect the hearing to get going at about 9 am Pacific, which is noon in New York, 5 pm in London, and 3 am in Sydney. Also, we do not yet know what the rules of the court are regarding equipment, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know when you can expect new updates.
PS: We were traveling all day yesterday, so we were unable to respond to a slightly misleading story about Leah Remini posted by RadarOnline that was then copied all over the place. Despite Radar’s claim for an “exclusive,” it was two weeks ago when we first reported that Remini’s deposition in Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against Scientology leader David Miscavige was postponed along with the deposition of former Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis and others.
It’s not true, as Radar implied, that Scientology’s attorneys made this happen. Actually, a hearing on jurisdictional matters was moved from October 18 to December 11, giving both sides more time to gather evidence, which included rescheduling the depositions.
And no, Leah Remini’s deposition has not been postponed “indefinitely.” In fact, new dates on all of the depositions were being worked out this week, and as soon as we know them, we’ll certainly let you know.
We can only marvel that out of all the explosive news that rocked Monique Rathbun’s lawsuit in the last week, the only thing the mainstream press got out of it was that Leah Remini’s deposition had been slightly delayed. Someone, please get them the smelling salts.
Posted by Tony Ortega on October 23, 2013 at 07:00
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Hey, we’re in place in Sohigian’s courtroom, and we’re sitting next to Allison Hope Weiner. Judge Sohigian is dealing with another matter right now. So far we have a somewhat jackleg Internet connection, so we’ll just see how long we can go.
There are about 40 seats in the courtroom here, and most of them are taken with folks in fancy suits. We recognize several of them, but this time Scientology’s attorneys are all over the place and not just in one group.
Sohigian now calling up another preliminary case.
Judge Ronald Sohigian has a few wisps of grey hair on his balding pate. He wears glasses, and has a fine roman nose. He’s a little George C. Scott and a little Uncle Junior in appearance, but he’s got a stern, baritone voice that says, “don’t even think about questioning what I’m about to say.” He’s tapping away at a computer right now, fashioning a written order, he said. So far, we’ve gotten the impression that he likes to get things done, done fast, and doesn’t put up with nonsense.
We saw that this morning some of our readers looked around online and found some negative reviews of the judge.
Right now, he seems to be making a very reasonable schedule change for a couple of attorneys. So who knows.
Yet another preliminary case. Both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys are on the phone.
Oh, we see that Bert Deixler is here. We didn’t see him when we first came in.
He’s schooling an attorney for showing up (telephonically) in a lawsuit that centers around a lease dispute, and the attorney doesn’t have a copy of the lease to refer to. Gotta side with Sohigian on this one. You don’t want to come to this guy’s courtroom unprepared.
And Sohigian calls yet another preliminary matter. Bert Deixler goes out for a break. Heck, we wish we could join him.
Some kind of insurance case is before him, and Sohigian is taking the opportunity to describe his entire judicial philosophy and how his court works like no other.
We might appreciate his lengthy dissertation more if we hadn’t just experienced the pleasure of LA freeways and missed breakfast to get here on time.
There’s definitely a smaller Scientology team here than there was in Texas. No Gary Soter, no Moxon, no Yingling. Warren McShane is here along with about six attorneys.
Not sure what to make of it, that a case that’s gone to the US Supreme Court and involves allegations of a 17-year-old girl being forced to have an abortion would call for a legal team less than half of what showed up for a harassment suit in Texas.
Of course the answer is, David Miscavige is personally a defendant there, but he isn’t here.
Sohigian’s tap-tap-tapping away at another order, this one apparently in a case where no one bothered to show up.
There’s more and more squirming going on in the peanut gallery. We’re getting the sense that observers and lawyers alike are in some astonishment that Sohigian is typing away at some preliminary matter that could clearly be done at some other time.
The dude is in no rush.
Oh, wait, Gary Soter is here. He was sitting right behind me. I just didn’t see him. He just went out to stretch his legs or something.
Sohigian continues to write the Great American Novel at his computer.
Yet another preliminary matter. Parties here this time, at least. Some kind of bankruptcy case with a dispute over a lawyer’s fees.
Going to yet another preliminary matter. Allison is keeping us both alive with candy Lifesavers.
Judge Sohigian now explaining to yet another attorney how things work differently in his courtroom. “We do not reserve dates here,” he says, and once again talks about the calendars posted on his “westerly wall.”
Not being familiar with the ways of Judge Sohigian, we’re certain that we’re missing some great judicial leap forward here, but can only stand in awe as he soldiers on from the bench.
Judge Sohigian working out some trial dates with some attorneys. We’re still waiting.
Just based on what we’ve seen so far and how some very experienced attorneys seemed a little lost in front of Sohigian, we get the impression that he has come up with a very different way of handling his calendar, and of typing up orders as he goes along. He obviously considers it a superior system, and assuming that his court is as swamped as any other, we really can’t blame him for trying out a logistical framework of his own design.
We’re keeping in mind: It was Sohigian who ordered that Scientology turn over Laura’s pc files to her, and he wasn’t swayed by the church’s insistence that those records were protected by clergy-penitent privilege.
So the big question is, now that Sohigian has seen what’s in those files, will he be persuaded that Laura had reason to file her lawsuit in June 2009 and not earlier?
And we’re on!!! Here we go. Attorneys getting into place.
John Blumberg and Kathryn Saldana for Laura. Robert Mengells for RTC, Bert Deixler for CSI.
Judge seems surprised that so many people are here to watch. He asks if he forgot another case or something.
Deixler going first. We’re here to resolve two very narrow issues…did evidence dissuade her from filing her lawsuit…
Bert Deixler: The evidence in the case is I think undisputed that there were no representations by defendants that she should not file a lawsuit.
(Scientology never told her not to file her suit, he’s saying.)
As Deixler goes on like he’s arguing over a broken lease or something, we can’t help remember that this is the guy who went to the California and US Supreme Courts to say the material in Laura’s pc files was “deeply religious” material. And that material turned out to be things like her homesick letters about missing her mom — at 12 years old.
Bert Deixler now criticizing Laura based on what she said in depositions.
Now he’s bringing up the issue of threats or intimidation, which would be a reason that would allow her to file late. But he says what she describes in her declaration are “protected free speech” and things that aren’t threats or intimidation.
Bert is saying that Laura is relying on Laura being solicited for Scientology books after she left he Sea Org.
Now he’s getting to the freeloader debt. “It is a religious obligation that one meets after departing the Sea Organization.” Wow! A religious obligation!
Bert says he’s basically pretty unimpressed by Laura’s declaration. Well, golly. Who could have seen that coming.
He’s saying that what she’s submitted does not meet the test that the appeals court set for this hurdle.
Sohigian: Will you please flesh out the argument that some of this are constitutionally protected speech, and that they wouldn’t qualify? Can you say how these wouldn’t be applicable to the time bar?
Bert now referring to the Headley case. Saying that the Headleys argued that they were worried that they’d be banished if they criticized the church or something. And Bert said that the court found that a church can do that, banish someone.
Sohigian: That’s not what I’m asking. Is it your contention that the only excuse for the time bar is the commission by the defendant of actionable behavior? And that behavior that is not actionable can not be the basis for an exception?
Bert Deixler: Yes, the behavior that a previous case said could affect the time bar can’t be constitutionally protected behavior, and I thin that’s the case here.
Now it’s Laura’s side’s turn.
Blumberg: The way we read the court of appeal opinion is that Laura’s association with Scientology during her formative years and as a young adult, and in that context, her participation while a member in the Sea Org — basically, if you brought action against the church you’ll never see your parents again, you’ll be harassed — these are the things she believed would happen if she filed a lawsuit.
Blumberg: Secondly, I think there is a clear difference between Constitutionally protected activity and activity that could be applied to an equitable estoppel.
Sohigian: Let me just ask you about the first leg, the early experience point. Your contention is that experiences she had before she left were so powerful that they themselves constituted an estoppel?
Sohigian: While she was in the organization, she was told that if she leaves or contemplates actions adverse to the organization…dire consequences would ensue. That’s your contention?
Blumberg: Yes, but also the things that happened between 2004 and 2009.
Sohigian: What is it that you’re saying about those 2004-2009 events? Are you saying those things subjectively so weakened her that she was subjectively incapable earlier filing of the lawsuit? Or are you saying those events objectively … had so much weight their effects lasted after she left the denomination and that constitutes the estoppel? Or are you saying something else? … What the defense saying is that it’s not inequitable behavior if it’s constitutionally protected or non-actionable. Let’s get back to the parameters for estoppel….
Now they’re looking at the appeals court ruling again, still trying to define terms.
Laura’s attorney now citing some case law.
Blumberg: That is our position, the constitutionally-protected activity is not the shelter behind which they can hide.
Sohigian is taking apart the case law he just cited. Doesn’t think it really applies in Laura’s case.
Sohigian: I’m asking you about a case in which a potential defendant tries to persuade someone not to sue by assurances of compliance…and tries to say, don’t sue me now. In our case, your theory is that Ms. DeCrescenzo was forced to abort hat would have been a viable infant, she was, you’re going to say in trial, in essence enslaved. You’re going to say to trial she was forced to have abortion because pregnant women have a reduced work capacity, and they want her to work like an automaton and wouldn’t have time to care for herself during pregnancy or to take time off to care for an infant for breastfeeding. That would all have been known to Ms. DeCrescenzo that that was what she was subjected to. So what was it that keeps the other side from saying that we didn’t do anything to keep her from suing since she knew all that?
Sohigian: Threats to excommunicate, to disassociate, the church can do that as free speech. What’s your argument against that?
Blumberg: Our argument is that Laura was brought up with the idea that if she filed a complaint against the church she would be spied on, her family would be broken apart … and even if those are constitutionally protected activities, that still shouldn’t allow them keep her from filing sooner.
He points out that after she leaves the Sea Org, they got her a job and that conveniently keeps her under the influence of the church…
Sohigian: Whose convenience is that?
Blumberg fends that off. And keeps going. Will the church have been successful in keeping people from acting because of their influence, he asks. If that works then they will practically forever be immune.
Sohigian: You used the word ‘never’ or something like that, in other words you impute to the defense conduct that they would dissuade a member for all time.
Sohigian saying that Laura seems to be taking the position that she could any time file a lawsuit, forever, because of this lawsuit, and that there is no time bar at all. (Sohigian saying that’s what the church side could complain about.)
Sohigian seems to be arguing that the way Laura’s side is arguing this, it goes too far the other way — that there would never be a time bar against filing a lawsuit.
Blumberg: Calls that a straw man argument, an extreme position, and something the court could decide was reasonable or not.
Sohigian: How would the court decide that?
Blumberg: Motion for summary judgment, your honor.
Sohigian: Well, here we are!
Blumberg now referring to the court of appeal ruling, that it said in the court of appeal’s mind, this may constitute an estoppel which is allowable by law, and up to trial judge to decide if Laura’s argument is reasonable.
So Blumberg saying look, you have the facts to make a decision about this case. But Sohigian punking him a little, saying that if he decides this, what would keep someone else from arguing an even longer delay.
Blumberg again is explaining that the appeals court has asked the trial judge, Sohigian, to make this decision based on the facts in the case.
Sohigian now reading from appeals ruling, which refers to Laura being “brainwashed,” and the influence that the church had over her even after she left the Sea Org.
Sohigian still reading from the appellate ruling. Now asking for Blumberg to address when the effects she was under came to an END.
Blumberg seems a bit mystified about this. Laura’s team is trying to make the point that in 2008 Laura was still under the influence of Scientology, explaining why she filed her lawsuit late. They just want Sohigian to agree with that.
But Sohigian is saying, well, when did that influence stop? Could she have filed in 2010? 2011? How is he supposed to judge when she was no longer under that influence?
They’re now looking through Laura’s recent filings. Sohigian wants Blumberg to find something in the appeals ruling that answers question.
Kathryn Saldana finds the passage that they were looking for, and Sohigian now reading from it. They’re now looking over the ruling.
He’s helping the court reporter get some of that language down properly.
Every time Sohigian reads from the appellate ruling, it seems to bolster Laura’s argument. But then Sohigian keeps asking Blumberg to answer questions about it and how the law fits this case.
We’re a little confused about what he’s doing. Bert Deixler, on the church side, is just waiting patiently. Hard to tell what he thinks of all this.
Sohigian: He’s asking again, when did the influence END. Laura’s case has been that the influence hadn’t ended when left Scientology, and then only a few months later filed her lawsuit. But Sohigian wants to know how much longer could she have waited?
That seems like a weird question. But now Blumberg steps up.
Blumberg: July, 2008.
Sohigian: What happened then?
Blumberg: The realization that her parents would support her and not abandon her if she filed a lawsuit against the church. That’s when the clock actually started, he’s saying essentially.
Sohigian: Well, if that’s the case, what kept Laura from asking her parents earlier if they still loved her — we’re paraphrasing.
I think what Sohigian’s saying is that if he rules that the influence ended when she stumbled on her parents’ computer and saw ESMB, what would keep the defendants (the church) from deposing her and asking why she didn’t ask earlier how they felt about her?
Is Sohigian asking that Laura’s mistake was not being more curious about her parents earlier?
He’s complaining that this would be a result based purely on effects and not a rule. Blumberg now trying to deal with that.
Blumberg says Sohigian’s question seems to be, was Laura unreasonable not to ask her questions earlier? And he’s saying that falls under the same influence — that Scientology taught her not to ask questions like that.
Sohigian has them go back to the appeal ruling again. He’s reading from it.
Sohigian is back to asking Blumberg to explain and justify the appeal ruling.
Deixler has an outburst about the appeals court already deciding something. Sohigian asks him to hold on, but seems to agree with Deixler.
Blumberg: If the court believes on the evidence submitted that it needs no more than to rely on what’s on paper, then the court has the authority to make that determination now.
Sohigian: I’ll hear you for a little more then come back after lunch.
Sohigian: Your view is, because action accrued in 2004, that absent estoppel, the limitation period would have begun to run in that year, but there is at least a triable issue regarding the existence of the estoppel, but the argument does not make an argument that this is unlimited or that the time never begins to run in which to file a lawsuit, because the dates of expiration of the effects of the intimidation would have been around July 2008. And Ms. DeCrescenzo was actually filed in April 2009. That’s the way you organize your arguments that you are not promoting an unlimited period to file.
Then what Blumberg is now addressing and what Deixler had pointed out earlier appears to be a bit of a flub in the appeals order.
BREAK FOR LUNCH
Thanks for the suggestion, Spackle. The 9th floor cafeteria made a decent burrito.
Back in session.
Blumberg now talking again. Says he had a chance at lunch to reconsider what the judge had been asking him.
Blumberg: I guess it comes down to whether someone’s reasonable belief can be adduced from reading paper rather than through testimony, etc. And having considered that question I’m leaning very strongly that perhaps it needs to be a live proceeding.
Hm. interesting suggestion by Blumberg.
Back to Bert Deixler: It is in our judgment an issue that can be decided right now because of the lack of evidence.
There is no evidence that she ever considered a lawsuit before the time that she filed one.
Bert refers to case law, and Sohigian does think it’s important, so he’d gone to chambers to retrieve it. (That’s where his printer is, apparently.)
We’re looking at Lori Mills v. Forestex. Some people who owned a house sued a siding contractor. Similar issue of a time-barred complaint.
We’re hearing about a woman’s attempts to get her siding fixed.
Sohigian is still reading from this Mills case.
Sohigian: Is the Mills case one of those continuing reassurance cases, false sense of security cases, as distinguished from a case where the contention is, there was such an intense coercive or influential environment…that it is not that the plaintiff was lulled into a false sense of security, but that she was virtually paralyzed and didn’t recognize that legal rights could be asserted?
Hm, that’s putting Bert on the spot.
Deixler: The court of appeal has asked to focus on whether there were representations to her not to file suit… and therefore Mills case applies.
Sohigian: Why do you say “representations”?
This seems to throw Deixler off a bit.
We have to hand it to Sohigian that he’s gone after attorneys on both sides on their arguments. On Laura’s side, he’s implied that they’ve asked for something too open-ended. On the church’s side, he says they’re relying on case law which is about a person not filing earlier because they were lulled into a false sense of security, which really doesn’t seem to describe Laura D.
Bert Deixler: The representations point is addressed by Mills. Bert goes on trying to equate the elements in the Mills case with Laura’s.
He’s saying again that there was nothing in the period 2004-2008 that was “untoward.” Freeloader debt, not “untoward”? Wow.
Anything further, judge asks.
I’ve heard all the argument. I need to make a decision, he says.
First he’s going to make a ruling on evidentiary questions.
Evidentiary objection documents, he’s referring to.
Sohigian: Is there a way I can deal with the objections you really want ruled on…or do you want me to go through each objection?
For example, plaintiff’s set of objections is 37 pages. (I’m assuming these are on depositions that were previously done?)
Sohigian seems to be asking a strange question that has all of the lawyers befuddled.
While they’re waiting for him to rule on the summary judgment ruling, he’s asking them if they want him to go over every objection that was made in evidentiary matters (depositions, we’re assuming). But how can they answer that before a ruling?
It’s really seemed to throw them.
They’re taking a short break to deal with it.
Answer to a reader question: No, Laura D. is not in the courtroom today. Just her attorneys.
Lawyers back in the courtroom. Allison tells me she thinks Sohigian is going to rule against Laura, but he expects it to immediately go on appeal.
Waiting for the judge to come back in.
Still waiting for Sohigian.
At the break, we saw him in the hall. He’s a short guy. Hard to tell that when he’s up there behind the bench.
Here we go. Sohigian back in the courtroom.
Blumberg saying they waive oral argument. Same for defense side. But Sohigian says that’s not what he’s asking.
He’s asking if they want him to RULE on all the objections in the evidence.
I’ll just rule on the objections, he says. What, are we going to be here all day before his ruling on the summary judgment?
Starting with plaintiff’s evidentiary objections.
Gary Soter just got up and left. We don’t blame him.
“Objection one. Overruled.”
“Objection two. Overruled.”
“Objections three. Overruled.”
Just shoot me.
Objections 11 through 14 involve words…
“Thetan. Engram. Clearing the Planet. OT Data.”
I do wish to say that I examined the material and recognize that these are special terms.
He’s overruled every objection so far, so we’re not sure why he’s taking the time to remark on these at this point. But hey, a little funny.
“23 overruled. 24 overruled. 25 overruled.”
This was apparently a deposition of Laura taken by Bert Deixler. Her attorney had been objecting about Bert’s use of Scientology terms? Hard for us to know without the deposition in front of us.
Tikk points out that these are objections that Laura’s attorneys made in the Warren McShane deposition. OK.
We’d like our lawyer readers to tell us, is this customary for a judge to sit and go over these, one by one, in court? Especially when we’re all waiting for a ruling?
50, overruled, 51 overruled, 52, overruled…
Sohigian: I think what I’ve done is overruled every objection made by the plaintiff.
We think you’re right, judge.
Now, defense evidentiary objections.
Objections to Shannon Kimoto and Christie Collbran declarations. Then another set of objections to Robert D. Levine. Then third one, objections to Laura’s declaration.
Objection to entirety of Kimoto and Collbran declarations.
Now to DeCrescenzo.
Objection one. Overruled.
Objection two. Overruled.
Objection three. Overruled…
We’ll say this — Sohigian does seem pretty familiar with the material. He’s definitely read these declarations in detail.
He’s overruled every objection to Laura’s declaration so far.
He’s giving us another law lesson.
Now, the last set of objections, to Levine — he’s the expert who wrote on mind control.
“Mr. Levine has not been a stranger to Metzger law firm disputes with Scientology,” Sohigian says.
He says a federal judge (Headley case?) called a Levine declaration one of the most worthless she’d ever seen and struck it.
In the Headley case, what had happened was that professor Levine had reviewed some deposition transcripts, and Judge Fisher felt that was … what did he say? Not sure.
Sohigian: The main thrust of Mr. Levine’s testimony was that the plaintiff was shaped or manipulated by the Scientology group so she couldn’t make decisions, couldn’t decide what reality was. Levine says she was in the grip of this organization.
It looks from the record as if Levine has not examined the plaintiff. The record appears to indicate that he hasn’t had a conversation with the plaintiff, and so the defense position is, you just can’t treat that as an adequately founded expert opinion for a number of reasons.
Defense is asking to exclude Levine. Now he asks Blumberg to comment.
(Sohigian notes that objections to Levine go on for 54 pages. But maybe he shouldn’t accept it at all.)
Blumberg says Levine’s declaration was made as a hypothetical argument, based on what Laura had said in her declaration.
But Sohigian says if you read Levine’s words, he doesn’t sound like he’s discussing a hypothetical situation.
(OK, the Bunker here wants to insert an editorial comment: Now you see why we never get bogged down in arguments about “mind control” or “brainwashing.” It’s a waste of time. We notice that Ray Jeffrey and Ted Babbitt haven’t bothered with so-called mind control experts. We found Levine’s declaration fascinating, but we tend to stay away from that stuff. OK, back on the record.)
Sohigian and Blumberg now sparring over the word “hypothetical.” This is such a waste of time. Just punt on the Levine declaration and get to the ruling, Blumberg.
Blumberg still trying to save the Levine declaration. Well, what else can he do. So Sohigian starts to drill down into it.
Warren McShane can’t take it. He goes outside for a break. Damn, we wish we could go with him.
OK, judge, we get it. You weren’t impressed by Robert D. Levine’s declaration. So instead of arguing with Blumberg about whether it was a “hypothetical” exercise or not, why don’t you just strike it from the record? What are your problems with the way some professor wrote his analysis of the evidence worth spending all this time on? Scientology turned over 18,000 PAGES of evidence that showed how a 12-year-old girl was manipulated to work 98-hour week at pennies an hour so that she would ignore her homesickness and her mother’s desire to see her. That’s what you’ve been asked to rule on.
Tory Christman just walked in. She’s in for a treat.
What would be your response to Levine’s declaration in Judge Fisher’s case, Sohigian asks.
Blumberg says he didn’t read it because it was a case with a different set of facts.
Well, apparently Blumberg argued well enough that Sohigian is not going to throw out the Levine declaration entirely. But now he’s going to rule an the 54 pages of objections. Oh joy!
As he goes through and overrules objections in the Levine declaration…
A summing up: Both sides have made their arguments about the church’s motion for summary judgment. Sohigian has apparently made up his mind about it. But he is not going to tell us his ruling until he first deals with hundreds of pages of objections to specific pieces of evidence that had previously been entered into the record.
He knows that however he rules on the church’s motion, it will be appealed, and so he wants to get the evidentiary issues done while we’re all here.
So we wait and wait as he says “overruled, overruled, overruled…”
And after all that, he overruled every single objection to Levine.
Now, on to the substantive ruling.
Sohigian: This case was filed in 2009. It has been to the appellate course once, and it’s back here. Something he ruled was reversed. When that happens sometimes counsel files to take off the judge, but that didn’t happen. He still has it.
Plaintiff alleges that she was employed by the Church of Scientology and lived and worked at the facility here in Los Angeles. Became pregnant, was forced to have an abortion through threat of her job, housing, and husband. She alleges she was told she would be subjected to freeloader debt, she claims that she was told she was owed that because she got Scientology training and services. She alleges CSI had a policy of forcing female employees to have abortions if they became pregnant. One of the reasons was to get more work out of them. She says she was under the influence of the defendants’ organizations. And either she or the lawyers or both use this term “brainwashing.” I think what she’s referring to is a comprehensive high-pressure indoctrination and coercion so as to dominate an individual…
Sohigian: She says that she was taken from her family. In her second amended complaint a host of legal theories. Action based on forced abortion, common law forced abortion, third cause is for deprivation of liberty, fourth cause is for false imprisonment, fifth for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Sixth is for labor violations. Seventh is for violation of business code.
Moving papers filed a year ago (Scientology’s motion for summary judgment). Oct 25, 2012. The delays that have ensued since then are not pertinent to this case. They stem from evidentiary concerns, extraordinary appeals to CA Supreme Court, US Supreme Court.
Church moving on theory that Laura’s claims are time-barred.
Says he’s gone through every objection item by item. Comprehensive objections and individual objections. I think I’ve discharged my obligations with respect to that.
Sohigian: I’m going to talk briefly now about the methods that I used to reach a decision.
Our law is that the movants (church) has to prove that there is no disputable triable issue of material fact for a summary judgment…
In the first place, I’m required to use a three-step process. Discussed in a large number of cases on appellate level.
1. Identify issues framed by pleadings. 2. Movants have reached burden. 3. Opposing party has shown that a triable issue of material fact exists.
Obviously, if step two is not carried out, you don’t have to go to step three. But i got to all three steps in this case.
Sohigian: Aguilar 2001 case he’s citing now. Also Selzor (?) case in the same volume.
I’m denying the motion for summary judgment.
Based on declaration and deposition of DeCrescenzo, there is a triable issue of material fact.
W O W
Sohigian: The central issue is, with respect to the time-bar issue, is the triable issue of material fact in regards to an estoppel.
I find that there is a triable issue of material fact, he says.
What a poker player. Sohigian was hammering Laura’s case all day. And now he’s found for her based on HER testimony.
Sohigian: There is a foundation in this record in which there are triable issues of material fact concerning… plaintiff was, in effect, a child in this Scientology. She started out by volunteering at only six or seven years old — and there may be question whether that’s really volunteering when she’s so young. She got involved at 12 in Sea Org, she moved away from her family. She lived in the Scientology facility in Los Angeles. This Sea Org is evidently a kind of a missionary activity or an office for a propagation for the faith, or something like that. This leaving and going with this organization, at that time she was just about beginning junior high school student. What they got her to do was sign some kind of a paper saying she would work for them basically indefinitely. There’s a number on the paper, a billion years. And that’s when she was 12. When she was 25 she left. When she went into that organization, she didn’t communicate in the standard way with her parents and other family members. Her mail was opened. There was someone present when she communicated with her family members. They did this evidently to make sure she didn’t say anything negative about the organization. She has given testimony that she was apprehensive about whether she was going to be punished. Part of the training was that she wouldn’t say anything negative about the Sea Org or Scientology, and if she did do that, she’d be declared treasonous. Then she’d be given base duties, extra duty. She was also told that she had to report anything that came out of the family, statements or behaviors, that was contrary to Scientology…
Sohigian: So here you have a 12-year-old youngster who didn’t regularly interact with her family. And she would have to undergo a “check,” apparently a set of interrogations. (He’s talking about a “sec-check.”) And there’s evidence that you sort of had to pass this test to be able to leave. And the persons that give this test have to be sure that you’re not going to leave permanently. So in this time, middle and late adolescence, there is evidence to show that she went a couple of years without seeing her parents. And this period of time elapsed because she wasn’t let out.
(Clearly, the judge was deeply impressed by Laura’s description of her life in the Sea Org. He’s trying to sound neutral about it, but he was evidently impressed by what she described and how the evidence supported her story.)
When she was in this Sea Org, she had to make out a questionnaire — a life history questionnaire. He goes through some questions…
Sohigian is bringing up specifically the question about asking the Sea Org member to admit to homosexual acts and detail them. Yeah, great questionnaire, Scientology.
Now he’s talking about her incredible hours. And even when she wasn’t on the clock, she had to stay around the Scientology facilities, or go with an escort.
In 2001, she went to the RPF. He explains to the court reporter that it stands for “Rehabilitation Project Force.” Damn right, judge.
How her hours got even worse then, with lights out at 10:30. He’s relating it to his own days in the service! Wow.
Sohigian talking about Laura’s sleep deprivation, and little time for hygiene or changing clothes.
Paid only 10 to 50 dollars a week. And during this time no formal schooling. She did take a high school proficiency exam. But didn’t get any other schooling.
She could not freely come and go. (He’s really taking his time. This has got to be torture for Deixler, et al.)
Sohigian: She observed when people would escape, they would do a “drill” (a “blow drill”) that would rely on credit card records, etc. So if she tried to leave, she would be tracked down and brought back involuntarily.
Well, she did try to leave and was in essence detained. Then was watched 24 hours. Interrogated. And not just interrogation, but that she was told what to say.
During RPF, about three or four years, she left the facility fewer than 20 times. She did not have access to her identification or money. Never allowed to have more than 20 dollars on her. Her passport was locked up.
Sohigian’s recitation is going so long, Katie Saldana has asked for a short break!
So Sohigian asks Bert Deixler if he wants to waive the rest of the recitation. Bert says no! “It’s useful to us, your honor.”
Oh, that had to hurt.
Blumberg telling another reporter what the decision was about: That Sohigian has found that he can’t make a ruling today about the truth or falsity of the facts in this case — that’s for a jury to decide at trial.
And after he recites the facts in the record, the judge will then explain to us about the time-bar. So we’re sticking for the bitter end. May be a little while before the judge is back.
OMG. Wise Beard Man just walked in and sat down behind us.
THE BUNKER FINALLY MEETS MR. BUNKER
Sohigian back in the courtroom. He now is talking about Laura finally leaving the RPF and the Sea Org. She was upset, she was unstable. But she was counseled that she should stay. She was afraid that if she left, bad things would happen. So in April 2004, she wanted to get out of RPF, but SO put her on hard labor ten hours a day. So she drank some bleach as quasi-suicidal behavior.
Now he’s referring to an affidavit she signed when she left the Sea Org, saying at the time that she benefited from the SO.
He points out that when Laura was seven years old, she picketed this courtroom! “Picketing a courthouse doesn’t usually affect judges, but I think it’s meant to affect the public,” he says.
Sohigian: Laura believed that the penalties for speaking out against the church would cost her millions of dollars. And she was asked to periodically sign forms about her loyalty to the church. This was an act of surveillance, she says. She also claimed that she was trained to report anybody who took a negative action against the church. So she claims that she was trying to weave her way through this thicket of fears and apprehensions. And this disabled her from acting more promptly, and that all of this was the fault of the defendants.
She claims she remained active in this organization (Scientology) and she was doing that because she was scared, that she would be cut off from her family, declared a “suppressive person.” Her apprehension was that the Scientology organization and its members would smear her. And that she’d seen that happen to other people. She did get a freeloader bill of 0,000, she got calls about it, and she actually paid ,000. This led her to believe that the organization was keeping its eyes on her. She actually went to work for a Scientologist-owned business in order to pay her freeloader bill. You could say this was an indication that she was not as scared as she says she was, but there’s another potential implication, that it’s circumstantial evidence that she was under continuing surveillance.
Sohigian saying that Laura, between 2004 to 2008, continued to get calls from church members, which indicated to her that she was being observed and snooped on.
It was in 2008 that she first began to consult information critical of Scientology. She thought if she gave her identity, Scientology would send someone to “handle” her — keep her from speaking out. But in autumn of 2008, she contacted another former Sea Org member, and started to talk about a lawsuit. Then she was visited in January 2009 by church members asking her about ESMB. This was indication in her mind that Scientology was monitoring her online communications. After they left, she found a piece of paper with instructions on how to “handle” her.
She was contacted by a lawyer and then filed a lawsuit in 2009. So my view is, this creates a triable issue of material fact concerning the time-bar defense. It is not conclusive in either direction. I think that under the circumstances I have an obligation to deny the motion for summary judgment in all respects.
Asks Blumberg to write an order for it tomorrow.
Sohigian: As has been customary in this case, the lawyers have done a good job. I don’t want anything I’ve said to be interpreted as a criticism of the lawyers on either side.
And that’s it. Wow. What a stunning result.
November 12 status hearing will be the next thing.
Now, will Scientology appeal?