Just to contest an order to turn over evidence in the lawsuit, for example, Scientology filed multiple appeals — even petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court — but was ultimately forced to fork over the 18,000 pages of documentation which bolstered Laura’s case that she was manipulated as a child worker of the church, including being compelled to have an abortion at 17.
With that evidence in hand, Laura won a huge victory in October when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian denied Scientology’s motion for summary judgment. Finally, after four years, Laura’s case was headed for trial. But now, Scientology, perhaps predictably, has attempted to throw up a new set of hurdles to prevent Laura’s evidence from being heard by a jury. And one of those hurdles is truly stunning.
While Judge Sohigian ruled on October 3 that Laura had proved there were facts in contention that justified a trial, he didn’t actually rule on some key statute-of-limitation issues in the case that need to be resolved.
So now both sides have each submitted proposed schedules for how they think things should go as the case moves toward a January 2015 trial date. Laura’s attorneys submitted a brief document in which they suggest all of the issues can be handled in a single, 30-day trial.
But Scientology is asking for multiple hearings, some of which would prevent Laura’s case from going to a jury. The church says it should get a shot at a second motion for summary judgment, for example. But perhaps most surprisingly, the Church of Scientology has asked that Laura DeCrescenzo submit to a psychiatric examination.
Yes, the organization that detests psychiatry with such fervor it has an entire front group, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, devoted solely to attacking the psychiatric profession, has asked for a psych exam.
Such is the desperation Scientology will resort to in order to keep Laura’s disturbing evidence from getting to a jury.
We asked a member of our legal team to break down the legal briefs submitted by each side…
The church focuses on how many trials, motions, hearings, and depositions it intends to demand — in other words, how much money and distress it intends to force Laura to spend or endure. By contrast, Laura’s statement proposes one trial, but attaches 137 powerful undisputed facts which are taken from the discovery documents.
The church presents a long wish list of multiple, lengthy hearings, bench trials, and jury trials. It claims there must be many months before the first hearing because, for one reason, more discovery is needed since Laura may have “destroyed evidence” (spoliation of evidence) by deleting e-mails. To “prove” that she destroyed evidence, a snapshot of her Facebook page is attached in which Laura jokingly says she “weeded” out one of her e-mail accounts. (This appears to be more of a harassment tactic, and to show Laura her every move is being watched). It also claims the following is needed before the hearings:
— Document discovery concerning records relating to a crashed computer.
— Depositions of Christie Collbran, Shanon Kimoto, Laura’s employers and others.
— A psychiatric exam of Laura by court order, unless she voluntarily agrees to it.
The first hearing the church asks for is a hearing to address the ministerial exception and other First Amendment issues involving the court’s potential entanglement in determining issues of religious controversy, and “the defendants’ constitutionally-mandated immunity from intrusion into matters of religious doctrine or practice by the legal system.” The church argues that this hearing should set the ground rules for the trial on the merits and wants this hearing in February 2014.
The second hearing involves a second summary judgment motion the church intends to file to “address legal deficiencies” with certain of some of Laura’s claims (“such as torts not available under California law or as to which monetary damages are not an available remedy”), and whether the First Amendment ministerial exception mandates dismissal of some or all of Laura’s claims. The church wants a hearing on this motion before the equitable estoppel bench trial and it wants it to be held in May 2014. (I don’t see why the first hearing is necessary if the second hearing is essentially covering the same issues.)
Then the church wants a trial in September 2014, to last approximately ten days, on the equitable estoppel issue, i.e., whether the statute of limitations is extended because the church’s actions convinced Laura she could do nothing against it.
Lastly, the church wants the trial on the merits to be set for January 2015, to last 60 court days. The church also makes the point that there will be many pre-trial motions-in-limine (or other motion) hearings beyond the hearings/trials set out above.
This large number of requests by the church for hearings, motions, trials, new discovery, allegations of spoliation of evidence, etc., seems to be overkill. In fact, it seems like a very Miscavige-like response to Laura’s short brief. In that brief, Laura’s attorney requests one 30-day trial because it is “not practical for plaintiff to have to testify twice about her extensive history in the Church of Scientology, particularly as these subjects are deeply and painfully emotional for Plaintiff.” How like Miscavige to twist the knife, if one hearing is painful for Laura, to give her three or ten more. Then, give her the ultimate insult, (to Miscavige) make her undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
So after fighting for four years to prove that she didn’t file her lawsuit too late, and then proving that she has evidence and facts that deserve to be heard in front of a jury, now Laura learns that Scientology will argue that the lawsuit fails on First Amendment grounds.
We asked attorney Scott Pilutik for his thoughts on the filings.
Basically, Scientology is suggesting that they have First Amendment defenses that would, if successful, knock out the entire case, so it’s better to hear them first. But the thing is, Scientology has already made a lot of First Amendment arguments with respect to the statute of limitation issue, and they could probably be disposed of on the same or similar bases. But they’re going to say that the questions are different now, and Laura’s attorneys are likely going to say that, no, they’re effectively the same thing and a waste of money after having already exhaustively covering this terrain.
The First Amendment issues they’re going to raise in such a motion are the (1) ministerial exception defense, which I don’t think they’ve raised here yet but did successfully raise in the Headleys’ case. Basically, that Scientology could do whatever they wanted to Laura because she was a minister as a Sea Org member. One problem with this argument is that Laura was a minor for much of the time; and (2) & (3) the establishment clause and free exercise arguments; the former forbids judicial inquiry into the underlying claims because the courts are then impermissibly entangled in a religious controversy: and for the latter, Scientology can do whatever the hell it wants because it’s a religion.
Scientology is saying that such a motion is necessary because Laura’s theory of the case implicates Scientology’s beliefs, practices, etc., and it would therefore be prudent to set ground rules for the trial(s) in advance with respect to the First Amendment defenses Scientology will raise there. I can see a court permitting such a motion, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get the case dismissed.
Thanks for that analysis, Scott.
We’ll be fascinated to see how Sohigian — who made such an affirmative ruling on Laura’s evidence just two months ago — decides.
Posted by Tony Ortega on December 9, 2013 at 07:00
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