In December, Comal County Judge Dib Waldrip decided that Monique Rathbun has the right to depose the leader of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige, in her harassment lawsuit against the church. The judge then reasserted that decision after he was asked to reconsider. But now, Scientology is so determined to keep Miscavige out of a witness chair, it is taking a step that experts are telling us is somewhat extreme.
On Friday, Wallace Jefferson — the former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court (pictured at right) — filed on behalf of Miscavige an 89-page petition with the Texas Third Court of Appeals in Austin, asking it to grant a writ of mandamus and counteract Waldrip’s order.
We have the petition now, and we’d like your thoughts on it.
Keep one thing particularly in mind — as Scott Pilutik has explained to us before, in petitioning for a writ of mandamus, Scientology is essentially now suing Judge Waldrip for making the decision that he did. And so, if you’ve been following the case carefully, you’ll recognize almost everything in this petition, because Jefferson is asking the appellate court to consider the arguments that didn’t sway Waldrip.
Monique Rathbun filed her lawsuit in August because she had been through four years of harassment and surveillance. Scientology, for example, had a private investigator bother her co-workers and family members, asking them if they knew about mental illness in Marty Rathbun’s family. For years, the Rathbuns could go nowhere without being followed and filmed, and anonymous websites attacked them with innuendo. But in the petition, Wallace Jefferson follows Scientology’s playbook to present this all as just a religious argument being furthered by a man who is angry at the church that kicked him out and who now calls it a cult…
Contrary to the theatrical caricature the Plaintiff has pleaded below, the Church of Scientology is a recognized religion, practiced in thousands of churches and missions by millions of followers in more than 150 countries. Its governance requires strict formalities separating the corporate management of the faith from the guidance its ecclesiastical leader offers its adherents. That leader, a California resident with no meaningful Texas contacts, has been ordered to suspend his spiritual mission to answer questions about an imagined role in the circumstances giving rise to this suit.
Jefferson really lays it on thick about Miscavige and his exalted position.
In his spiritual role, Mr. Miscavige has devoted himself to the religion’s orthodoxy and growth. He has led a global campaign to ensure that each Church of Scientology is “ideal in location, design, quality of religious services and social betterment programs”; a multi-year project to restore and preserve the integrity of fundamental Scientology scripture as written or recorded by L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s founder, and the development of a comprehensive Scientology counseling and ministerial-training program. Mr. Miscavige has devoted his ministry to ensuring that Scientology churches practice only the Scientology scripture as Mr. Hubbard delivered. These activities have required extensive travel and over 100 hours of Mr. Miscavige’s time each week. Under his leadership, the religion has experienced unprecedented growth, and these endeavors have required that Mr. Miscavige cede administrative control of Church management to others.
And of course, he has to make it all sound like the Rathbuns are really motivated by the publicity — even though most of the coverage of this trial has come courtesy of the blog you are currently reading (and that, dear readers, does not a media circus make)…
This is a high-profile, media-driven dispute between a former member of the Church of Scientology, Marty Rathbun, his wife Monique Rathbun, and the Church. After serving 20 years in various Church positions, Marty Rathbun was demoted in 2003, left the Church in 2004, and was excommunicated. Since that time, he has engaged in a conspicuous, public battle with the Church and a personal vendetta against Mr. Miscavige. Mr. Rathbun’s wife, Plaintiff Monique Rathbun, has interjected herself into that dispute, feeding the public controversy through her Facebook postings and links to Mr. Rathbun’s anti-Scientology blog….Mr. Rathbun’s religious war has been waged in his wife’s name.
We then hear specifics about how Marty has waged “war” on Scientology through the media, etc. — all of which is the same thing that Judge Waldrip was told over and over again.
Scientology’s chief dirty-tricks private investigator is referred to as “filmmaker David Lubow,” which is really precious.
Once again, we are told that the Church of Scientology International (CSI), is falling on its sword, taking responsibility for the years of surveillance of the Rathbuns, and can “satisfy any obligations related to this suit.”
Sue CSI, but let Miscavige and RTC go, in other words. Again, it’s exactly what was presented to Judge Waldrip.
There’s an interesting footnote on one page that we know will elicit some surprise: “[Monique] noticed the deposition of actress Leah Remini, but has since abandoned that discovery.” As far as we know, Monique’s team still hopes to depose Remini.
Jefferson asserts that Scientology provided all of the evidence it was asked for, and that Monique never considered the structure of the church or the evidence before her, but that she unreasonably wanted to depose Miscavige from the start. Again, this was all argued previously before Waldrip.
And now, Wallace has to go after Waldrip himself.
After announcing that it had reviewed only a portion of the Plaintiff’s witness statements, only one of the five depositions, and a portion of the trial briefs, the trial court again continued the special appearance, but this time ordered that Mr. Miscavige must appear for deposition. Other than stating that the deposition was to be about “the jurisdictional issues herein,” the trial court provided no limits or rules for the examination.
In other words, Waldrip blew it, not paying enough attention to the huge filings on both sides in this lawsuit.
So then comes the legal argument for the petition. Jefferson argues that deposing Miscavige is a special case — an “apex deposition” — because he’s the leader of such an important organization. He argues that people always want to depose the CEO, and it’s usually just a form of harassment because the CEO doesn’t have specific knowledge of the case at hand.
He’s ignoring, of course, that Marty Rathbun, Mike Rinder, and many other former high-level Scientology executives all have said (under oath) that Miscavige is a micromanaging terror who of course would be making all the decisions in a retaliation campaign like the one the Rathbuns have gone through.
Jefferson then goes into some pretty arcane legal pleadings about the petition, and later this evening we’re hoping to have some analysis from our legal wing, Scott Pilutik.
Once again, a Jefferson (Wallace this time, his brother Lamont last time) completely mischaracterizes the 2007 text messages that Mike Rinder submitted as evidence, saying they portray “activities in London.” We’re not sure why they keep making this mistake — the text messages show Miscavige operating complete control over the surveillance of BBC reporter John Sweeney as he traveled in Florida and California.
Jefferson argues that even if Monique’s evidence about John Brousseau’s experience in Texas and Monty Drake’s spying on Lisa McPherson’s family in Texas were true, it doesn’t mean that David Miscavige has anything to do with Scientology spying in the state.
And of course, there’s the religious argument, that having David Miscavige deposed about Scientology spying would violate his First Amendment religious rights.
Because the Plaintiff has resorted to imputed theories of jurisdiction, she asks the trial court to scrutinize the religion’s corporate governance and structure. Even if this type of jurisdictional veil-piercing were viable in a religious context, discovery into whether Mr. Miscavige controls and makes decisions for other Scientology entities would impermissibly involve the courts in internal church-governance issues….Compelling Mr. Miscavige to sit for an intrusive inquiry into the religion’s governance and structure violates the principle that religious organizations “must be free to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters which pertain to church government…”
Again, it’s all been heard before, but Judge Waldrip found that there’s enough dispute about the facts regarding Miscavige’s involvement in Texas that it easily justifies having the man sit down, take an oath, and answer some questions about it.
Our experts tell us that appeals courts generally don’t want to get involved in a lawsuit at this stage. It’s still early — the temporary restraining order is still in place, for crying out loud. And appeals courts would normally not come into play until a decision had been rendered in the lawsuit itself, not just about some jurisdictional discovery.
We’ve put a call into the Texas Third Court of Appeals asking for some clarification about when such a petition might be adjudicated, and we’ll be asking Ray Jeffrey for some thoughts on how things will proceed. Scott Pilutik will get back to us later with some analysis. In the meantime, here’s the document, please give us your thoughts on it.
Also, this week, Scientology asked Judge Waldrip if it could submit a “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” to help guide him as he makes a decision about Scientology’s “anti-SLAPP” motion. It’s Scientology’s arguments spelled out as if Waldrip were going to agree. “Here, Judge, we’ve done the work for you, just sign at the bottom and dismiss this lawsuit for good.” Give it a read if you have time, but we have a feeling Judge Waldrip may have his own take on the facts of this case.
Posted by Tony Ortega on February 19, 2014 at 17:55
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