Monique sued the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige, in August, alleging that she’d been the subject of several years of surveillance and harassment because her husband, Mark ‘Marty’ Rathbun, was a former high-level Scientology official who, in 2009, began speaking critically of the church. Monique herself was never a member of the church, but she says she was followed to work, endured protests at her house, and the church also had its private investigators harass her family and friends with negative information about her husband.
The Scientology defendants filed an ‘anti-SLAPP’ motion, claiming that Monique’s lawsuit was merely an attempt to stifle the church’s free-speech rights. In a controversial move, Scientology admitted to sending the private eyes and other operatives to follow and confront the Rathbuns, but argued that it was within the church’s religious rights. Granting the motion would have ended the suit.
Instead, Judge Waldrip found that Scientology’s own affidavits and testimony showed that it had initiated its campaign against Marty Rathbun as a way of protecting its turf in a trademark dispute, and as a business dispute, the anti-SLAPP motion doesn’t apply. We have the detailed motion below.
Reached tonight by phone, Monique’s attorney Ray Jeffrey said that his colleagues Marc Wiegand and Leslie Hyman had done the work to knock down the church’s motion, which had thrown the case into doubt for several months.
“You have to understand how rare this is among Texas state judges. I would say one in a hundred writes an order like this. It was amazing in the amount of effort that went into slogging through the evidence. It’s really impressive. We couldn’t be any happier,” he said.
In the finding, Judge Waldrip pointed almost immediately to an e-mail sent by Ed Bryan, one of the “Squirrel Busters” — the church operatives who held demonstrations in front of the Rathbun home continuously from April to September 2011. In the e-mail, Bryan said the operation was “in co-ordination with OSA Int” — a reference to Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs. Bryan said that “Taking him down will be no easy tasK” (referring to Marty Rathbun).
Waldrip also found it significant that Bert Leahy, a videographer hired for a few days by the Squirrel Busters, had testified that Scientology’s private investigator, Dave Lubow, had said that the mission was “to make the Rathbuns’ life a living hell.”
“No evidence demonstrates that any of the…activities occurred at an actual church, at a mission, at a place of worship or during any other type of religious service or ceremony,” Waldrip pointed out.
Meanwhile, the Rathbuns were attacked online, and they received anonymous and threatening phone calls, and Monique was followed to work and back. And she was even followed when shopping or walking the dog.
“Between September 2010 and December 2012, Lubow, a/k/a David Statter, interviewed and confronted Plaintiff’s family, friends, and co-workers disparaging Plaintiff, her husband, and his family,” the judge writes.
After leaving their Ingleside on the Bay home — and losing out on $36,000 in equity they had in it — they still found themselves under surveillance in their new home in Bulverde, Texas.
Monique “has demonstrated that she has been personally harmed and injured as a result of these activities in both Ingleside on the Bay and Bulverde.”
But Scientology has argued that its activities were in response to Marty Rathbun offering unlicensed counseling.
“As Defendant CSI [Church of Scientology International] asserts and argues, Mark Rathbun’s activity of offering Scientology services is a business. If so, the Church’s own activity of offering Scientology services is also a business.”
Judge Waldrip didn’t buy the church’s argument that it was distributing leaflets and making a documentary in order to educate the public about Rathbun.
And the problem with the church’s argument that it was engaging in the surveillance activity about Marty’s counseling services was that there’s no evidence that the church had ever simply mailed Marty a letter and told him to stop.
The evidence also preponderates in favor of the conclusion that the “Squirrel Buster” activity was primarily designed to convey the message to other Scientologist[s] and the Rathbuns should stop being “squirrels” — one who alters standard Scientology practice and delivers altered Scientology counseling…The record is replete with evidence showing it was CSI who designed, initiated and funded both the investigations and the Squirrel Busters to communicate chiefly to Scientology buyers and customers…”Pay us for delivering the goods or service — not Rathbun.”
Because of that commercial interest, Waldrip says, the anti-SLAPP is not available to the defendants. And also, he finds that the actions caused Monique “bodily injury,” which under Texas law includes “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.”
And ouch — for that last point, Waldrip quoted “then-Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson who wrote for the Court and held, without regards to the merits, that ‘biological injuries or effects [qualified] as bodily injury.'” (Since leaving the state Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson has become a part of Scientology’s legal team.)
Judge Waldrip then turns to the church’s argument that the lawsuit violates its free speech rights, and we’ll have our experts dive into that in more detail. But a quick reading suggests that Monique has properly filed a lawsuit based on being injured, and that your freedom of speech rights end when you injure another person.
Finally, at the end, Judge Waldrip noted that Monique is entitled to her costs and attorneys’ fees.
Here’s the order in its entirety. It’s another huge loss for Scientology in this case, which is already reeling because Judge Waldrip had found that Monique has the right to depose Miscavige (which has been appealed).
ALSO: It looks like Joe Childs of the Tampa Bay Times is going to have a major story about Scientology disconnection in the Sunday paper, and it may hit the web at any moment. (Some sidebars to the main piece have already been spotted online.)
UPDATE: And here it is. Wow, it’s great to have another piece from Joe Childs!
Posted by Tony Ortega on March 14, 2014 at 19:30
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