Dandar had alleged that the $1 million judgment would not only ruin him, but that it was the result of a conspiracy by Scientology that had corrupted local courts in the Clearwater area, where one of Scientology’s headquarters is located.
Covington previously had denied Dandar’s request that the federal court intervene, but he had appealed, and an appellate court had asked Covington to reconsider his lawsuit in light of a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
But after a May 19 hearing, and after taking the new case law under consideration, Covington again found last week that Dandar has not argued a sufficient reason for her to stop what the state court is doing. We have her lengthy and detailed order, below.
Why a state court in Florida has asked a private attorney to pay the Church of Scientology a $1 million penalty is itself a very complex legal narrative that we’ve explained numerous times in previous stories. In a nutshell, Dandar had represented in state court the family of a Scientologist, Lisa McPherson, who had died under Scientology care in 1995. At the end of that wrongful death lawsuit, in 2004, Dandar signed a global settlement that required the parties to promise that they would never again sue the church.
But five years later, in 2009, Dandar sued Scientology again, this time in federal court and on behalf of a new client, Victoria Britton, over the death of her son, Kyle Brennan. Scientology went back to the state court that had overseen the mediation and settlement of the McPherson case, complaining that Dandar was in violation of the agreement which had required him never to sue the church again. Dandar has argued that he only signed that settlement as an attorney, not a party, and that he never personally promised never to sue Scientology in the future.
The state court didn’t agree, and ordered Dandar to stop representing Britton under threat of sanctions. In a strange twist, however, the federal judge in the Britton lawsuit ordered Dandar not to give up the case until he could find a replacement. What then ensued was a bizarre tug of war between state and federal judges until Dandar was finally able to find a replacement and dropped out of Britton’s suit. (After Dandar’s departure, Britton’s suit was ultimately dismissed for lack of evidence.)
Scientology pushed for sanctions against Dandar for violating the mediation agreement, and retired state judge Crockett Farnell agreed, hitting Dandar ultimately with a $1 million penalty. (Dandar is appealing that decision.)
Now, Federal District Judge Virginia Covington has denied Dandar’s request for injunctive relief against the state court on the basis that his civil rights are being violated.
However, Dandar himself tells us that he’s still hopeful. Covington may have denied his requests of injunctive relief, but she didn’t grant Scientology’s motion to dismiss his request for damages. She merely stayed that request until the state case is completed.
“She denied their motion to dismiss. That’s huge. She recognizes the federal rights in this case, but she’s reluctant to interfere with the state courts,” Dandar told us yesterday by telephone.
And Dandar tells us there’s another reason why he’s still hopeful. Previously, he had asked the Florida Supreme Court for a “writ of prohibition” — one of our legal experts tells us it would enable the higher court to stop what the local court is doing. Initially, the state Supreme Court assigned Dandar’s request to an appellate court, which denied it.
But now, Dandar tells us, the state Supreme Court itself is suddenly showing interest in his request, which our legal expert confirmed.
“As of Friday, the Florida Supreme Court issued a demand to the Church of Scientology to file a response to the writ of prohibition by June 4,” Dandar tells us. “That raises my hopes that someone is paying attention up there.”
As for Covington’s order, Dandar tells us he’ll be filing a request for the judge to reconsider her decision. Covington is clear that she won’t stop the state courts with an injunction, but Dandar explains that it’s Scientology he wants her to enjoin. If she still disagrees with him, Dandar says he’ll appeal her decision.
“I don’t give up until there’s no place else to go. I’m not going to go away,” he says.
We asked our legal expert for some thoughts about Covington’s order.
“She wrote a very careful brief and it’s clear she doesn’t want to be overturned on appeal,” our expert told us. “I think the church may be shocked that she kept the civil rights damages portion of the case alive.”
Here’s the judge’s order…
Posted by Tony Ortega on June 3, 2014 at 07:00
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