We’re still waiting for a major decision from Federal District Judge James D. Whittemore in Tampa that will determine if Scientology can dodge a fraud lawsuit by insisting its former members have to submit all grievances to its internal arbitration system rather than litigate in a civil court.
But in the meantime, Scientology asked, and Whittemore granted, a seemingly minor request which we can’t help thinking hints at some trouble for the church’s arbitration gambit.
To explain how we came to that conclusion, it’s important to review some of what’s been happening in the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2013 by Luis and Rocio Garcia. The Garcias allege that they were fraudulently convinced to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scientology, which they had been members of for many years.
Scientology, as it has in other lawsuits, filed a motion to compel arbitration. The church has previously been successful arguing that Scientologists, even former members, must submit any complaints about donations to an internal arbitration system rather than to the civil courts, which have no business judging religious matters.
But the Garcias argue that this isn’t a religious dispute. They’re the victims of fraud, not former customers looking for a refund. Also, they say that Scientology’s supposed arbitration system doesn’t really exist, and they submitted affidavits by former church officials who say the language in Scientology contracts about arbitration is just a sham to prevent people from getting their money back.
The lawsuit has been delayed by numerous complex matters, but what’s been coming to a head is this argument about Scientology’s supposed internal arbitration system. Does it actually exist? How is it supposed to work? Judge Whittemore has asked the church to provide detailed explanations to these questions before he decides whether to compel the Garcias to accept arbitration and drop their suit.
And now Scientology’s attorneys have filed for the right to submit a document written in 1963 by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding the church’s internal justice system, arguing that the contracts the Garcias signed refer to the 1963 policy when they talk about “Scientology’s Internal Ethics, Justice and binding arbitration procedures.”
In other words, at this late date — more than a year after filing its motion to compel arbitration, and weeks after oral arguments were held on the motion, Scientology is still trying to prove that it actually has a legitimate system of internal arbitration that the Garcias should be compelled to use.
But looking over the 1963 policy written by Hubbard, Ted Babbitt, attorney for the Garcias, points out in his response that although by theory he should oppose the church submitting new evidence at this late date, he couldn’t help feeling that the document actually did a much better job for the Garcias.
Babbitt points out, for example, that Hubbard is describing rules for a “committee of evidence,” Scientology’s version of an internal court proceeding which is meant to determine punishment, not arbitrate monetary disputes.
The ultimate authority for reviewing the findings of a Committee of Evidence is L. Ron Hubbard who has been dead for 28 years….It is, in fact, exquisite proof of the absence of arbitration rules and is understandably never mentioned in the Arbitration Agreement.
Judge Whittemore, in a brief order, decided to allow in the document. But in that order, he included a very interesting caveat. Scientology has ten days to provide evidence for its assertion that “the procedures and rules governing a Committee of Evidence apply in arbitration proceedings.”
Babbitt and the Garcias then have ten days of their own to respond to whatever the church submits.
We can’t help thinking the judge just gave Scientology an impossible task.
“Prove to us that your criminal rules of procedure govern divorce court,” might be one analogy for what the judge just asked of Scientology’s attorneys.
Scientology will no doubt have an interesting response for the judge, but at this point, Judge Whittemore seems rather skeptical.
Says one of our legal experts, “Once again, it appears that Scientology leader David Miscavige is ordering Wally Pope to take actions which make sense only to Miscavige. Of course, there is a possibility that Pope will somehow connect the dots here, but Babbitt’s analysis makes clear that this is a very remote possibility.”
Posted by Tony Ortega on September 30, 2014 at 07:00
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