But its legal chicanery can also be a hoot.
We have a series of documents that have been flying back and forth between parties as the Luis and Rocio Garcia federal fraud lawsuit against Scientology approaches a crucial February 18 evidentiary hearing. And we have a feeling you’re going to find the material in these documents rather entertaining.
The Garcias are suing Scientology because they say they were defrauded when they were pressured to turn over donations as members of Scientology. The church, meanwhile, calls this a religious dispute and has filed a motion asking to compel the Garcias to submit to Scientology’s internal arbitration to settle the matter. But the Garcias have lined up former Scientology executives like Mark “Marty” Rathbun and Mike Rinder who say the Scientology arbitration procedures are a sham designed to keep former members from getting their money back.
Each side has been taking depositions for the hearing, and they were facing a deadline of January 16 set by federal Judge James D. Whittemore to complete them all.
Yesterday, we posted a portion of one of those depositions, of Rathbun, which was taken on December 22. But the one deposition that both sides have been especially interested in was the questioning of Scientology’s “International Justice Chief,” a man named Mike Ellis (pictured).
The IJC is an interesting figure. When Scientologists are expelled — “declared a suppressive person” in Scientology lingo — the only member of the organization they can then communicate with to get back into the church’s good graces or settle other matters is the IJC. But Ellis, who has held the position since 1998, usually communicates by letter, and he’s rarely actually seen by former members — or anyone outside of the secretive upper layers of Scientology management.
Ellis submitted a declaration supporting Scientology’s arbitration procedure in October, saying that rules for settling disputes were laid down by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) and it was his job to make sure those rules are still followed to the letter.
The Garcias then had former Scientology legal affairs director Mike Rinder answer Ellis’s declaration, and he proceeded to shred Ellis’s statement in his own affidavit.
Ever since then, it’s become pretty obvious that one of this lawsuit’s major showdowns will happen when the Garcia legal team, with Mike Rinder present, gets a chance to question Ellis under oath.
It’s also pretty obvious that Scientology is terrified by the prospect, and its lawyers have been trying to find a way to keep it from happening. They filed a motion trying to exclude Rinder, but that didn’t work. The deposition for Ellis was then set for January 7 in Tampa, Florida, and it looked like nothing was going to keep Rinder from attending and helping Garcia attorney Ted Babbitt ask tough questions. (Rinder himself was deposed on January 6 without incident.)
But you just knew Scientology was going to reach into its bag of tricks, didn’t you?
On January 3, four days before Ellis was scheduled to be deposed in Tampa, Scientology attorney Wally Pope emailed Babbitt to say that Ellis, who lives in LA, wasn’t going to make it.
“Ted: Mike Ellis is ill. A copy of his doctor’s statement is attached. He will be medically re-evaluated later this coming week. He won’t be able to make it to the scheduled deposition,” Pope wrote.
Attached to the email was a doctor’s note saying that Ellis was suffering from “acute bronchitis with reactive airways, as well as bilateral serous otitis media,” (an infection of the middle ear).
And longtime Scientology watchers are going to love this next detail. The medical note was signed by Dr. Megan Shields.
Shields is a Scientologist who has had a long involvement with the organization’s quasi-medical initiatives, Carnegie Mellon University professor Dave Touretzky reminds us at his excellent website about Scientology’s drug rehab network, Narconon. Touretzky points out that Shields has been research director of Narconon International, as well as a member of Narconon’s International Science Advisory Board. “Dr. Shields is a Scientologist and is frequently quoted on Church of Scientology websites attesting to her gains from Scientology,” Touretzky writes. She also authored the introduction to a 1990 book published under the name of L. Ron Hubbard four years after his death about his quack “detoxification” process, Clear Body, Clear Mind.
Shields, in her doctor’s note for Ellis, said his condition was serious enough to keep him from going to Tampa to be questioned. “He has started appropriate treatment. He should not fly. I will re-evaluate him in two to three weeks,” she wrote.
Babbitt didn’t accept that excuse and demanded that Ellis be examined by a non-Scientology doctor. The next day, on the 4th, Ellis was seen by Dr. Marc W. Judd of Newbury Park and was given the same diagnosis — bronchitis with serous otitis media.
The Scientology legal team — Wally Pope and Bob Potter — began suggesting that Ellis could be deposed at a later date and in California rather than Florida so he wouldn’t have to fly. And Potter couldn’t help taking a shot at Babbitt for his pessimism.
“I have never seen or heard of anyone contesting a reasonable medical verification based on the similar religious beliefs of the patient and doctor. Presumably you would not make the same allegation if the doctor and patient were both Jewish, Catholic, or Baptist,” Potter wrote in an email.
Babbitt shot back…
Bob, that won’t do. He was scheduled and subpoenaed for Tampa and this is his delay. my concern has nothing to do with religion. Scientology is a close knit community as evidenced by their unusual attitude towards former Scientologists. Dr. Shields doesn’t just share common beliefs, she was the author of the introduction to a Scientology text that is controversial….In addition, though I’m not a doctor, her diagnosis of otitis media in an adult is rare and awfully convenient. I think you will have to show more than a one line diagnosis and explain why with antibiotic treatment he can’t be well enough to travel after a week.
Babbitt then rescheduled Ellis’s deposition for January 23 in Tampa, and got a deadline extension from the court, which had wanted all the depositions completed by January 16.
Oh, but Scientology had another trick up its sleeve. Los Angeles-based Scientology lawyer Gary Soter then entered the picture. He notified Babbitt on Wednesday that Ellis still hadn’t been cleared to fly.
Soter then filed an emergency motion for a protective order and, at the same time, a temporary motion to have himself admitted to the Middle District of Florida so he could represent Ellis in Whittemore’s court.
Soter asked Whittemore to block Babbitt from compelling Ellis to fly to Tampa for his deposition because, Soter says, there “has been a recent change of circumstance.”
Ellis, it turns out, weighs 315 pounds.
We’re not sure why no one noticed this before, but it turns out an ear infection isn’t the IJC’s only problem. Because of his weight, Ellis has other problems which were apparently only discovered on Friday. Writes Soter…
Mr. Ellis weighs 315 pounds, suffers from high blood pressure, fatigue and tightness in his chest. He was seen by a cardiologist on January 16, 2015. The cardiologist obtained a history, conducted an examination, diagnosed “angina pectoris” and told Mr. Ellis that he was “unable to travel.”
Soter is pushing for Ellis to be deposed in Los Angeles, and if the date of Friday, January 23 remains in place, that just might prove rather inconvenient for Mike Rinder, who has a date at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend as Alex Gibney’s documentary about Scientology featuring Rinder, “Going Clear” makes its premiere on Sunday, January 25.
Scientology doesn’t really want to spoil Rinder’s Park City weekend, does it?
We hear both sides are still hashing out what day Ellis will be deposed on, and where, and whether Babbitt and Rinder will both be present and who will be footing the bill to fly to Los Angeles.
And we have a feeling that Judge Whittemore is going to have some interesting comments about these shenanigans at the February 18 hearing.
Here’s Soter’s motion…
All silliness aside, we’re pretty sure the February 18 hearing scares the bejeesus out of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige. Whittemore has been especially meticulous with this motion, and whichever way he rules, he’s bound to write a lengthy and thorough decision.
Forcing people into arbitration by convincing courts that any monetary dispute is a religious one has been a good trick for Scientology. But if Whittemore rules against that practice, such a ruling from a district federal court could make things a lot dicier for Scientology when it comes to the hundreds of other former members who would like to get their donations back.
Might that prospect even be so frightening for Scientology that it writes a big fat check to the make the Garcias go away before the February 18 hearing? We have to think there’s at least a chance of it happening. Though we’d rather see the hearing happen, and see Ted Babbitt and Wally Pope spar again in front of Whittemore. Now that’s good theater.
We have some news about how you can join us as we tour for our upcoming book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely.
First, a little background. It’s been pointed out to us numerous times that our brief appearance in the very first episode of Penn & Teller’s series “Bullshit!” for Showtime is on YouTube.
The year was 2002, and your proprietor was working on a story at New Times Los Angeles when our friend James Underdown at Center for Inquiry West got us into that show because the two of us were investigating a talk-to-the-dead TV charlatan.
You can see us with Jim in the Penn & Teller show. We were younger then and had less grey hair.
Anyway, to this day Jim runs CFI-West in Los Angeles, and he’s done amazing things with the place. It has a great facility on Hollywood Boulevard, and it has the Steve Allen Theater, where it holds talks.
Well, we’re super excited to announce that on Sunday, May 17, we’ll kick off our book tour in the Steve Allen Theater. And here’s the best part — Paulette Cooper will be on stage with us!
We’ll appear at 11 am on May 17 in LA, and then at 4:30 pm we’ll also give a talk at Center for Inquiry’s facility in Costa Mesa.
Jim is helping us set up an entire California swing to start our tour, and we’re still working out the other dates.
Address your inquiries about advance tickets to James Underdown of Center for Inquiry-West in Los Angeles. Please keep in mind that it may be a little while before he can began selling the seats.
Paulette and your proprietor are looking forward to the event!
Bonus photos from our tipsters
Rajneesh Gupta, superintendent of police in India’s most northeastern state, Arunachal Pradesh, hands out copies of The Way to Happiness which have custom covers for the AP police force. Soak up that trite Hubbard morality, ladies!
Hubbard college for applying technology to real-life situations — Stop it, you’re making our ribs hurt…
Scientologists are using social media more than ever. Drop us a line if you spot them posting images to Instagram or Facebook!
6 days until Alex Gibney’s film Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief opens at the Sundance Film Festival at 2:30 pm on Sunday, January 25 in Park City, Utah
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 19, 2015 at 08:05
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts