We’re hoping to get a report today from some correspondents on the scene when Scientology’s administrative appeal in Frederick County, Maryland is argued in a court of law.
If you’ve been following along with our coverage, you know that Scientology’s property front, Social Betterment Properties International (SBPI), has been trying a creative sidestep past local zoning rules to put a new Narconon drug rehab clinic in that county after it purchased an aging fishing camp named Trout Run for $4.85 million. Scientology had learned that if SBPI could get the fish camp put on the county’s list of historic places, then it could get a zoning exception that would allow it to renovate the camp and open it as a rehab.
But Scientology’s stealthy plan was uncovered, and the county council heard from opponents who didn’t want Scientology’s plan to succeed. On June 2, the county council, in a 6-1 vote, turned down the request to put Trout Run on the historic list, saying that it really didn’t qualify as a historic place, even if President Herbert Hoover had reportedly once angled there, and the location had stood in for Camp David for some scenes in the television series The West Wing.
Now, Scientology has filed suit, asking for an administrative review of the council’s vote. We wrote stories when Scientology filed its argument, the county responded, and then Scientology replied to that response.
The county’s position is that its council did nothing improper when it decided that Trout Run is not historic. Scientology’s position is that the council ignored evidence that Trout Run was historic because it discriminated against Scientology as a religion.
One of the people who will be in the courtroom of County Circuit Judge William R. Nicklas in Frederick today is researcher Mary McConnell, who gave us a rundown on what might happen. We mentioned in our last story that Scientology filed numerous motions asking Judge Nicklas to strike responses by people, including Mary, who the court considers interested parties in the dispute. She says that she expects the judge will first deal with that request from the church.
After that, she says, Judge Nicklas may permit oral arguments from both sides, but he may also simply rule on the matter based on the pleadings that have already been submitted. Well, that’s exciting.
As soon as we hear from our correspondents, we’ll let you know what they have to say.
UPDATE: We just had a telephone conversation with Mary McConnell, who gave us some basics on how the hearing went today.
First, the news. Judge Nicklas did hear oral arguments from the two sides today, and gave himself 30 days to render a decision. Mary said she found the hearing to be a lot of fun as Judge Nicklas proved to be knowledgeable about the subject areas in general (including drug rehab) and in the case facts in particular.
Mary said that SBPI’s attorneys (SBPI is a subsidiary of the Church of Scientology) tried to convince the judge that this was really a zoning case, but he wasn’t having it.
“They kept trying to make this a zoning case, but he was on their game and said he knew it wasn’t a zoning matter,” Mary says.
The dispute is really about whether the Frederick County Council acted properly when it voted not to put Trout Run on its list of historic places, even after its own Historic Preservation Commission recommended that it be added.
SBPI tried to convince Judge Nicklas that the council had always, in the past, simply accepted the recommendation of the commission. This was the first time it did not put a place on the historic list after the Commission recommended it. SBPI seemed to imply that the council had an obligation to follow the commission’s suggestion.
But Mary says Judge Nicklas resisted that argument. “He’s not falling for that,” she told us. “He pointed out that they may follow the recommendation. They argued over the word ‘may’.”
The other side, meanwhile, tried to keep things focused and simple. “The county’s attorney was clear: This is a legislative issue, not a zoning one,” Mary said.
We asked Mary how the judge reacted when SBPI’s attorney brought up the notion that the Church of Scientology had been discriminated against.
“He totally ignored it,” she said. And perhaps also telling, when SBPI brought up what had been said in public meetings to the council about Scientology invading the county and being a ‘cult,’ the judge pointed out more than once that the people who had made those statements were respected members of the community. Oops.
Anyway, it sounds like Judge Nicklas is very clear on what’s at stake in this case, and that Scientology’s usual tricks didn’t confuse matters. But we always hate to guess how a judge is going to decide. We’ll just have to find out in the next month.
Chill EB spreading holiday cheer
Oh, how did we miss this? Our favorite Scientology rapper, Norman “Chill EB” Berry, put out a holiday song for his church friends titled “Santa Homie,” and we’re only now finding out about it. We think you’ll agree with us that it’s a classic of the form. Burl Ives, you got nothing on Chill!
Also, we dig this flier for Chill’s appearance this Saturday in Tampa. We sure wish we could go.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. 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
Other links: The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield