Laura DeCrescenzo has won yet another victory in her seven-year legal odyssey to sue the Church of Scientology over abuse she claims she suffered during her childhood in the “Sea Organization,” including being forced, she says, to have an abortion at 17 years old.
Twice, Laura has had to weather Scientology’s motions for summary judgment. We were in the courtroom both times as, in 2013, Judge Ronald Sohigian denied Scientology’s first motion which claimed that Laura didn’t have enough evidence to go to trial, and earlier this year as Judge John P. Doyle turned down Scientology’s argument that the lawsuit violated the church’s First Amendment religious rights.
Soon after Judge Doyle made that decision in April, he had to disqualify himself when it turned out that he had cousins in the Sea Org, at least one of whom Scientology planned to call at trial as a witness. So the church then petitioned for a writ with California’s second appellate court district saying not only that Doyle’s decision was wrong, but that it should be voided anyway because he was obviously disqualified when he made it.
But this week the appellate court refused to take up the case, issuing a document with a single line: “The petition for writ of mandate or other extraordinary relief filed June 2, 2016, has been read and considered and is denied.”
For some perspective on that, we turned to our attorney and webmaster Scott Pilutik, who has been following Laura’s case closely since she first filed it.
Some quick and dirty Writs 101 to start. Writs are kind of like appeals because you’re asking the court above the trial court to fix something you feel the trial court broke. But unlike appeals, you’re actually suing the trial court, and instead of asking the appeals court to reverse what the trial court did, you’re asking them to stop the trial court or make it do something in particular (the differences can be fuzzy, but don’t get caught up in that for now). So it’s an extraordinary request, and they’re rarely successful.
The most important difference, for our purposes, is that when the court summarily denies your writ petition, that’s that. There’s no court to appeal the denial to. The court doesn’t even have to explain its reasoning for the denial. A bland sentence will do, as was the case here.
You can appeal the underlying issues once the trial is over, but you have to go through that trial. And obviously the entire point of this charade was to create yet another roadblock on the road to trial. Should the case go to trial and Scientology lose they’ll probably include their writ argument in their appeal but that’s a loooonnnng way off so let’s hit pause on that bit of speculation.
Sometimes when considering writs the appeals court might ask to be briefed by each side, a good sign that it considers your writ somewhat compelling. And while you can’t conclusively infer the opposite when the court doesn’t ask for anything more (as was, to the best of my knowledge, the case here), the court’s silence and quick turnaround time suggest they didn’t think much of Scientology’s argument.
We’re told that a hearing has been scheduled in the court where the lawsuit landed after Doyle’s disqualification, before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner, during which the issue of a new trial date will be discussed. Previously, Judge Doyle had talked about a spring 2017 date as likely.
An attorney who handles appeals cautioned us, however, that despite how final this ruling from the appellate district appears, Scientology may delay things by taking a long shot appeal to the state supreme court. “I have had cases where one or another of the parties convinced a higher appellate court to take up a summary denial. It is long odds, but not impossible. I would expect the church to stretch it out for another few months or a year, just because they can,” the attorney says.
And once again, as a reminder, when a trial finally does happen in this case, it will be bifurcated — initially, a bench trial (without a jury) will be held to determine the complex timing issues in the lawsuit (whether or not Laura filed her case in time when she first brought it to court in 2009), and, if her lawsuit survives that, then the second half of the trial, before a jury, will be held on the merits of her case.
This has been a long, complex slog. But at every crucial juncture, Laura has won, even when Scientology tried to go to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to hold back secret documents that it ultimately had to give up.
Today, she’s one step closer to trial. Here’s the document from the appeals court…
Budapest finally going Ideal
Peter Bonyai tells us that the Budapest Ideal Org, which had been rumored to be set for a grand opening in May, is finally going to get the red ribbon treatment next weekend. He says in a blog post that according to Scientology, there’s a push to make the Budapest org the biggest Class V org on earth, with a staff of 330. He expects Scientology leader David Miscavige to be present for the ceremony next Saturday.
In regards to this flier, Peter writes: “For some reason, the logo of the Budapest Ideal Org contains the Hungarian Parliament Building. No idea why they did that, but I sincerely hope they will never get anywhere near to achieving that implied goal.”
What Virginia Woolf would have said about Scientology
Joyce Miller, an NYU grad living in New York, wrote a short and funny essay at McSweeney’s website last August about having joined Scientology at ten under her father’s influence, and then in her twenties realizing that she was gay and that her Scientology indoctrination made coming out especially weird.
She’s reached out to us to let us know that she’s trying to raise the money to turn her essay into a short satirical film in which she’ll play Virginia Woolf. And if you think that sounds strange, you should see the trailer.
Derek Bloch and Nora Crest have done a terrific job in recent years talking about Scientology and homophobia. Joyce Miller would also like to make some noise about it, and she’s clearly aiming at a more literary set. Hey, the more the merrier.
E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.
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: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | 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 | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | 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 | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | 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