On some Saturdays (and on other days), we’re fortunate here at the Underground Bunker to publish an occasional item by Jon Atack. His 1990 book, A Piece of Blue Sky, was one of the first that we read for a history of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and it remains one of the very best books on the subject. That’s partly because Atack speaks from experience, having spent years in Scientology and rising into its “OT” levels, but also because of his many years of dogged research. Few people have the breadth of knowledge about Scientology’s first 40 years as Jon Atack.
Two weeks ago, Jon submitted a piece to us that recounted a specific period of Scientology history, and about how his research had helped Lawrence Wollersheim finally collect a judgment from the church after more than two decades of suing Scientology.
We ourselves had previously written about the long legal ordeal of Larry Wollersheim, a former Scientologist who sued the church because he said its processes had harmed him. Wollersheim won a huge $30 million judgment in a famous 1986 trial in Los Angeles, but the amount was then reduced on appeal to $2.5 million. Even then the church vowed never to pay “one thin dime to Wollersheim.” It wasn’t until May 2002, 16 years after his trial victory, that Wollersheim finally collected his money, which by then had grown to nearly $9 million with interest. After interviewing attorneys involved in the case, that fall we prepared a 7,000-word cover story about the entire Wollersheim saga when the newspaper we were working for, New Times Los Angeles, suddenly shut down. It wasn’t until 2008, six years later, that we finally published that story at the Village Voice.
Anyway, we bring that up just to explain that we already had a pretty good basic understanding of what Wollersheim went through to finally collect his money. The final push came from the hard work from some very smart attorneys, as well as a brilliant affidavit prepared by Robert Vaughn Young, the former Scientology spokesman who had turned critic, and who had prepared the detailed document even as he was fighting the cancer that he succumbed to in 2003.
The Vaughn Young affidavit was brilliant because it laid bare the real corporate structure of the Church of Scientology, using the church’s own legal documents to explain how David Miscavige, Captain of the Sea Organization (which has no legal status as an entity) actually wields total control over the alphabet soup of Scientology’s many corporate entities. And this was important to Wollersheim’s case because by 2002 the entity he had sued, the Church of Scientology of California, was pretty much dormant and had no money. Using Vaughn Young’s affidavit, Wollersheim’s attorneys had prepared for a court hearing at which they were going to argue that the Scientology corporate shell game was a sham, and the church shouldn’t be able to hide money by claiming that CSC was broke. The very morning that this document was to be introduced into court, Scientology suddenly turned over a check for $8,674,843 and ended the case — after spending 16 years vowing never to pay Wollersheim one thin dime.
In the piece Jon recently wrote, he remarked on his own research on the corporate structure of Scientology and how he had helped Lawrence Wollersheim win his victory. Still remembering our 2008 story, we didn’t have a memory of Jon being involved in the case, but we didn’t assume that we knew everything about it. We published Jon’s piece, which contained this line…
Lawrence Wollersheim came near to the end of his heroic 20-year battle, only to find that the Church of Scientology of California (the “mother church”) had only thousands left in its bank accounts, so my argument was vital to his judgment.
We soon heard from attorney Ford Greene, who was one of the lawyers who had worked so hard to help Wollersheim finally get his money. Ford objected, saying that Atack had nothing to do with that court fight…
Atack may have “constructed an argument,” but whatever he constructed had nothing to do with obtaining a recovery for Larry Wollersheim or the other substantial litigation I personally conducted. As you know, Dan Leipold, Craig Stein, Leta Schlosser and I comprised the team representing Wollersheim when Scientology interpled the $8.7 million payoff for Wollersheim’s judgment into the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The proceeding that was to commence and which Scientology avoided exposure by preventing its commencement when it interpled the money was a specially set 10-day hearing on our motion to amend the judgment against CSC so as to include at least RTC and CSI. It was based on the alter ego theory that the Sea Org ran Scientology and corporate positions were filed only by Sea Org members. I came up with the alter ego theory in the context of amending a judgment when I happened to come across that one could do that while conducting unrelated research in Witkin’s Summary of California Law. Jon Atack had nothing to do with this.
Both Ford and Jon sent us their memories of how they had met, and what they remember of those days, as we tried to reconstruct how the case had gone. Jon sent this reply to Ford’s point that he had not been involved in the work leading up to the 2002 resolution of the case.
Lawrence approached me in 1994 asking for my help in demonstrating the corporate structure of Scientology. He told me that his judgment was stuck because it was against CSC. I sent him my detailed argument concerning the corporate monolith. He sent me a cheque once he had been paid with a note of thanks.
We could understand that Ford didn’t want Jon taking credit for work he and others had done later, but it looked to us like there was mostly a misunderstanding based on the timing of the work that had been done over several years, and perhaps not everyone was aware of what everyone else had done in that long and complex case. And that seemed to be the explanation when Lawrence Wollersheim himself chimed in to help clear up the situation…
Jon Atack did provide me with important materials, and others who have asked to remain anonymous provided important documents as well on the corporate structure and religion issues. I hope to write down all my recollections of this complex team action as soon as I can get a chance…
There were many important documents from numerous sources that were used by Craig Stein, the bankruptcy attorney, and Dan Leipold, the trial attorney. I do remember that Ford Greene also contributed important arguments on top of the bankruptcy arguments of Craig Stein and the legal arguments of Dan Leipold.
I do not know if the collections of documents from multiple sources that I got to Craig Stein and to Dan Leipold were transferred to Ford Greene directly by them or discussed by them with Ford Greene before he came up with his new and unique arguments that also helped win the case.
One thing I can tell you with certainty is that the Wollersheim case was won through a collective team effort. It took many lawyers over many years and it took many ex-members contributing enormous amounts of information and documents to the continuous process. I can also tell you with certainty that Jon’s documents made a big difference, as well as Gerry Armstrong’s and several other parties who have asked to remained anonymous in the most critical arguments surrounding religious status and corporate structure.
I hope you guys can see the result is a collaborative team effort with no one individual being responsible for the lion’s share of credit.
We hope that settles the issue. As far as the Underground Bunker is concerned, Lawrence Wollersheim’s story is still one of the most crucial to understanding Scientology’s long legal history, and Ford Greene and Jon Atack are two of the figures we hold in the highest esteem for their contributions to the field.
— Your Proprietor
Bonus items from our tipsters
When you’ve given up on the idea of bringing in new people and can only desperately try to hold on to the oldtimers with nostalgia…
That must have been a pretty hefty check.
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, Kindle, and audiobook versions. 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