Two years after he ordered Luis and Rocio Garcia to submit to the Church of Scientology’s internal arbitration scheme, Tampa federal Judge James Whittemore has finally heard enough bickering by both sides and is taking matters into his own hands.
In an order he released yesterday after a status hearing on Friday, Judge Whittemore has given the Church of Scientology just two weeks to turn over to him the names and contact information for 500 Scientologists in good standing in the Los Angeles area. The judge will then personally choose three people from that list and secure their cooperation to act as arbitrators. And he warned that if he catches either side contacting or responding to the three people he selects, he will hand out sanctions — which could include jail time.
Can you imagine, a federal judge calling up a Los Angeles Scientologist and asking them to sit on an arbitrating panel, and telling them not to contact the church about it?
Good luck on that one, judge.
This is the latest crazy development in a fraud lawsuit that the Garcias, an Irvine couple, filed in the Tampa court in 2013, alleging that they had been lied to and defrauded when they turned over hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations during their careers as church members. Scientology argued that the Garcias had signed contracts which required them to take any disputes to an internal arbitration process. And despite evidence from top former church officials that the procedures described in those contracts were shams designed to keep people from getting refunds, and despite the church’s own admission that it actually had no arbitration guidelines and had never, in its decades-long history, ever actually held an arbitration, Judge Whittemore ordered that the Garcias submit to the process, citing his inability to interfere with Scientology’s internal matters because of its religious protections under the First Amendment.
But since then both sides have accused the other of operating in bad faith as they’ve failed to seat any of the three arbitrators who, the church insists, must be members in good standing. The Garcias have refused to choose Scientologists hand-picked by the church, but the church declares any Scientologists the Garcias propose as being “not in good standing.”
Tired of the many motions filed by both sides, the judge is now putting the church in a very unusual spot. In just two weeks, the secretive organization is required to turn over to a federal court the names, phone numbers, and occupations of 500 Los Angeles Scientologists, and indicate which of them work for the church.
Oh, we can tell you that the Church of Scientology is not going to be happy about that. But will church attorney Wally Pope risk making Whittemore even angrier than he already is by asking for permission to appeal the order?
Imagine what it was like for the poor sap who had to tell church leader David Miscavige about this.
This lawsuit still has the ability to surprise us, even two years after it looked like it was dead.
Bonus items from our tipsters
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Actual caption: “Look who just joined staff! We are SO happy to have Class VIII Case Supervisor, Bob Lauffer, back on the team!!!”
More begging for money, this time so the glamorous Meghan Fialkoff can put on an awards show for Drug Free heroes…
Countdown to Denver!
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
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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, 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.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
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