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Ken Dandar Files Federal Lawsuit, Says Scientology Using State Courts to Cause Him “Utter Financial Ruin”

Florida attorney Ken Dandar filed a federal lawsuit yesterday against the Church of Scientology and its attorneys, asking for injunctive relief and a jury trial over what he says has been a violation of his civil rights.

Dandar’s suit is the latest twist in a dauntingly complex history of litigation that goes back to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Lisa McPherson, a church member who died at Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, in 1995.

In the aftermath of that suit, which was settled in 2004, Dandar found himself in a bizarre legal Catch-22 several years later: a federal judge ordered him to continue representing a client in a lawsuit against the church at the same time that a state judge was telling him he had to quit that case or be sanctioned up to $1,000 a day. Dandar ultimately extricated himself from that mess, but Scientology is now asking the state court for $1 million in court fees, Dandar alleges.

So now he’s gone back to the federal court system to ask for relief: stop the Church of Scientology, he’s asking, which is trying to bury him for doing his job.

After we obtained a copy of the lawsuit, we called Dandar and spoke to him briefly to confirm that he’d filed it. He says a hearing was called for 4 pm today, and we’re hoping to speak with him afterwards about what transpired.

For some background on this very complex case, we’ll cite this Tampa Bay Times summary from 2010…

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Six years ago, [Dandar] settled a wrongful death case against the church on behalf of the family of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after 17 days in the care of church members in Clearwater. Part of the settlement agreement, approved by a judge in state court, required Dandar to never again represent anyone suing Scientology. But last year, Dandar took on another wrongful death case against the church’s Flag Service Organization — in federal court. The church’s attorneys objected that Dandar violated his agreement. Senior Circuit Judge Robert Beach agreed and in June 2009 ordered Dandar to withdraw from the new case. Dandar resisted for some time, even asking the Florida Supreme Court to review the case. Finally, though, four months ago Dandar filed a motion to withdraw from the federal lawsuit. But on April 12, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday told him he cannot get out of it. The reason: No other attorney wants to take on Scientology. Two days later, records show, Beach found Dandar in willful contempt of court. So Dandar is stuck between a state judge telling him to leave Scientology alone and a federal judge telling him he can’t. And, according to federal court records, he has been fined $50,000 plus $1,000 a day by the state court until he withdraws from the federal case. Dandar’s predicament may be unprecedented in Florida law. “I’ve never heard of anything like it,” said Clifford Higby, chairman of the trial lawyers’ section of the Florida Bar.

In the federal lawsuit he filed yesterday, Dandar denies that he agreed to give up his right to represent a future client against the Church of Scientology when the McPherson case was settled in 2004.

But repeatedly, Florida’s courts have found that Dandar violated that agreement, and have piled on penalties for it.

The case Dandar took on after the McPherson settlement was a wrongful death case he filed in 2009 on behalf of Victoria Britton, whose son Kyle Brennan died of a gunshot wound to the head two years before. The suit accused Scientology executives — including church leader David Miscavige’s twin sister, Denise Gentile — of ordering Brennan’s father, a Scientologist, to confiscate his son’s psychiatric medicine, Lexapro. A day later, Brennan was found dead with his father’s pistol, and police ruled it a suicide. Britton’s lawsuit argued that the church was responsible for the young man’s death, but the lawsuit was dismissed in December for lack of evidence.

By then, however, Dandar had finally got himself removed from the case as it was taken over by attorney Luke Lirot. (Britton filed an appeal of that decision but it was denied by the U.S. Eleventh Circuit in September.)

Meanwhile, in the state courts, Judge Beach recused himself in July, and was replaced by retired Judge Crockett Farnell. In his lawsuit, Dandar says that Farnell has determined that Dandar acted in bad faith when he violated the McPherson case settlement, and has therefore given Scientology wide range to determine court costs it wants taken out of Dandar.

“A final hearing on the amount of attorney’s fees and costs due Scientology under Judge Farnell’s rulings is scheduled for November 26, 2012, where Defendants are seeking in excess of one million dollars in a closed-to-the-public-and-press courtroom in Clearwater, Florida,” Dandar’s suit says.

Although the case is complex, it comes down to a few key legal concepts. Dandar argues that he cannot, as an attorney in good standing, give away his rights to represent future clients. Scientology, on the other hand, sees an attorney it thought it was rid of in 2004 taking up another, expensive and ultimately futile wrongful death case after promising not to do so, and it wants compensation.

In the past, this dispute has caused some pretty strange conflicts between state and federal courts. And this new lawsuit promises more of the same.

For some background on what Dandar means to Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige, we turned to Mike Rinder, who was executive director of Scientology’s Office of Special Affairs during the period of the McPherson lawsuit. We explained to Rinder that Dandar, in his lawsuit, is trying to convince a federal court that Scientology is manipulating a court system in order to ruin him. At one point, Rinder was actually part of the legal affairs team that opposed Dandar, so we wanted to know — is that consistent with what he saw? Here’s what he sent us…

Dandar was of course Public Enemy #1, right up there with Bob Minton. He was the reason the McPherson case went forward (along with Minton) and so he was considered a serious threat. And especially as he kept targeting Miscavige in the lawsuit (of course, he was on target — I didn’t know until I left the church about Miscavige’s personal involvement in the McPherson case leading up to her death).

Especially because he targeted Miscavige personally, he has earned a place on Miscavige’s “Enemies List.” And just like Nixon, Miscavige spares no expense and will use every tactic and resource available to “destroy him utterly.” Just look what he has done to try and destroy Marty Rathbun. That same sort of zeal is being employed against Dandar — cost is no object. Spend a million to cost him ten thousand. The normal rules of civilized society are out the window. Believe me, if Miscavige thought he could get away with it he would have “Shyster Busters” camped outside Dandar’s house with headcams and T-shirts with Dandar’s face on them. (And probably the only reason he doesn’t is that Joe Childs and Tom Tobin of the Tampa Bay Times would turn him into the laughingstock of the community, and he cares about that because his biggest money sucking facility is here — he doesn’t care about Corpus Christi).

Is Dandar being targeted for ruin by a litigious group that will do anything to pay him back for years of McPherson lawsuit misery? Or did Dandar take a step too far when he took on the Brennan case and deserves to be punished severely by Florida’s state courts? We’ll find out more in the coming days.

Below, the lawsuit that Dandar filed. Read it in full and give us your thoughts.

Dandar v. COS – Complaint Filed 10-31-2012

 
UPDATE: We spoke to Ken Dandar after this afternoon’s status hearing. The case was heard in the court of federal Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington, who set a date to consider Dandar’s request for an injunction on November 19.

Dandar says that Scientology’s attorneys appeared at the hearing on their own behalf. They have until November 12 to file a reply to his lawsuit.

“This judge knows me and she knows them, so who knows what will happen. We’ll see,” Dandar says.

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