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Judge Whittemore Sets Evidentiary Hearing in Garcia Federal Fraud Lawsuit

Brian_CulkinJudge James Whittemore has scheduled an evidentiary hearing for July 24 in Luis and Rocio Garcia’s federal fraud lawsuit against the Church of Scientology.

At issue will be the church’s motion to disqualify the Garcias’ attorneys — Ted Babbitt and Ronald Weil — who, the church alleges, improperly worked with Robert Johnson, an attorney who previously represented the church in numerous matters between 1982 and 1998.

Each side has until July 18 to turn in a list of witnesses and exhibits, and we’ll be curious to see if either side plans to subpoena Brian Culkin (pictured), whose declaration was such an important part of the church’s motion.

It was Culkin’s account of his interactions with Johnson which the church pointed to as evidence that Johnson was a key part of Garcia’s legal team. In their answer, Garcia’s attorneys say that Johnson was only helping scout for possible additional plaintiffs, and was not involved in the litigation of the lawsuit itself.

The Garcias filed their lawsuit in January, alleging that as longtime Scientologists, they had been induced to make large contributions through fraudulent promises made by the church in regards to projects like its “Super Power” Building, which has been under construction for 15 years. When the suit was announced, attorney Ted Babbitt indicated that he was looking for additional plaintiffs. Brian Culkin spent less than a year in Scientology, but had given about $350,000 in donations. He had been trying to get a refund, but was also talking to Robert Johnson about becoming an additional plaintiff in the Garcia lawsuit. Culkin told friends that he did get a full refund in return for cooperating with the church in making his declaration about Johnson’s involvement. The church then used that declaration to make its motion to disqualify Babbitt and Weil.

We asked attorney Scott Pilutik to give us his thoughts about this development…

At the time the news broke that Brian Culkin had offered his testimony to Scientology for its motion to disqualify the Garcias’ counsel, a contingent of voices argued that Culkin hadn’t really harmed the Garcias’ suit because, among other reasons, he hadn’t alleged anything that wasn’t already “known.”

But Scientology could not have brought this motion without Culkin, because whatever it “knew” would have been hearsay. Now that Scientology has its hearing, there is no longer any question that Culkin not only harmed the Garcias’ case by causing plaintiffs to spend what I’ll guess will amount to low five figures in legal fees when all is said and done, but may have even jeopardized the underlying case, if Babbitt winds up being removed and no one else is willing or able to take it on.

This hearing the court is calling for will basically be a mini trial on the limited issue of whether (as I originally posited) Johnson is adverse to Scientology in this case, and whether his involvement is so extensive and of a sort as to disqualify Babbitt. Since Scientology’s motion rested entirely on facts supplied by Culkin, I would think that the success or failure rests entirely on Culkin’s credibility — and I can’t wait to read those deposition transcripts.

 
Here’s Whittemore’s order…

 
EvidentiaryHearing

 
Also, Scientology’s attorneys filed a recent (June 20) decision by Florida’s Supreme Court which they say bolsters their motion. It involves a bar complaint brought against a Florida lawyer in a death penalty case.

 

Florida Bar v. Scheinberg

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on June 27, 2013 at 07:00

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