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Laura_DeCrescenzoThe U.S. Supreme Court has denied the Church of Scientology’s final appeal that would have kept Laura DeCrescenzo (pictured at right) from using evidence from her employment files in her lawsuit against the church that alleges disturbing abuse, including forcing her to have an abortion at 17.

Scientology had wanted the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of California’s clergy-penitent privilege statute, under which the church was forced to turn over 18,000 pages of documents from Laura’s files compiled during the years she worked for the church.

The church’s petition was not among the small number selected by the Court from approximately 900 petitions that had been submitted for its October term. And so with the final appeal cleared away, DeCrescenzo can now make use of the evidence the church turned over earlier this year. But now she faces another daunting challenge in her four-year legal odyssey: the church’s motion for summary judgment, scheduled to be heard in Los Angeles Superior Court on October 23.

DeCrescenzo started working for the Church of Scientology at nine years of age, and joined its elite Sea Org at 12, signing its standard billion-year contract. For the next thirteen years, from 1991 to 2004, she worked in the Sea Org. Her schooling stopped, she worked 100-hour weeks, and she was paid about $40 a week. She married at 16 — common in the Sea Org — and got pregnant at 17, which is against Sea Org rules. The Sea Org takes total dedication, and that means there’s no time for raising a family. Like other women who have come forward, DeCrescenzo says she was forced to have an abortion or she would have been kicked out of the Sea Org and separated from her husband.

Five years after the abortion, DeCrescenzo faced another of the Sea Org’s hellish realities — the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), the Sea Org’s prison detail. Three years later, she was still stuck in the punishment program with no apparent way to get out of it. So she faked a suicide, gulping down some bleach. After that, she was kicked out of the Sea Org (which had become her intention).

The church then hit her with a $120,000 bill, called “freeloader’s debt,” that anyone who leaves the Sea Org faces. (It’s legally unenforceable, but Sea Org members are told that if they leave, they will be billed for all the Scientology services they received at reduced rates.)


DeCrescenzo filed her lawsuit in 2009, and in 2012, Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian determined that she was entitled to the documents that had been compiled in her “pc files” over the duration of her time working for the church. Scientology objected, saying that the documents were compiled during religious “auditing” sessions, and forcing it to turn them over would be like asking a Catholic priest to divulge what a penitent said in confession.

Unlike Catholic confession, however, Scientology auditing sessions and employment interrogations are recorded, with voluminous notes taken which are shared among numerous Scientology officials. In fact, Scientology acknowledged that the material in DeCrescenzo’s files was compiled and reviewed by some 259 “ministers.” For that reason, Sohigian decided that California’s clergy-penitent law didn’t apply, and the church couldn’t keep the records hidden based on the California statute, which requires that a priest or minister can only keep secret what a pentitent said if it wasn’t shared with a third party.

Scientology then appealed to California’s Supreme Court and then the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that the law was unconstitutional because it singled out Scientology for not treating confession the way Catholicism does. But as DeCrescenzo’s attorneys pointed out in one of their responses, even the Catholic church couldn’t keep information hidden when it didn’t abide by the rules of priest-penitent confidentiality — specifically in one case when information confessed by an abusive priest was shared between two diocesan officials.

Scientology’s appeal of Sohigian’s order failed to interest a state appeals court and the California Supreme Court. The church was then denied its request for an emergency stay by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, and now the full U.S. Supreme Court has not chosen the church’s petition for its October term and has denied the petition.


Laura DeCrescenzo can now make use of the 18,000 pages of evidence the church was forced to turn over in July. And she’ll need it, as she faces another tough hurdle in her case later this month.

We asked attorney Scott Pilutik to help us understand why the October 23 hearing is a crucial one, as DeCrescenzo attempts to win over a judge who has already decided her lawsuit has timing problems.

It’s been more than two years since Laura’s case was heard by the California Court of Appeals, so I suppose it would be helpful to reacquaint everyone, including myself, with what’s happened and where we are now. Recall that Scientology moved to dismiss Laura’s case on the basis that the statute of limitations for Laura’s claims had run, and the trial court agreed, suggesting that Laura’s claims began to accrue or “toll” in 2004/2005 and by the time she filed in 2009, it was too late.

Laura appealed on the basis that the statute of limitations should be tolled not from the time of the particular injuries occurred, but from the time she was first able comprehend the existence of the injuries. In legal terms, Scientology should be “equitably estopped” (prevented) from raising the statute of limitations defense because it was Scientology that caused the delay. By its coercion, intimidation, and the content of the releases and other documents it had Laura sign, Scientology deliberately led her to believe she had no claim.

The appeals court agreed with Laura, but an appeals court can only decide matters of law. The question of whether Laura’s reliance on Scientology’s representations of her having no claim was reasonable is an issue of fact, which can only be decided by a trial court. The trial court made no factual finding whatsoever as to Laura’s reasonableness, but that is precisely the question the appeals court has directed it to now answer.

Obviously, since it declined to even address the issue the first time around, it seems safe to suggest that the trial court didn’t think much of the argument to begin with. But if it is going to find for Scientology a second time it will need to at least explain why Scientology’s actions toward Laura (e.g., having her sign documents purporting to exculpate Scientology, claiming Laura owed $120,000 in freeloader’s debt, forbidding her from reading entheta that might alert her to the existence of her rights, threatened with disconnection, etc.) are of no matter with respect to the reasonableness of Laura’s belief that she had no recourse.

It’s also worth realizing that if Laura wins, and convinces the trial court that her delay in bringing the suit was reasonable, the case isn’t over but rather proceeds to the trial phase, where all the allegations she made in her second amended complaint — Forced Abortion, False Imprisonment, Deprivation of Liberty, Labor Law claims, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress — can finally be heard. I suppose, though, that if Laura wins — if the trial court finds against Scientology on the issue of Laura’s reasonableness in delaying bringing suit — that Scientology would want to appeal such a ruling. But that’s perhaps getting ahead of the game a bit.

So, armed with 18,000 pages of evidence from her pc files, will Laura DeCrescenzo now convince Judge Ronald Sohigian that the amount of time it took her to file suit in 2009 was reasonable, when he was the one who decided previously that she had filed too late? That’s a daunting challenge, and we’ll be watching all the way.


Leah_Remini_DWTSScientology Fighting to Keep Leah Remini out of Texas Lawsuit

On Friday, the Church of Scientology moved to quash a subpoena for actress Leah Remini before it has even been served. The church wants to prevent Remini from being deposed in the harassment lawsuit against the church filed by Bulverde, Texas resident Monique Rathbun.

Monique’s attorneys are trying to gather evidence for an October 18 hearing during which Scientology leader David Miscavige’s attempt to be removed from the lawsuit will be considered (Miscavige disputes the court’s jurisdiction over him and says he has nothing to do with the harassment allegations in Monique’s complaint). We’ve been told that Remini has been asked to testify because she has direct knowledge of Miscavige’s control over Scientology, and also of his interest in Monique’s husband and the main target of church harassment, Mark “Marty” Rathbun, who was once Miscavige’s top lieutenant. As we reported earlier, Leah Remini met with Miscavige in October, 2012, before her final decision to leave the church, which she had been a part of since childhood.

Monique’s lead attorney Ray Jeffrey will argue at a hearing before Comal County Judge Dib Waldrip tomorrow afternoon that his subpoenas to depose Remini and former Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis — which the church also quashed — should be reinstated.


Jonny Jacobsen Counts Down French Court Decision

Our friend in Paris, British journalist Jonny Jacobsen, is counting down the days before France’s highest court decides whether to uphold a fraud conviction against the Church of Scientology in that country. Today, he begins a four-part series by tracing the history of the case which brought the church to this point. As usual, Jonny is rigorously thorough.


Posted by Tony Ortega on October 7, 2013 at 09:40

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