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We talk to Ray Jeffrey about today’s brutally long day in a Texas court battling Scientology

Scientology attorneys watch other Scientology attorneys in the courtroom

Scientology attorneys watch other Scientology attorneys in the courtroom

As we reported earlier today, local journalist Nick Rogers and photographer Mike Bennitt were in the Comal County courthouse in New Braunfels, Texas today to help us cover the latest hearing in Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige.

Today, Scientology’s attorneys presented their argument supporting an anti-SLAPP motion, which they hoped would convince Judge Dib Waldrip to throw the case out of court. That didn’t happen. Instead, Waldrip has asked Monique’s attorneys to submit a detailed request for evidence tomorrow, giving Scientology until noon Friday to respond to it. That afternoon, he will decide whether to dismiss the case or grant Monique more time to gather the evidence she’s requesting.

We’ve now talked with Monique’s attorney, Ray Jeffrey, and he’s provided us more detail about today’s brutally long day of argument and testimony in court.

“This time there were maybe 20 lawyers for Scientology’s side, and five or six of them argued,” he told us. “By the end, it became pretty clear to the judge the predicament we’re in. That anything that seems to be a resolution, there’s yet another lawyer to derail that.”

In their anti-SLAPP motion, Scientology is arguing that the years of surveillance of the Rathbuns by Scientology were part of a purely religious dispute, and Monique’s lawsuit is a harassing action that should be dismissed. Meanwhile, David Miscavige’s attorney, Lamont Jefferson, has been arguing for weeks that the court has no jurisdiction over the religious leader and he should be let out of the suit. In both of those issues, Jeffrey points out, Scientology has resisted turning over any documents about the operation to spy on the Rathbuns. The church’s attorneys want Miscavige released and the case thrown out purely by the force of their arguments, and without turning over a shred of evidence, Ray says.

But despite a full day of arguing by skillful, high-priced attorneys, Scientology repeatedly found itself being tripped up by Jeffrey’s objections and Waldrip’s observations from the bench.

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Jeffrey confirmed for us, for example, that he had asked for Scientology to turn over photographs that had been taken secretly of the Rathbuns during the surveillance operations, especially those that might have been taken showing the Rathbuns in their home.

Church of Scientology International (CSI) attorney Ricardo Cedillo objected, saying that no such photos existed.

But Jeffrey says he’s very doubtful that Cedillo has personally seen any photographs at all.

It was at that point that Lamont Jefferson, Miscavige’s attorney, also stood to object about the photographs, which prompted Waldrip to raise his own objection — why was the attorney for Miscavige, who says the court has no jurisdiction over him, objecting to Cedillo’s client, CSI, talking about the existence of photographs?

Once again, Scientology’s alphabet soup structure seemed to be working against it in the court.

Waldrip expressed some frustration, saying that if the jurisdictional and First Amendment issue were going to overlap like this, David Miscavige might have to be prepared to be deposed in the next week. (And we figure that must have sent some chills down Scientology attorney spines. It’s pretty obvious that keeping Miscavige out of a deposition is their biggest task.)

Jeffrey said Lamont Jefferson later had another uncomfortable moment. At the end of the session, as the judge was trying to work out how to schedule things, Jefferson brought up that he had recently filed a motion to reconsider Waldrip’s decision that Miscavige could be deposed.

“The judge then threw up his hands and said, ‘I’m not going to revisit this unless you have something new.’ Lamont said, well, we want you to hear this — in other words, they don’t have anything new,” Ray says.

But overall, Jeffrey says Scientology’s attorneys did a skillful job presenting their case for the anti-SLAPP motion.

“Ricardo Cedillo did a great job. He had a very good Powerpoint presentation. He had to show that this was a religious dispute. He showed some film clips of Marty [Rathbun] and things from Marty’s blog,” Jeffrey says.

But other parts seemed completely out of place. A set of images, for example, of David Miscavige opening churches in Oslo, Johannesburg, Dallas. It felt forced and didn’t really advance the case.

“Ricardo is a very good lawyer. I don’t think that he ever would have put any of that stuff in there. He’s being told to do that,” he says.

At one point in the morning, when Cedillo was arguing that Marty Rathbun is trying to destroy the Church of Scientology with his blog and his other efforts, Ray pointed out that the lawsuit was filed by Monique Rathbun, who had never been a member of the church. Cedillo promised that he’d be addressing her role in the afternoon.

In the afternoon session, as Cedillo presented his case about Monique, trying to portray her as a public person who was part of Marty’s plot to harm the church, he began to put on a slick documentary — a film made all about Monique that even came with narration.

“Ricardo claimed he had made that film for the hearing. But it didn’t sound like Ricardo’s voice. So I asked the judge, did they get to make documentary films? He said he didn’t want to see it,” Jeffrey says.

If Cedillo was often very effective, one thing he repeated several times was “It doesn’t matter if my client has a black heart, what matters is that it’s a case of religion.”

“I thought it was a poor way of putting it,” Jeffrey says.

By the end of the day, Scientology had put on its full case to support its anti-SLAPP motion.

“They did make their full argument. They had like six lawyers, all very good lawyers, arguing. But at the end it was like being at a buffet with 35 desserts, and you’re forced to eat every single one off them — it’s too much,” Jeffrey says.

“They want the case dismissed, but they haven’t given us one document or one photograph of what happened over the last 5 years. I told the judge, if you agree, they’ll go outside the courtroom and high-five each other for dismissing a case without giving up any evidence.”

And at times, they seemed to push the judge in ways that weren’t smart.

“An example of their overreaching is one of the lawyers — for Monty Drake — who stood up at the end and said, well, this is all over, with this hearing,” Jeffrey says, and the attorney was referring to the timing usually set for this kind of motion. But Waldrip clearly wasn’t buying it, Jeffrey says, and Waldrip said he “wasn’t going to play gotcha on dates.”

Jeffrey says it’s part of a pattern.

“It’s such overreaching all the time. They’re doing great, each of them is doing really great, but the cumulative result? It was so obvious what an impossible position they were putting the plaintiffs and the court in,” he says. “What they’re saying is, rule in our favor, and nobody gets anything from us.”

We asked if the remarkable text messages from 2007 that Monique’s side put on the record last week came up during the hearing.

“I referred to the texts repeatedly. I said, we finally have a smoking gun,” he says. The text messages show that while BBC journalist John Sweeney was making a documentary about Scientology, he was constantly being tracked and harassed by Scientology operatives — and Miscavige was in constant contact with them. Just a few days of the operation left behind a substantial paper trail. “We know they have all of these text messages and other stuff. We know that if they had to turn over the information [in Monique’s operations] he would be shocked by what’s in there.”

Jeffrey once again praised the performances of Scientology’s attorneys. But he also said that Judge Waldrip “really gets what the issues are.”

Tomorrow, he’ll submit a detailed request for evidence, and then on Friday we’ll see how Waldrip rules.

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on January 8, 2014 at 22:00

E-mail your tips and story ideas to tonyo94@gmail.com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. Here at the Bunker we try to have a post up every morning at 7 AM Eastern (Noon GMT), and on some days we post an afternoon story at around 2 PM. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

 

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