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Florida attorney Ken Dandar hit with $1 million penalty for taking on Scientology

Ken Dandar

Ken Dandar

On March 17, retired Pinellas County, Florida circuit judge Crockett Farnell ordered attorney Ken Dandar to pay $1,068,156.50 to the Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc.

FSO runs Scientology’s “spiritual mecca,” the Flag Land Base or “Flag” in Clearwater, Florida where, in 1995, a Scientologist from Dallas named Lisa McPherson died after spending 17 days in the Fort Harrison Hotel, Flag’s centerpiece.

Dandar represented McPherson’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against Scientology that was settled with the church in 2004. How he then ended up, a decade later, personally owing Scientology $1 million is a bizarre story of unprecedented legal conflict between state and federal courts in Florida, and it may be years more before the final chapter of that conflict is written.

Dandar has filed a notice with the Florida Second District Court of Appeal and he’s preparing a brief for the court that we hope to get a look at soon. For now, we want to quickly summarize how Dandar got here to give you some idea of how bizarre this situation is.

Lisa McPherson’s death and the ensuing criminal and civil litigation is a saga in itself. If you haven’t already done so, please read Janet Reitman’s 2011 book Inside Scientology — the four chapters she devotes to McPherson form the heart of her book and the best telling of the story we’ve run into. For a brief overview, we excerpted parts of Janet’s chapters on Lisa for a piece we did at The Village Voice.

After several years of litigation, the McPherson wrongful death lawsuit was reassigned in May 2003 to retired Pinellas County circuit judge Robert E. Beach, who subsequently ordered the case to mediation despite the two sides being vastly apart. Initially, the church offered $20,000 to settle the case, and Dandar countered with $80 million. But eventually, the two sides came together over an undisclosed amount.

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Scientology insisted on a global settlement that would prevent all parties from ever again bringing a suit against the church. Dandar says he objected to that, and only signed the settlement agreement as the McPherson family attorney, not as a party to the suit itself.

Several years later, Dandar was back in court against Scientology, this time in a 2009 federal lawsuit representing Victoria Britton, whose son, Kyle Brennan, died of a gunshot wound to the head on February 16, 2007. Police ruled it a suicide. But Britton, with Dandar’s help, wanted to prove that Scientology was responsible. Kyle was taking the antidepressant Lexapro when he went to Clearwater to visit his father, Tom Brennan, a Scientologist. Britton alleged that on the advice of Denise Gentile, twin sister to Scientology leader David Miscavige, Tom Brennan had confiscated his son’s medication while encouraging Kyle to enroll in Scientology’s drug rehab network, Narconon. (Scientology reviles psychiatry and psychiatric medications, like Lexapro.) A few days after his medication was taken away, Kyle allegedly shot himself with his father’s handgun, which he found in the house. Key to the lawsuit would be convincing district federal Judge Steven Merryday that instructions from Gentile telling Brennan to “handle” Kyle was a coded Scientology message that made the defendants liable for Kyle’s death. Ultimately, Merryday wasn’t convinced, and dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

But in the meantime, Scientology went back to Judge Robert Beach and complained that Dandar was in violation of the McPherson settlement he had signed in 2004. Beach agreed, deciding that in 2004 Dandar had signed away the right ever to sue Scientology in the future. By simply agreeing to represent Victoria Britton in the 2009 federal lawsuit, Dandar was in violation of the McPherson mediation agreement, and Beach threatened to sanction Dandar $1,000 a day if he didn’t drop Britton as a client and abandon the federal lawsuit over Kyle Brennan’s death.

Dandar denied that he’d given away his rights to represent a client against Scientology — what he calls an unethical “practice restriction” — but he attempted to comply with Beach’s order, and looked for another lawyer to take his place representing Britton. The problem was, no one else wanted the job. There are few attorneys who want to have anything to do with tangling with Scientology. Dandar was faced with the possibility of simply abandoning Victoria Britton and her lawsuit by order of the state court that had nothing to do with the case.

Then things got really weird. Merryday, the federal judge handling the Britton lawsuit, ordered Dandar to ignore Judge Beach’s order. Britton was entitled to representation, Merryday said, and the state court shouldn’t be able to have such a deleterious effect on a federal court case.

Dandar was stuck in a bizarre legal quandary. While a state court judge was racking up huge sanctions against him, Dandar was being ordered by a federal judge to stay right where he was. The tug of war between duelling state and federal judges was unprecedented, legal experts said.

Dandar eventually extricated himself from the situation when he did find a replacement to represent Britton. But Scientology continued to push the state court to fine Dandar.

Beach stepped aside, handing the determination of Dandar’s penalty to retired circuit court judge Crockett Farnell, who swept away Dandar’s arguments that the case was nonsense to begin with — Dandar insisted that he’d never agreed to a practice restriction, and to hold him to it was a violation of Florida bar rules.

 

Judge Crockett Farnell

Judge Crockett Farnell

 
Now, we know that those arguments fell on deaf ears, and Farnell did agree to Scientology’s suggestion that Dandar be fined a million dollars. Why? Because Dandar agreed to represent a distraught mother who believed her son had died under mysterious circumstances.

Here’s Farnell’s amended final judgment against Dandar, dated March 17…

 

Ken Dandar: Final Judgment by Judge Crockett Farnell

 
It’s not all bad news for Dandar, though. In February, he won a partial appellate victory in a federal lawsuit he’s filed against the state court for violating his civil rights. Tampa district judge Virginia Covington had denied that she had the standing, as a federal judge, to stop what a state court was doing to Dandar. But in February a federal appeals court decided that Covington had made the wrong call on that, and sent the case back to her to reconsider. However, the appeals court only partially agreed with Dandar — it didn’t reverse Covington’s decision to reject Dandar’s attempt to amend his complaint and accuse the state courts of a widespread conspiracy with Scientology. (But even if that part of the case is dead, it did produce some of the most interesting evidence, including a stunning declaration by former Scientology official Marty Rathbun).

Is there a lesson here? Probably only one that lawyers already seem to know pretty well. Scientology uses scorched-earth litigation tactics, and all but a few attorneys who take the church on end up getting burned.

We will, as ever, continue to watch Dandar’s journey through the courts.

 
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Partying with the Duggans!

Take a quick look at this video, because we don’t know how long it will stay up now that we found it.

From the best we can figure out, the person who shot this has made several videos celebrating time spent hanging out with the family of Bob Duggan, the fabulously wealthy pharmaceuticals CEO who is Scientology’s single biggest donor. In this video, we can see the Duggans receiving yet another big-ass trophy at last month’s L. Ron Hubbard birthday event at the Flag Land Base. Then, after some hip-hop dedicated to the Duggans, we then get a glimpse inside a swank Duggan Florida beach home. (Karen de la Carriere, who has seen the video, confirms that the lavish home is owned by the Duggans. She says she visited the house while she was still in Scientology.) Give it a look!

 

 
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Scientology and confinement

Karen de la Carriere has another interesting video for us…

 

 
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Posted by Tony Ortega on April 2, 2014 at 07:00

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.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS (We read Scientology’s founding text) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25

UP THE BRIDGE (Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46

GETTING OUR ETHICS IN (Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING (Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43

PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer
Jillian Schlesinger escapes the Sea Org

 

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