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Rathbun v. Scientology: Another appeals court hearing, this time with everything on the line

Monique Rathbun

Monique Rathbun

UPDATED with an account of today’s hearing, below

Monique Rathbun and the Church of Scientology are back in court today for a hearing before the Texas Third Court of Appeals.

In July, the same court overturned a lower court order that would have allowed Monique to depose Scientology leader David Miscavige in her harassment suit against the church. But that was for a jurisdictional question in a preliminary matter. This time, however, the entire ball of wax is on the line.

The court today will hear arguments from both sides regarding Scientology’s appeal of its anti-SLAPP motion, which was denied by Comal County Judge Dib Waldrip.

At the last minute, Scientology submitted an interesting document which we have below. It appears to be a sort of visual guide to the argument that the church will be making today.

We thought the best part was a graphic timeline that the church put together, which is clearly meant to give the impression that Scientology and its former high-ranking executive, Marty Rathbun, have been waging a war of words over the past five years…




However, we expect that attorney Leslie Hyman will point out on Monique Rathbun’s behalf that Marty, Monique’s husband, is not the plaintiff in this lawsuit. Hyman and Ray Jeffrey and Monique’s other attorneys have repeatedly argued that although Scientology wants to make this a First Amendment fight between people who disagree, Monique actually filed her lawsuit as a person who has never belonged to the church, and who was fed up with the surveillance and harassment of Scientology operatives.

Will that argument sway the three-judge panel? Last week, commenter TX Lawyer told us he thinks the church is in a strong position: “Anti-SLAPP is a powerful tool, and protesting is core First Amendment activity. I will be pleasantly surprised if the court of appeals affirms the trial court’s decision or remands for further consideration,” he said.

Here’s the document itself, we look forward to your thoughts about it…


Monique Rathbun v. Scientology: Appellant Bench Book

As usual, we’ll have observers in the courtroom, and we’ll try to get a reaction from Ray Jeffrey as soon as the hearing is over. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:30 pm Eastern time. A decision from the appeals court could take a month or more.

October 19, 2013: Scientology files its anti-SLAPP motion
January 4: Monique Rathbun files for sanctions, submits Scientology leader’s foul-mouthed texts
February 24: Monique Rathbun files motion for contempt against Scientology defendants
August 8: Monique Rathbun’s response to Scientology’s anti-SLAPP appeal

UPDATE: We’ve talked to Ray Jeffrey following today’s hearing. An account is following shortly…

We spoke to Monique Rathbun’s attorneys Ray Jeffrey and Marc Wiegand after the hearing, and they both sounded pleased with the work done by Leslie Hyman to present their side.

Each side had 20 minutes to make their arguments. Scientology’s attorney, Thomas Leatherbury, spent his first 15 minutes on an initial presentation, saving five minutes to rebut Hyman at the end.

Leatherbury spent the bulk of his time explaining to the three-judge panel that the Church of Scientology is a legitimate religion, and enjoys tax-exempt status with the US government.

Leatherbury was asked a question from the bench about whether this was a “de novo” approach to the case, or if the appeals panel should accept the facts as established in the trial court by Comal County Judge Dib Waldrip. It appeared that the justices would give some deference to the facts as found by Waldrip.

It was then Leslie Hyman’s turn, and she used her 20 minutes to bore down on a couple of the arguments made by Scientology in its appellate briefs.

She said that Monique’s side does not accept Scientology’s assertion that Monique is a public person for the purposes of the lawsuit. In fact, Monique’s side also does not accept that Marty Rathbun is a public person.

Hyman also focused on Scientology’s argument that Monique had not established that she was the victim of the “infliction of intentional emotional distress” during several years that the church surveilled the couple and protested outside their home.

Hyman stated that in fact, the infliction of intentional emotional distress was so obvious on its face, it qualified as felony stalking — and she read the criminal statute that defines it.

She also questioned Scientology’s argument that it spent years on private investigators and other operatives because it was engaged in a “pre-trial investigation” as it prepared to sue the Rathbuns. The church, she pointed out, had spent several years surveilling the couple, and had never filed a lawsuit. She argued that Scientology should not be able to call that activity free speech simply by characterizing it as “pre-trial investigation.”

With his final five minutes, Leatherbury asserted that Monique Rathbun was a “limited purpose public figure,” and then addressed Hyman’s argument about the pre-trial investigation. He said that watching the Rathbuns wasn’t only to prepare for a possible lawsuit, but also to “investigate the orthodoxy” of what Marty Rathbun was doing.

“The judges seemed interested and receptive to both sides,” Ray Jeffrey told us.

The justices will return a decision in a month or more, and it’s impossible to know what they will do, Jeffrey and Wiegand tell us. But they both added that they were very pleased with the presentation done by Leslie Hyman.


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Posted by Tony Ortega on September 24, 2014 at 07:00

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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, 47, 48

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, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49

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