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Scientology asks court in Monique Rathbun’s case to take note of Vance Woodward’s loss

Karen de la Carriere and Jeff Augustine recently met with Vance Woodward (center)

Karen de la Carriere and Jeff Augustine recently met with Vance Woodward (center)

We’re still waiting for a big decision from the Texas Third Court of Appeals regarding Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. You may remember that Scientology appealed Comal County Judge Dib Waldrip’s denial of Scientology’s “anti-SLAPP” motion that would have pretty much crippled Monique’s lawsuit.

Monique’s lawyer Leslie Hyman seemed to get the better of Scientology’s legal team in the oral arguments for this appeal, but we’ve been told not to assume anything until the three-justice panel makes its ruling. And while we wait, we learned that Scientology’s appeals lawyer Thomas Leatherbury has filed a new document, asking the appeals court to take notice of an unrelated case in Los Angeles.

Vance Woodward sued Scientology there, and his lawsuit was dismissed after the church filed a successful anti-SLAPP motion. Quick background: Vance was in Scientology for more than 20 years, gave a lot of money to the San Francisco org, then left, wrote a book about his experiences, and then helped us as we blogged Dianetics from cover to cover. The judge who dismissed his lawsuit, however, said that Vance had made his action too much about how Scientology operates as a church in a lawsuit that was supposed to be about getting a refund. Vance has filed a motion to reconsider.

Now, Scientology has submitted a copy of that dismissal to the justices trying to decide if an anti-SLAPP motion should also cause the dismissal of an entirely unrelated case, Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit in Texas. In court language, it’s called asking a court to take notice of a “supplemental authority.” But is that a wise move here? Woodward’s lawsuit was about a longtime former member of the church claiming that he was harmed by the organization and asking for a couple of hundred thousand dollars back that he’d put on account and will never get to use. Monique, on the other hand, was never a member of the church and is suing because she endured years of surveillance and harassment because her husband, a former high-ranking official in Scientology, spoke out critically about its leader, David Miscavige. The facts in these two lawsuits could really not be more different.

In each of them, however, Scientology filed “anti-SLAPP” motions, which are designed to be used by outgunned defendants against bullying litigation on the principle that the defendant’s First Amendment rights to free speech or religious expression are being infringed. We’ve pointed out in the past the incredibly cynical notion that Scientology, historically a notoriously bullying litigant, would make use of this type of motion when it was the Church of Scientology that lawmakers, in part, had in mind when anti-SLAPP statutes were first developed. In any event, the church was successful using the strategy in Woodward’s case (because, the judge said, his arguments did bring up First Amendment issues), but Monique’s legal team has argued adamantly that her lawsuit has nothing to do with religion. It’s about harassment.

We asked TX Lawyer — a member of our commenting community who has been keeping a close eye on Monique’s case — to give us his thoughts about Scientology’s new filing. (And yes, we did check and he is, indeed, a Texas lawyer.)


TX Lawyer: My reaction is that there’s not much to it. I try not to do supplemental authorities unless the new authority is really something controlling (in which case I will immediately file something to let the court of appeals know they now have no choice but to rule in my client’s favor) or at least something persuasive because the other court has some amount of persuasive authority to it. I doubt that any court of appeals in Texas really cares about some California district court’s ruling. This filing seems pretty much perfunctory on Tom’s part, and probably client-driven.

THE BUNKER: So Scientology leader David Miscavige probably insisted on it, but it’s likely not to have much effect either way?

TX Lawyer: I wouldn’t personally speculate as to Miscavige’s involvement, but I don’t see any real reason for the attorney to file something as off-point and fact-specific as this. “Hey, my client won a totally different case” is not really a winning argument in most cases.

Supplemental authorities are just short notices you file with the appellate courts when some new decision has come out that implicates the issues you have in a pending appeal. For instance, if I’m appealing one of the same-sex marriage cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and another one of the federal appellate courts rules in favor of same-sex marriage, I’m going to immediately tell the Supremes that yet another court of appeals has ruled in my client’s favor on the issue.

Likewise, if the Supreme Court resolves my issue while I’m on appeal to the appellate court, I will file a notice of supplemental authority to the appellate court. If the authority is in my favor, anyway. If it’s against me, I would most likely let the other side do the notice, then follow up with a filing explaining why that ruling is totally inapplicable.

If it’s just some random ruling from some other random state court, I would definitely file a response, but I would not be concerned in the slightest that this might be something that tips the case. Scientology may or may not win this appeal, but I can’t imagine that any of the judges on this panel have the tiniest concern about how some trial court judge 1,000 miles away ruled on Vance’s highly fact-specific case.

THE BUNKER: Thanks for that analysis, Tex. And here’s the document…


Monique Rathbun v. Scientology: Motion for leave to file supplemental authority


Posted by Tony Ortega on November 26, 2014 at 07:00

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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

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