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LIVE IN L.A.: Hearing in Laura DeCrescenzo’s Scientology forced-abortion lawsuit


[Laura DeCrescenzo, Sea Org worker, circa 1996]

Today, in a Los Angeles courtroom, the Church of Scientology will try to convince a judge that it can treat its own workers as harshly as it wants to and a US civil court can have nothing to say about it.

Laura DeCrescenzo filed her abuse lawsuit against the Church of Scientology in 2009 and it’s had a complex history since then. But before she can get to a trial later this year, she has to get past a second summary judgment hearing, happening today in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Her lawsuit already managed to survive a previous summary judgment hearing, in October 2013, and we were in the courtroom for that dramatic day, live blogging as Judge Ronald Sohigian found that Laura had compelling evidence about her forced abortion and other abuses as a member of Scientology’s “Sea Org,” evidence that deserved to be heard by a jury.

But Sohigian has retired, Scientology has filed another summary judgment motion, and today it will be heard in the courtroom of Judge John P. Doyle. And we will be there, doing our best once again to keep you up to the minute on what’s happening.

(And thank you to the Underground Bunker’s subscribers: It’s your generous contributions that allow us to make reporting trips like this. We wouldn’t be here to live blog without your support.)


Last night, after arriving in Los Angeles, we learned that Scientology attorney Bert Deixler may be fighting uphill today. Judge Doyle has issued a tentative ruling denying Scientology’s motion, but we were cautioned by court observers that this could change, depending on what happens in the courtroom today.

So here we go: We’re going to try to summarize this case as quickly as we can for our newer readers who may be unfamiliar with the Laura DeCrescenzo legal morass. As young as 6 years old, Laura began volunteering for the Church of Scientology, which her parents belonged to. In fact, at one point as a small child she even was part of a group of Scientologists who picketed this very courtroom that we’ll be in today. At 9 years old, Laura started working on staff at a Scientology “org,” and at 12 she joined the Sea Org, a grueling post that requires total dedication as well as signing a billion-year contract. At 12, she was working 98-hour weeks for pennies an hour. At 13, she was moved to the adult schedule, 112 hours a week. She alleges that she was abused as a Sea Org worker, particularly when she was 17 and was, she says, forced to have an abortion. (Children are not allowed for Sea Org workers.) She spent several of her last years in the Sea Org in its prison program, the RPF, and finally escaped it by drinking bleach in a bid to convince her captors that she was suicidal. It worked, and she left the Sea Org in 2004, but remained in Scientology as a member for four more years.

She finally filed suit in 2009, and Scientology argued that she had waited too long, past the four years required by statute. If she wanted to sue over her Sea Org experiences, which had ended in 2004, she should have sued by 2008, the church argued. Judge Sohigian agreed, dismissing the lawsuit. But Laura’s attorneys argued successfully to an appellate court that during those four years after she left the Sea Org, Scientology had manipulated and intimidated her in order to keep her from filing a lawsuit. The appeals court sent the case back to Sohigian.

A battle then ensued over the possession of Laura’s personal file folders from her time in the church. She demanded them as evidence she was entitled to, but Scientology claimed that giving Laura her files would be like forcing a Catholic priest to divulge what had been said in confession. It was an inexact analogy, but Scientology wielded it in appeals that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which refused to consider Scientology’s petition. Finally, Laura got her files, and we found out how damaging the information in them was.

Meanwhile, Scientology filed a motion for summary judgment, asking Sohigian to dismiss the lawsuit not only on the timing issue but also for lack of evidence. In October 2013, Sohigian denied the church’s motion, finding that Laura had sufficient evidence that her case should go to a jury, and he scheduled a trial for late 2015. But then he retired.

Scientology then filed another motion for summary judgment, this time saying that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it violates the church’s First Amendment rights to treat its “ministers” however it sees fit. Laura answered that she was hardly a minister — she was a twelve-year-old child when she went into the Sea Org and was then punished for admitting to missing her family. Judge Rolf Treu, who handled the case after Sohigian’s retirement, asked both sides to resubmit their filings on the motion (plaintiff, defense), but then he was replaced with Judge Doyle.

So that’s where we are. And Scientology attorney Bert Deixler will try to convince Judge Doyle today that Scientology’s religious rights are being trampled by Laura’s lawsuit, and that its First Amendment protections prevent a civil court from considering her claims.

We’ll provide updates as soon as things start happening.

UPDATE: Judge Doyle denies the motion, adopting the tentative ruling he had posted last night. Here’s that ruling…

DeCrescenzo v. Scientology Tentative Ruling on MSJ





3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on April 27, 2016 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield



11:38 am

We’re in place here at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, Department 58 on the fifth floor.

And the gang’s all here! Bert Deixler, Gary Soter, Warren McShane, Eric Lieberman and about five other suits for the Church of Scientology.

We have a power outlet and some wi-fi, and so we’re set for today’s fireworks.
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11:44 am

I see 17 people in total in the gallery. “I thought it was going to be much more packed,” said the Bunker reader sitting behind us.

We’re way over on the left side next to the wall (because of the power outlet). Two clerks and a court reporter are doing paperwork and waiting for the judge.

We’re not sure, but when we walked up, Deixler and Soter and the others made the “Oh, not this asshole again” look.

The clerk just asked us to silence our phones.
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11:49 am

We were traveling most of yesterday, so we missed out on a big day. Wow, it was nice to see how many outlets picked up the story about the threat letter and gave us a link.

We hope that means there are some new people with us today. Court live blog days are usually a treat.

The last time we were in the courthouse for a Laura DeCrescenzo hearing, we were able to stay live-blogging throughout it. (At other hearings, electronic devices were prohibited for some or all of the proceedings, and we had to take notes and then catch everyone up later.) Hopefully that will be the case today as well and we can post updates throughout.
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11:52 am

Here comes da judge.

Honorable Judge John P. Doyle presiding.

He’s called up another matter and they’re getting right to work.
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12:00 pm

He’s moving rapidly through other matters. We took a photo just to give you a sense of the scene…


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12:08 pm

Still on other matters.

One of the arguments we expect to see today is about “ministerial exception.” Scientology is arguing that everyone in the Sea Org is a “minister,” and so Scientology’s First Amendment rights prevent a civil court from examining how it hires and fires its employees. Labor law just doesn’t apply when it’s a church.

But Laura’s side will argue that it’s ridiculous to say that everyone who works for Scientology is a minister, particularly when it’s a 12-year-old girl doing menial labor for 98 hours a week at pennies an hour.

It will be interesting to see how Scientology attorney Bert Deixler tries to convince Doyle that a “church” using a young child that way should be none of his business.
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12:18 pm

No Kendrick Moxon or Monique Yingling. Who’s going to go out in the hall and call COB to tell him what’s going on?

I see John Blumberg for Laura’s side sitting behind me in the back row.

Three years ago, Judge Sohigian really seemed to knock Blumberg around through the entire hearing, only to rule in his favor. That was really something.

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12:21 pm

Here we go.

The judge mispronounced “DeCrescenzo.”

The attorneys are getting into place. John Blumberg for Laura.

Bert Deixler for CSI, Robert Mangel for RTC.
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12:22 pm

Judge Doyle says he worked with a research assistant to learn this case, and he posted his tentative ruling last night.

But it’s just tentative, he points out.

Deixler is up first.

He says having the tentative ruling is very helpful. (Smooch, smooch.)

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12:25 pm

I think the tentative ruling is flawed, and contains legal errors, Bert says.

I’m going to end by urging you to reconsider the ruling, he says.

Fair enough, the judge says. He’s pointing out that the law might all be in order in the ruling, and could be adjusted. But will he go the other way?

“I don’t want this written tentative to be considered hallowed ground. It may indeed be flawed,” he says.

“These things get granted every third leap year,” he says, indicating that the church’s motion was a long shot to begin with.

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12:28 pm

I hope I haven’t said anything to indicate that I get everything right, Judge Doyle says.

Back to Bert.


Bert tells the judge that his analysis in his tentative ruling about the ministerial exception is a “tip of the hat” to the law.

Bert is saying that a jury should not be asked to decide if someone is or is not a minister. That decision is up to the church.

Judge interrupts. He’s saying that the church has presented facts to back up their assertion about ministerial exception, but that’s something that could be assessed by him in a bench trial. (Trial in this case would be a bench trial on timing issues, then jury trial on the facts.)

“If we have a trial in this case, it won’t be here,” he says, predicting that we’re still far away from one because of how complex it is.
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12:29 pm

Back to Bert again after Doyle’s interruption.

He’s pointing out that some of the claims were not about when Laura was a minor. She was a married woman of 17 when the abortion happened, for example.

So ministerial exception not applying to minors doesn’t really apply to the things that happened later, Bert says.
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12:32 pm

Bert goes on about ministerial exception and minors, but Doyle interrupts again.


Doyle is saying that in general, he may think someone’s argument is good, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to result in summary judgment.

This issue about whether Laura was a minor or not, he seems to be saying, is not something that’s going to affect his tentative ruling. Because it will keep coming up in the future.

“It’s not something the court can summarily adjudicate.”

In other words, Judge Doyle is saying, “Look, Scientology, you have some skillful arguments, but you can forget trying to get this 7-year, complex lawsuit thrown out of court today.”
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12:35 pm

Bert soldiers on.

Now he wants to move to the forced abortion issue, which he calls a “euphemism.” Um, Bert, that’s backwards. A euphemism makes something sound better than it actually was. “Forced abortion” doesn’t really sugarcoat the issue.

Bert raises a privacy issue. That Laura was pregnant and talked to other people about it, so there was no privacy issue when “she made the decision” to have an abortion.

He’s reading from Laura’s deposition testimony, trying to prove that Laura made her own decision to end her pregnancy, and so there was no violation of privacy based on those facts.
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12:41 pm


Bert continuing.

Now he’s arguing law and our eyes are glazing over.

He’s still on the invasion of privacy issue. Because a church coercing a 17-year-old to have an abortion is just not an issue involving her privacy. She was in the Sea Org and EVERYONE knew she was pregnant, and she told everyone.

We think that’s what he’s talking about. He’s referring to case law about college athletes being forced to submit to urine tests for drugs, and if we could figure out what that has to do with this case, we’d tell you. But we can’t.

Thankfully, Bert is moving on to the “false imprisonment” claim in Laura’s lawsuit.
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12:43 pm

Bert talking about the RPF now.

Bert is saying that Laura went to the RPF voluntarily. Of course, this is excellent material for a jury to decide. Laura can testify, they can cross-examine her, and the jury can decide if the RPF is a hellhole or not for themselves.

But Bert is referring to more of Laura’s deposition testimony to try and convince the judge that he can decide today that there was no imprisonment in the RPF.

But of course, Bert is quoting lines from Laura’s testimony when she said that WHEN SHE WAS STILL A SCIENTOLOGIST, she considered the RPF something she volunteered for. Now, of course, she realizes that was not the case.

This is weak stuff, Bert.
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12:48 pm

Oh! While she was on the RPF Laura used public transportation! How could she be a prisoner if she took the city bus?

Bert seriously just made this argument.

And get this. He’s now referring to the fact that Laura was put on a 24-hour watch after she threatened suicide to get out of the RPF. Bert just argued that because Scientology put Laura on a 24-hour watch for her own good, it was somehow evidence that she was not a prisoner.

Not seeing that one, Bert.

Now he’s on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

He brings up sec checks….
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12:49 pm

He says that she did auditing and sec checks, which, he says, is a religious part of this religion.

Did you get that? Scientology’s abusive, intense interrogations to get sexual secrets out of people are the religious part of their religion.

So, you know, no big deal, judge.


Now Bert is looking at the big picture, talking about how dangerous this tentative ruling is.
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12:53 pm

Graham Berry just came in, took a seat on our row.

Bert still talking. “I feel passionate about this, I’m sorry if I went on.”

Judge says no, he was impressive.

Mangels turns down an attempt to add anything.

Now John Blumberg. And he’s up there with Kathryn Saldana, both for Laura.

Blumberg compliments Bert, but he says his “eloquence” is just a restating of what’s in their briefs.
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12:56 pm

Blumberg: Every time Bert says something is “an undisputed fact,” it is, of course, a disputed fact.

These are not undisputed facts. And the court has had before it the arguments and evidence, and Blumberg says he’s not going into all the facts because they are disputed. (Which is what a jury is for, in other words.)

Blumberg is pointing out that Laura’s family was lied to by Scientology about what Laura was going to experience as a 12-year-old Sea Org member.

What Scientology did was isolate Laura from outside influences, she was brainwashed, Blumberg says. But Scientology is now saying that she made all of these decisions on her own.

But she wasn’t a freethinking adult, their expert Levine said in his affidavit.
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1:01 pm

This is a summary judgment motion, but there are questions of fact (which a jury should get to decide), Blumberg says.

Blumberg now focusing on the 3rd cause of action in the lawsuit (the liberty claim), and that the judge has indicated in his tentative ruling that he is inclined to grant summary judgment on that.

So the Church will get a little something if he rules the way the tentative ruling is stated now. So Blumberg is trying to fight for that since everything else seems to be going his way.

At issue is whether the liberty claim (that Laura was held against her will in the RPF) could result in damages or not. Blumberg is citing case law on it.
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1:06 pm

Blumberg is saying that in this particular issue (the liberty claim resulting in damages), there’s not a lot of case law, and this case could actually become one that has a lot of influence.

Judge Doyle is telling Blumberg that in any complex case with a lot of causes of action, there is usually some overlap.

In other words, I think he’s saying, “Let this one go, dude. You’re going to win the today otherwise.”

Kathryn Saldana now getting to address this issue. “I think it’s important to preserve a claim that also involves a Constitutional right,” she says about the liberty claim.

Wow, she’s sharp. The judge seemed impressed by her point.

Going back to Bert now. He’s taking on the liberty issue.
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1:10 pm

Bert citing a California supreme court case now about the liberty claim. He’s talking about whether someone can bring a damages claim on a constitutional issue that is not addressed by statute. And the court said no. So it’s been decided by the state supreme court, Bert says. And it exactly fits this current lawsuit.

Bert is now objecting to the way Blumberg had referred to (hypothetically) someone having a gun to their head not making their own decisions.

Bert: “There is no evidence of force,” he says. And for that reason, the court can decide today to throw this out.

Bert keeps up the “faith” and “religion” language and it’s getting pretty thick.

Bert is saying that Laura’s family knew she was going to be committed to a religion, so the famous Molko case doesn’t apply.
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1:14 pm

Bert: It’s just wrong for someone to join a religion and then later make a claim for damages over what happened in that religion. This has been the main Scientology argument all along.

“This is all a matter of faith, none of it is about force,” Bert says.

Anything further, judge asks. Blumberg wants to make another point.

Blumberg making a point that Church of Scientology and Sea Org are not the same thing. And that it wasn’t that she was joining a religion, but that she was joining a particular component, the Sea Org, that was unknown to Laura’s family.

“Wonderful arguments on both sides,” Judge Doyle says as he thanks everyone.
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1:15 pm

Judge Doyle: Motions for summary judgment are great because they lay out the entire case.

“I’m going to stick with the tentative ruling.”

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1:19 pm

This case will go on. But Laura’s side lost their third cause of action, the liberty claim.

“I’m going to respectfully decline, Mr. Deixler, to consider this further,” says Judge Doyle.

These motions generate some great arguments, he says.

I may end up being the judge in your bifurcated trial, or not, he points out.

OK, so now he says they need to figure out how to set a date for trial.

We’re seven years in, he points out. At least one pre-trial meeting is probably needed. Maybe mediation too. Expert witnesses, etc. Very complex case. He’s saying this is a case that could be tried FIVE OR SIX YEARS DOWN THE ROAD.

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1:21 pm

Mangels, RTC lawyer — saying that they’re going to ask for a writ. Does that mean they’re going to appeal this decision? They didn’t appeal the last time their motion for summary judgment was denied, by Judge Sohigian.
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1:26 pm

Judge Doyle talking about all the things that will take place before a trial, and that will take years. Sohigian had a trial date set for December 2015. TWENTYFIFTEEN!

Blumberg asking for a trial date.

Judge Doyle saying March 2017, generally. Well, that’s better than five or six years.
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1:27 pm

I’m going to post the tentative ruling — now that it’s permanent — in the post above. Look for it in a minute.
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1:31 pm

Now Judge Doyle is urging both sides to find a mediator for the case. That doesn’t mean a trial won’t happen, but a mediator might help find a settlement to end the case.

Next meeting on June 3, to talk about mediation and get a more solid trial date.

He’s suggesting mediation in the fall, trial about this time next year.

Doyle once again congratulates attorneys on both sides.
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1:33 pm

Wow, wrapped up by 10:30 in the morning.

We’ll let you know if there’s anything else interesting we can find out from the attorneys, but for now, this concludes our live blogging.

Thanks to everyone, but especially our subscribers, whose donations made this trip possible.
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