Scientology Legal News

INTRO | OVERVIEW | SCIENTOLOGY LEGAL NEWS | CASES - Index | CASES - Commentary | MISCELLANY, (including a few bits about CAN)

IMPORTANT NOTE: This site is now "archival," which means that it will not be updated in the foreseeable future. It was last revised in March 1997, and prior to that in October 1996. Despite being out of date on ongoing developments, I hope that it nevertheless will be useful in its present form. Beware of outdated links to other sites, I know that many have changed. The best current information about links to sites discussing scientology may be found by accessing the usenet group alt.religion.scientology.


Due to time limitations, I was unable to update these pages from October 1996 through mid-February 1997. I'm reluctant to delete the news that was current in October, as it may provide context for more recent developments. Consequently, the material from the last update is being left, with the more recent material then following. Apologies for gaps and omissions in the presentation (some of which will be denoted as JUMPCUT!). Going forward, I've decided to keep the "News" items in order, as an ongoing chronology of legal news concerning scientology.

The more up-to-date source of news on scientology currently is the usenet group alt.religion.scientology, where developments in judicial actions are often reported in anecdotal fashion as they occur. See also this list of scientology critics' web sites.

HEAVEN'S GATE UPDATE ... March 31, 1997. UFO Cult thanked Scientology for "handling" the Cult Awareness Network. Since the story on the Heaven's Gate cult member suicides broke last week, media reports have been full of stories about cults. One theme of these stories is "how could this have happened" with reporters asking whether anybody was aware of the UFO cult or knew the danger that it presented. The answer to that question is, of course, that the Cult Awareness Network had been working hard to bring information to light on this group as well as many others. Until recently, that is, when CAN was driven into bankruptcy as a result of the litigation attack orchestrated by the Church of Scientology. In a message posted on alt.religion.scientology last December, a member of the Heaven's Gate group posted a "thank you" for the service done by scientology in bringing down CAN: "Here's a round of applause to the Church of Scientology for their courageous action against the Cult Awareness Network." The post was signed only "lah." Perhaps we'll find out who "lah" was when the list of all the dead is released.

NEWS... February 27, 1997. Judge orders release of Lisa McPherson autopsy report.

Lisa McPherson, a long-time scientologist, was brought to a hospital in Florida by three scientologists on the night of December 5, 1995. She was dead. She had been staying at scientology headquarters in the former Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater, Florida, for the two and one-half weeks prior to her death. The Clearwater, Florida, police have been investigating her death as "suspicious."

This sad case came to the attention of netizens last November when Jeff Jacobsen posted a message on alt.religion.scientology pointing out the web site maintained by the Clearwater Police, where they ask for assistance with the case, and in particular seek information on the whereabouts of three scientologists who they believe were responsible for Lisa's care prior to her death and who conveniently left the country after her death. Jeff's Lisa McPherson Memorial Page contains extensive information about the case, including details from the autopsy, which revealed that Lisa was severely dehydrated at the time of her death, and had insect bites and bruises on her body.

IMPORTANT NEWS on Scientology harrassment of critics in connection with the Lisa McPherson story... The Church of Scientology has retaliated against Jeff Jacobsen in classic scientology fashion for his efforts in bringing this case to light. Applying standard scientology "technology" of "attack, never defend," and the practice of launching a "noisy investigation" of any effective critic, the Church of Scientology has dispatched its favorite private investigator, Eugene Ingram, and has sent pickets to Jeff's home and place of business. The details of this harrassment campaign can be viewed on Jeff's web site.

Since Jeff Jacobsen's initial post, the Tampa Tribune picked up on the story and has run several articles written by Tribune reporter Cheryl Waldrip, which give further details of the circumstances surrounding the case: 12/12/96, 12/15/96 , 01/23/97. The national news program Inside Edition featured a segment on the case in which the medical examiner was interviewed and gave her opinion of Lisa's physical condition during the last days of her life. In response to the medical examiner's statements, scientology attorney Elliot Abelson called medical examiner Wood "a liar, a liar, a liar, a hateful liar" for, among other things, her statements that Lisa's body showed cockroach bites. According to Abelson, cockroaches don't bite humans. The St. Petersburg Times reported in a story on March 1, 1997, that Abelson has now backpedaled, modifying his earlier statements that cockroaches never bite humans, to assert that cockroaches don't bite **live** humans . An expert quoted in the Times story states that cockroaches frequently bite live humans, often sleeping children, and that the insects may be attracted to the salty residue on human hands and feet. In response to that information, Abelson admitted: "Well, they may in a case or two." The cockroach bites on Lisa McPherson's body were on her wrist and hand, according to the Times story. The "cockroach bite" issue is an important one. The medical examiner has asserted that Lisa McPherson was unconscious for at least 24 to 48 hours before she died; the information that cockroaches bite sleeping humans tends to bolster the medical examiner's conclusion that Lisa was comatose for a significant period prior to her death.

Tampa Tribune columnist Daniel Ruth wrote a scathing editorial excoriating the Church of Scientology for its conduct surrounding the case, referring to the statements of its representatives, accusing Clearwater law enforcement personnel as liars, as follows: "Of course, being called a liar by the Scientologists, masters of delusion, deception and dissembling on an order that makes David Copperfield seem like a mere three-card monte artist, is like being lectured to on human rights by Pol Pot."

The Tampa Tribune also reported that on Tuesday, January 27, the Church of Scientology filed suit in an attempt to get access to the medical examiner's records. A news item on MSNBC.COM reports that on February 27, the judge ordered the release of the autopsy report (which had already been obtained by the Tampa Tribune) and other public records involved in the case.

On February 19, 1997, the estate of Lisa McPherson filed suit against the Church of Scientology, as described in another Tampa Tribune story. Here is the complaint filed in the action.

Note... The information below on the Grady Ward litigation is out of date, see alt.religion.scientology for more recent news.

NEWS... February 6, 1997. Grady Ward files amended answer and RICO counterclaim. This is an amended version of the RICO counterclaim filed last October.

NEWS... January 26, 1997. Gerry Armstrong files lengthy affidavit in response to Grady Ward's public call for declarations documenting Scientology's fair game policy. The affidavit gives an in-depth account of Armstrong's own litigation history with scientology, and explains Armstrong's reasons for defying the gag order imposed as part of his settlement with scientology in the 1980's.

The Grady Ward litigation began last March, when the motion of the RTC for a preliminary injunction against Grady Ward was granted. The RTC claims that Grady Ward is responsible for the SCAMZIDAT postings on alt.religion.scientology. Grady has filed a motion to compel RTC/COS to answer his interrogatories demanding information concerning the identify of all persons given access to the scientology scriptures as to which trade secret status is claimed. Other recent developments in this litigation include:

NEWS... January 18, 1997. Italian scientologists ordered jailed for criminal association. This long-running case goes back to the 1980's, when Italian authorities began investigating the Church of Scientology in Italy, and eventually brought charges against 75 scientologists. Most were acquitted, but in this most recent decision an appeals court in Milan ordered 29 of the original 75 jailed. A compilation of news reports detailing the case was posted on alt.religion.scientology.

NEWS... January 17, 1997. Scientology ordered banned by Greek judge. The judge banned the organization because the Greek scientology organization, the Greek Centre of Applied Philosophy (KEFE), had obtained a license to operate as a nonprofit, public interest organization, but instead sought to make money. The Judge's decision is described in a January 23 report by the Reuters News Organization, and portions of the Judge's decision have been translated and posted on alt.religion.scientology by Tony Bousnakoudis.

NEWS...November 15 (?), 1996 French scientologists found guilty.Jean-Jacques Mazier, former head of the French Church of Scientology, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison with another 18 months suspended. After an eight-day trial in October, the court convicted 14 other defendants tied to the church on charges ranging from embezzlement to fraud and acquitted eight others. The case has been investigated by French authorities for five years, following the suicide death of a scientology follower who jumped to his death from a window. Earlier in the day, he had gone to see his wife, accompanied by church official Jean-Jacques Mazier, to ask her for a loan to pay for church courses. A Reuters news report posted on alt.religion.scientology detailed the start of the trial in Lyon, France. Jens Tingleff posted summaries of the daily news reports on the trial on alt.religion.scientology. Here is a compilation of his first week of posts. Another poster summarized news reports of the trial.

NEWS... October 19, 1996. Norwegian Court of Appeals upholds damages award in favor of former scientologist against scientology organization. According to a message filed on alt.religion.scientology, he plaintiff was a former member of the Church of Scientology who brought suit for damages for amounts expended on courses that he claimed he had been forced to take. The trial court awarded both damages and costs, which amounted the equivalent of over US$130,000, an enormous amount for a court award in Norway. It is expected that an appeal will be filed in Norway's highest court.

NEWS... October 15, 1996. Judge Brinkema unseals her written opinion in RTC v. Lerma. Last winter, Judge Brinkema granted summary judgment for RTC and the COS against Arnie Lerma for his postings of certain scientology scriptures to the Internet. In her opinion delivered from the bench, Judge Brinkema warned, however, that large damages and attorney fees would not be awarded in the case, and that her written opinion fully explaining the reasons for her decision would be forthcoming. On October 4, Judge Brinkema finally issued a written opinion in which she awarded RTC and COS $2,500 in damages and no attorney fees. The ensuing chronology of events is set forth below.

NEWS...October 4, 1996 Judge Whyte refuses COS motion to enjoin Keith Henson from sending NOTS document to FDA. On September 17, Henson wrote to RTC attorney Thomas Hogan stating his intention to send NOTS 34, alleged by Henson to contain evidence of criminal conduct, to "appropriate law enforcement authorities." Hogan responded with an application to Judge Whyte for a restraining order. On September 26. Henson filed a motion to quash the RTC supoena seeking to depose Henson in the Grady Ward litigation, and a further motion directed at negating the trade secret status of the NOTS documents because he has succeeded in decoding the masked copy of one of them which was supplied to him in response to his document request to RTC in the litigation. Henson's motion details the method by which he decoded the masked copy "with the help of some computer programs and a dictionary." At the October 4 hearing on these various motions, Judge Whyte refused to enjoin Henson from sending NOTS documents to the FDA. A compilation of some posts from alt.religion.scientology contains Henson's letter to Hogan and Henson's motion to the court. Judge Whyte entered a series of orders on the return date, but declined to order Henson not to send the documents to the FDA, and held in abeyance his motion to modify the preliminary injunction. A full account of the October 4 hearing is contained in Shelley Thomson's **Biased Journalism** Volume#2 Issue#20.

  • Complete details on the early stages of the Henson litigation can be obtained at Ron Newman's new web page "The Church of Scientology vs. Keith Henson."

    NEWS...October 1, 1996. Scientology documents filed by Zenon Panoussis disappear from the files of the Swedish Parliament. In August, Panoussis posted messages in alt.religion.scientology stating that he had posted certain COS documents of the NOTS and OT series on his web site. The litigation began in what is becoming a predictable fashion.

    NEWS...September 25, 1996.Biased Journalism reports on scientology's efforts to silence disaffected members "in real time." In **Biased Journalism** Volume#2 Issue#18 Shelley Thomson reports on the struggle of two former scientologists to fend off the efforts of scientology's Office of Special Affairs to stifle their posts to the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology. The article contains a transcript of taped conversations between Ariane Jackson and her husband and OSA representatives which took place only a few weeks ago, in which the OSA members try to get the Jacksons to sign a release never to speak about their experiences in scientology, and threatening them with litigation if they do not agree. Ariane Jackson's recent posts to alt.religion.scientology included a transcript of the poignant diary of her deceased former husband, a dedicated scientologist, who sought redress through the Church of Scientology for money lent to other scientologists. Select this link for my own post on alt.religion.scientology in which I quoted an excerpt from the tape transcript of the OSA representatives' conversation with the Jacksons where "J" cites Florida's "hate statute" and tells the Jacksons that they can go to jail for talking about their experiences in scientology. The message contains a link to two very recent U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with hate crimes statutes.

    NEWS...September 20, 1996.The Court of Appeal in Finland issued a temporary injunction halting the enforcement of a lower court order compelling Johan Helsingius to reveal the identity of an anonymous user of the remailer service. This news was reported in a message posted on the usenet group alt.religion.scientology. Earlier this month, Helsingius announced that he would shut down the remailer service that he has been operating for three years, due to a Finnish court upholding a supoena served by the Church of Scientology. Reports in the London press suggested that Helsingius was responsible for the dissemination of child pornography and had closed the remailer service because of law enforcement attention, but in a story in the New York Times on September 5, 1996, Helsingius made it clear that he was closing down the remailer because he felt that Finnish law did not sufficiently protect his users' privacy rights. In addition, the American law enforcement source quoted by the London press for the accusation that Helsingius's service was the main source of internet-transmitted child pornography criticized the London press reports as misleading. Helsingius also said that in one prior case where his remailer service was alleged to be the conduit for child pornography, it had been proved that the evidence was forged, apparently in an attempt to incriminate his service.

    NEWS...September 19, 1996. Dr. David Touretzky, Senior Research Scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, posted his recent correspondence with Roger Milgrim, attorney for Religious Technology Center, the publishing arm of the Church of Scientology to the usenet group alt.religion.scientology. The correspondence concerns Dr. Touretzky's web site, "The NOTS Scholars Home Page," which contains discussion and excerpts from the scientology NOTS documents that have been posted to the Internet by, among others, Zenon Panoussis, who is being sued by the Church of Scientology in Sweden (see below). In the letter, Dr. Touretzky defends his NOTS Scholars Home Page as fair use of the copyrighted material in response to Milgrim's demands.

    NEWS...September 1996. The Church of Scientology of Toronto has filed or will be filing an appeal from its criminal conviction in a Canadian court in 1992 for breach of trust. The COS of T claims that its rights were violated by the fact that the jury pool was limited by Canadian law to citizens of Canada. The criminal case, The Queen v. Church of Scientology of Toronto, et al., is one of Canada's longest running criminal cases, with the underlying criminal conduct dating back as far as 1977. Select this link for a summary of ten postings on alt.religion.scientology by "x," who detailed the case with reference to reported Canadian judicial decisions and newspaper reports.

    NEWS... July 5, 1995. Donald Strawn pleads guilty to child molestation charges. The source of information on this case is a message posted on alt.religion.scientology quoting from the record in the case. This case is of interest not only because Strawn was a scientologist, but because the mother of the children who were molested, also a scientologist, testified that she delayed reporting Strawn to the police for six weeks while she negotiated with scientology officials for a divorce from him. According to the mother, an official of the Office of Special Affairs International told her that if she turned Strawn in to the police she would be "declared," i.e., thrown out of the church, she said, "Not for the act of turning him in itself but for the repercussions thereof. He was talking about the PR, the public relations and the St. Pete Times, news media."