Allegations won't alter church suit
By DEBORAH O'NEIL, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- A wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology probably won't be dismissed because of recent allegations of legal misconduct, a judge indicated Thursday.
A hearing resumes this morning on a motion to remove attorney Ken Dandar, who represents the estate of Lisa McPherson, a church member who died in 1995 while in the care of Scientologists in Clearwater.
The lawsuit blames McPherson's death on the church.
Scientology lawyers want Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer to remove Dandar and dismiss the lawsuit because of "a pattern of misconduct" by Dandar, his client and Robert Minton, an outspoken church critic who has given $2-million of his own money in support of the lawsuit.
That misconduct, church lawyers claim, has resulted in "incalculable damages" to the church that can only be remedied by the lawsuit's dismissal.
"The complaint was written to say they murdered her . . . the whole church is murderers," church attorney Eric Lieberman told the judge.
Schaeffer told him, "Just because you have to fight hard (against) some of the allegations doesn't mean I make the case go away."
The hearings this week follow the stunning testimony and legal filings by Minton, a one-time Dandar ally.
Minton is now accusing Dandar of urging him to lie under oath, drawing up false court records and urging him to drum up anti-Scientology publicity.
On Thursday, Schaeffer questioned the relevancy of Minton's allegations, many of them centered on how the case was financed and what would happen to any money awarded by a jury.
"It doesn't matter if Mr. Minton gave . . . six trillion dollars," she said. "I don't know why in the world anybody cares about it. It surely doesn't get the case thrown out."
Minton will answer to the court for any perjury he might have committed, Schaeffer said. But, she noted, he is not a witness in the wrongful death case.
Over and over, she asked church lawyers, "What does that have to do with the wrongful death case?"
Too much time is being spent on issues not related to the trial, Schaeffer said during the hearing.
"We're going to trial," she said. "I want to deal with the wrongful death case set for June. It's set, and it's going."
Dandar and his attorney, Luke Lirot, contend the church is extorting testimony from Minton in an attempt to derail the case.
Schaeffer did have some observations about Minton's money, however, questioning why Minton and Dandar never had a written agreement about the $2-million.
And she warned Dandar that the lawsuit better not be a means of attacking Scientology.
"This case is about money, money on both sides," Schaeffer said. "If you're going after the church just to go after the church just to create more rancor in Clearwater . . . you can't use my courtroom for that."
One of the more graphic claims in the lawsuit is that McPherson was bitten by cockroaches as she lay dying at Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel.
But at the end of the hearing Thursday, Schaeffer told Dandar she has decided he does not have enough evidence to make that claim to a jury.
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