A picketing dispute brings the church and its opposition, led by Robert S. Minton, to court again.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- As he took his seat Monday to referee yet another dispute between the Church of Scientology and its critics, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr. already wore the look of frustration.
He looked to the front tables manned by six lawyers -- two for the church and four representing Robert S. Minton, the New England millionaire who has opened an office in Clearwater to crusade full-time against the church.
He looked out behind them, where a dozen Minton followers sat on one side and a handful of Scientology executives sat on the other.
Then Penick smiled and shook his head like a confounded parent.
He repeatedly wondered aloud during the four-hour hearing whether it was possible to quell a dispute that has tied up the Clearwater Police Department and spilled onto streets and sidewalks in the heart of downtown.
When it was over, Penick said he would decide Wednesday whether eight associates of Minton should be prohibited from walking within 10 feet of 17 church properties in Clearwater.
In a ruling Dec. 2, the judge placed the 10-foot rule on Minton and any of his "officers, agents, servants, employees." The ruling followed an Oct. 31 confrontation in which Minton was charged with misdemeanor battery. Since then, Minton, a 53-year-old retired investment banker, has established an office with a full-time staff and a board of directors. Many of them have been picketing within the 10-foot zone. The church says they should be considered Minton's "agents."
Most of the picketing has taken place just outside the church's dining halls along Watterson Avenue, a side street off Cleveland Street.
"The police are in a pickle," said Scientology attorney F. Wallace Pope Jr. "They're having to guess who this injunction is in force against."
Pope argued that the church had been in Clearwater 25 years. He asked the judge to balance its "First Amendment religious assembly rights" against those of the "group of newcomers" led by Minton.
But Minton attorney Bruce G. Howie argued: "Just because these people are associated with Mr. Minton in some way does not mean they should be enjoined." The church also asked Penick to sanction a "safety zone" established by Clearwater police.
The zone is marked by two white lines at the dining hall doors where church buses unload for meals. The lines run across Watterson Avenue and sidewalks on both sides of the street.