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Scientology calls lawsuit fraudulent

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 17, 1999


CLEARWATER -- The wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology by an aunt of Lisa McPherson was based on fraud and improper motives, Scientology attorneys argued in a probate court hearing that began Thursday and continues today.

The church is asking Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer to remove Dell Liebreich of Yantis, Texas, as the personal representative of McPherson's estate.

McPherson was the 36-year-old Scientologist who died in 1995 while under the care of church staffers in Clearwater. Liebreich is McPherson's aunt and the sister of McPherson's mother, Fannie McPherson. In February 1997, 17 days after Fannie McPherson died, Lisa McPherson's estate -- under Liebreich's direction -- filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the church.

Scientology officials say Fannie McPherson, who lived in Dallas, never wanted to sue the church but that Liebreich exploited Fannie's ill health and forged her name to one of the documents used in setting up the estate. They also allege that the wrongful death lawsuit has been taken over by Scientology critics who want to destroy the church. They are asking Greer to appoint someone else to head the estate.

Ken Dandar, the attorney for McPherson's family, said Scientology has no legal standing to challenge the estate. He also said it was Fannie McPherson's dying wish that the church be sued and exposed. At least three people witnessed Fannie McPherson sign the document in question, he said.

In a six-hour hearing Thursday, Greer heard from a prominent handwriting expert hired by the church, as well as a notary public and a hospice worker who cared for Fannie McPherson.

The hearing resumes this morning in Clearwater.

Meanwhile, the church has asked Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe to consider whether a crime was committed in setting up the estate. For that reason, an assistant state attorney attended Thursday's hearing.

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