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Scientology: 'We like to make peace'

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 1998


In two days of interviews, officials from the Church of Scientology and five of its lawyers answered a wide range of questions in an effort to combat the church's reputation as litigious, secretive and closed to scrutiny.


Hardball

When prosecutors filed charges in the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, the Clearwater-based Church of Scientology -- the defendant -- had one clear response.
Continually citing the 1993 IRS decision to grant the church tax-exempt status, they compared their operations with mainline church denominations, including the Catholic Church, and compared their litigation history with that of the St. Petersburg Times.

They contend that Scientology, for an operation its size, does not litigate frequently. The tax exemption ended the need for so many courtroom battles, they insist. Before gaining the exemption, Scientology was forced to file numerous suits against the IRS, its agents and critics who were helping the IRS.

"The church has been saddled with a legacy that has taken it some time to overcome," said Monique Yingling, a Washington lawyer who has represented Scientology for 14 years. "What it wants to do is stay out of litigation, resolve what is outstanding and move forward. . . . The church isn't here to be involved in litigation, but to expand Scientology and have it continue to grow around the world."

The "legacy" Yingling mentions dates back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when 11 Scientologists, including Mary Sue Hubbard, the wife of founder L. Ron Hubbard, were convicted of conspiring to burglarize federal offices and illegally bugging an IRS conference room. The criminal convictions stemmed from an FBI raid on Scientology centers in Washington and Los Angeles. Documents seized during the raids uncovered a well-orchestrated Scientology plot to infiltrate the lives and offices of perceived enemies and steal documents.

Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder, two of Scientology's top officials, say they are part of the management team that abolished the old Guardians Office which directed the criminal conduct.

Most of the litigation facing the church in the 1990s stems from events that occurred in the past, they insist. Many of those who filed civil suits against the church in the 1980s and early 1990s were working hand in glove with rogue IRS investigators who wanted to destroy the church, Rinder and Rathbun say.

"History has vindicated us on every front," says Rathbun. "We are at the turn of the millennium. A lot has changed, across the rest of the United States and the rest of the world when you say you're from the Church of Scientology, you immediately get respect."

In 30 years of litigation, Scientology has established valuable legal precedents in First Amendment law, taxpayer rights, freedom of information, privacy rights and intellectual property, the lawyers say.

Among their victories was a 1993 appellate court decision that struck down a Clearwater ordinance aimed at regulating charitable solicitations.

"Our counsel will be the first to tell you that we have to be dragged to court kicking and screaming, it's the last thing in the world we like to do, we like to make peace," Rathbun said.

Most of those who are still engaged in litigation against Scientology in the United States have one common denominator, money provided by Robert S. Minton, a Boston millionaire who has helped several people involved in lawsuits with Scientology, say the Scientologists and their lawyers.

Church officials say they are at a loss to explain why Minton is spending money to fuel litigation against them, but speculate the more than $2-million Minton has used to help several people involved in lawsuits with Scientology has come from the German government, psychiatric interests or drug companies, all of which have opposed Scientology practices.

"It's not true," Minton told The Times. "That is unbelievable."

Forty-eight hours after the Times began questioning Scientology about its history of litigation, Minton says he was contacted by church officials who wanted him to sign a letter agreeing not to provide money to any of those litigating against the church. Minton said he could not agree to abandon the civil case filed on behalf of Lisa McPherson, the Clearwater woman who died while in the care of Scientology staffers in 1995, and finally concluded he could not sign such an agreement at all.

But late Friday Scientology reached agreement with lawyers for FACTNet, a library of anti-Scientology information which the church sued in 1995. In return for dismissing the lawsuit, Factnet agreed not to violate the church's copyrights in the future.

The five lawyers who answered questions about Scientology's litigation insist that they have never used lawsuits or legal proceedings to harass enemies of the church. Handling litigation for Scientology is no different from handling the lawsuits of any other client, they insist.

"I take this very seriously," says Eric Lieberman, a New York lawyer who has represented the church on constitutional issues dating back to the late 1970s. "There has never been a case that I'm aware of that was brought merely for the purposes of harassment rather than on the merits of the case and as a last resort to resolve a situation."

The judges who have accused Scientology of using the court to harass their enemies were wrong, insists Yingling.

The five lawyers who responded to questions say they do not spend all of their time on Scientology. Several work for firms where other lawyers also help with Scientology's legal work. None of them are members of the Church of Scientology.

Samuel D. Rosen is an attorney with Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, experts in copyright litigation who have also represented Steven Spielberg and a number of Hollywood celebrities. Rosen started representing Scientology about three years ago in copyright cases.

Lieberman is a partner at Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman, a New York firm widely known for its handling of free speech and other constitutional cases. He has represented Scientology since the late 1970s.

William C. Walsh, who handles freedom of information and human rights issues for Scientology, is with Bisceglie & Walsh in Washington. He has represented Scientology since 1978.

Thomas C. Spring, a sole practicioner in San Francisco, has handled tax cases and foreign issues for Scientology since 1985.

Yingling is with the Washington, D.C., firm of Zuckert Scoutt & Rasenberger and has represented Scientology for about 14 years, primarily on tax and corporate matters.


 

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