Church Wants Leader Shielded

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: April 19, 2000

Scientology wants David Miscavige removed from a wrongful death lawsuit.

by Anita Kumar

Appealing to judges on both sides of Tampa Bay, the Church of Scientology on Tuesday continued its fight to keep its worldwide leader out of the legal fight over the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson.

The church goes to court this morning to ask a Hillsborough judge to remove David Miscavige as a defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit. In a separate action, the church filed a lawsuit in Pinellas circuit court alleging McPherson's estate broke a 1997 agreement by including Miscavige in the wrongful death suit in the first place.

In December, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge James S. Moody Jr. stunned the church and its attorneys by allowing Miscavige, the church's Los Angeles-based leader since 1986, to become part of the suit.

Miscavige's attorneys will argue at a hearing today that their client should not be a defendant, in part because McPherson's estate agreed in 1997 to limit the lawsuit to the Church of Scientology in Clearwater and not other Scientology entities or their officers.

The Pinellas suit also refers to the 1997 agreement. It accuses the estate of breaching the contract and intentionally interfering with it by trying to expand the narrow scope of the original agreement.

McPherson died Dec. 5, 1995, after spending 17 days in the care of Scientology staffers in Clearwater. A five-week civil trial is scheduled in June.

Ken Dandar, who represents McPherson's family, described the church's latest suit as frivolous and said the church was just trying to distract him from working on the wrongful death suit.

The church's suit, which also is filed against Dandar and Dell Liebreich, McPherson's aunt who is the personal representative of McPherson's estate, wants the estate to pay the costs incurred fighting the changes in the contract, including all of Miscavige's attorney fees, said Wallace Pope Jr., a Scientology attorney.

In the separate Hillsborough County matter, Miscavige's attorneys list several reasons he should not be named in the wrongful death suit: McPherson's estate waited two years to include him; Miscavige does not have enough time to prepare before the June trial; and his involvement would require that he reveal details of his "ecclesiastical authority" in violation of the First Amendment.

Miscavige "totally controls" and "micro-manages all of Scientology," and his ecclesiastical role is part of an elaborate set-up to shield Scientology and its leaders from liability, according to the wrongful death suit.

That lawsuit also says Miscavige's subordinates informed him of McPherson's deteriorating condition and were acting on his orders as she became psychotic and was "imprisoned" by church staffers.

But church officials say Miscavige's authority in Scientology is limited to ecclesiastical matters. They say the 1997 contract was clearly intended to exclude from the lawsuit Miscavige, chairman of the Religious Technology Center - or RTC, the ecclesiastical arm of Scientology. He also heads the Sea Organization, which staffs the church.