Despite aggressive efforts by Scientology lawyers to prevent it’s leader David Miscavige from having to testify in an upcoming harassment court case, the judge presiding over the case has ruled that Miscavige must testify.
Monique Rathbun, a non-Scientologist, filed a suit last year where she claims she was the victim of a four-year campaign of dirty tricks, harassment and surveillance by the controversial church.
She’s married to Mark Rathbun, a former first lieutenant to Miscavige who left the church in 2004 and five years later began speaking out against it, triggering a swift response.
According to the lawsuit, the aggressive harassment by a bizarre church unit called the Squirrel Busters began in Ingleside on the Bay in 2009 and followed the Rathbuns when they moved to Comal County last year.
The suit claims Miscavige was behind the campaign, and as his lawyers made clear Wednesday in strenuous argument, he has emerged as the central figure in the fight.
“I can’t emphasize enough how opposed we are to having Mr. Miscavige sit for a deposition in this case,” Scientology lawyer Lamont Jefferson told District Judge Dib Waldrip.
“This is the end game. From Day 1, I said their whole goal in this case is not to find out if Mrs. Rathbun has been harassed, it’s to depose Mr. Miscavige,” he said.
But in declining to reconsider his December order that Miscavige be deposed to determine the court’s jurisdiction, Judge Waldrip appeared to be even more convinced there are sufficient grounds to make him testify about his contacts to Texas and to the Rathbun case.
“As I said in December, I think there is enough and I’ve not been persuaded to the contrary. Actually, I think there is potentially more now,” Waldrip said at the close of the hearing.
In arguing that the longtime church leader should be spared, Jefferson raised a litany of reasons, ranging from constitutional grounds to Miscavige’s status as an clesiastical leader of a major religion, to his own brief sworn statement that he had nothing to do with the whole matter.
“What’s the cost to the First Amendment? What’s the cost to freedom of religion? There is far more harm than good done by forcing Mr. Miscavige to take a deposition,” Jefferson argued.
And, he said, the plaintiff has produced no evidence that Miscavige was involved.
“They’ve done a ton of discovery and none of their discovery and none of it supports their theory that Mr. Miscavige had anything to do with the operation against the Rathbuns,” Jefferson said.
“They say everyone is lying, but they have no evidence to support their bald-faced accusation,” he said.
Ray Jeffrey, Rathbun’s lead lawyer, repeatedly has accused the defendants, who include theChurch of Scientology and its Religious Technology Center, of providing incomplete, misleading or false answers to discovery questions.
And he said the defense lawyers have been equally uncooperative.
“It’s like trying to punch your way out of a paper bag,” he told the judge.
And Jeffrey ridiculed Jefferson’s depiction of Miscavige as a high-minded religious figure, or comparisons to corporate leaders such as Michael Dell or Jack Welch, who should be protected from frivolous attempts to depose them.
“He literally beats people and imprisons them in the compound out in the desert,” he said, adding that it defies everything known about Miscavige to think he was not involved in the campaign against the Rathbuns.
To support their claims, the plaintiffs filed with the court 20 pages of text messages from 2007 that they claim shows Miscavige’s personal involvement in an Office of Special Affairs operation against a BBC reporter who was trying to do a report on the church.
“I reported daily to Mr. Miscavige on my activities (and) Miscavige sent me daily, detailed written orders concerning the assignment by encrypted email as well as routine phone calls,” wroteMichael Rinder, the former official who recorded the texts on his Blackberry.
The texts purport to show Miscavige haranguing Rinder and another operative with a stream of abusive, obscenity-laden orders on how to thwart the reporter.
“This shows incredible micro-managing and browbeating of high-level OSA people in dealing with external threat,” Jeffrey said.
In ruling that the church leader come to be deposed, Waldrip said he might have to preside over the sure-to-be contentious legal exercise.
“It sounds like it might have to be done right here in the courtroom so I can rule on the objections,” he said.