Judge rules suit can proceed against Church of Scientology in member's death
Tuesday, January 14, 2003
(01-14) 10:50 PST ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) --
A judge has ruled that a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology should go to trial.
The cause and manner of Scientologist Lisa McPherson's death in 1995 "is legitimately an issue that needs to be decided by a jury," Judge Susan Schaeffer said in her ruling Monday.
But the judge also said she found no proof to support the McPherson estate's allegation that the church's worldwide leader, David Miscavige, decided to let McPherson die.
Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw said the church was "completely vindicated of the false and scurrilous allegation that church leaders intended harm to Lisa McPherson."
McPherson's estate says she died from severe dehydration after 18 days in the church's care. The church maintains that McPherson died from a pulmonary embolism, the result of a traffic accident the day before she was brought to the church.
The church had sought to have the suit dismissed, alleging that Tampa attorney Ken Dandar, who is representing McPherson's estate, had urged a witness to lie under oath.
The witness, Robert Minton, gave Dandar up to $2 million over five years to bankroll the case against Scientology.
Schaeffer ruled that Minton lied when he testified during a 35-day hearing last summer that Dandar had urged him to say the money was from unidentified Europeans who oppose the church.
Schaeffer said she believes Minton did not want to disclose a foreign bank account for tax reasons.
The judge said she would forward her order to the state attorney so Minton can be investigated for perjury.
Schaeffer also ruled Dandar could continue representing the estate. But she did not endorse the estate's claim that the church extorted Minton's testimony.
©2003 Associated Press