From the AP Newswire...
Jury orders attorney to pay Church of Scientology
The Associated Press
CLEARWATER, Fla. --
The Church of Scientology had sought millions in damages, but a Pinellas County jury on Wednesday ordered a Tampa lawyer to pay $4,500 to the church for an improper legal maneuver the church claims led to a wave of bad publicity.
Church of Scientology attorney Samuel Rosen told jurors that lawyer Ken Dandar launched "a frontal attack on an entire religion" as opposing counsel in a wrongful death lawsuit against the church.
Rosen asked the jury to award heavy punitive damages against Dandar, who for six years has waged a legal battle that has caused nightmares for the church.
The jury, after deliberating for 2 1/2 hours, ordered Dandar to reimburse the church $4,500, to cover legal costs.
The battle stemmed from the wrongful death lawsuit Dandar filed on behalf of the estate of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died in 1995 after 17 days of care at the church's spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater. The case decided Wednesday grew out of that lawsuit.
Church officials sued Dandar when, more than two years into the wrongful death case, he sought to add as defendants several top church officials, including the church's worldwide leader, David Miscavige.
The ensuing bad publicity was devastating to Scientology, church officials said, and it violated a private agreement between the church and the McPherson estate not to add additional defendants.
Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird agreed that the private agreement was breached and instructed the jury to decide how much Dandar and the estate owed the church.
Rosen had argued that church critic Robert Minton paid Dandar $2,050,000 to "hijack" the lawsuit and use it as a platform to attack the church. Rosen stopped short of recommending a potential award, but said, "you don't punish until that amount is more than $2,050,000."
Dandar and his attorney, Luke Lirot, contended that the breach of contract case was nothing more than an attempt by the church to financially ruin Dandar and the estate and prevent further pursuit of the wrongful death lawsuit.
A trial date in the wrongful death case is expected to be set during two days of pretrial hearings beginning Sept. 22, Dandar said.
Last modified: August 20. 2003 6:35PM