By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The opinion by the appellate court remains one of the most damning in a long history of court denouncements of Scientology which have occurred worldwide.
The Wollersheim case is among the most important decisions against Scientology in its history because it showed that the organizations standard practices used against a member were harmful, says Stephen Kent, a sociologist of religion at the University of Alberta who is one of the few academics who studies Scientology in depth.
Frank Oliver, a former Scientologist who once gathered information on perceived enemies as part of Scientologys current intelligence wing, the Office of Special Affairs, explains why the decision was so repugnant to the organization, and why paying even a cent of it would be considered by Scientologists a horrendous defeat: Scientologys entire premise is that the Hubbard technology is infallible, he says. The underlying concept of the Wollersheim judgment is that the Hubbard tech is harmful. If they pay, they validate the argument that the tech is toxic.
And for that reason, Oliver and other former Scientologists say, Scientology was willing to spend vast amounts of money in legal costs to avoid paying Wollersheim.
Even before the trial had started, Scientology had begun a long campaign of separate lawsuits, court motions and other tactics meant to derail the case.
In 1985, Scientologists filed a separate lawsuit based on federal anti-racketeering laws (a RICO action) in U.S. district court against Wollersheim, his attorneys, and his expert witnesses. The suit claimed that, in essence, Wollersheims attempts to wrestle documents out of Scientology for his trial was akin to a criminal enterprise.
The federal court threw out the lawsuit (dubbed Wollersheim 2), calling it frivolous and bordering on malicious.
While that suit was pending, Scientology filed another RICO action, claiming that the entire L.A. superior court was prejudiced against it. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals not only denied the appeal when this lawsuit, Wollersheim 3, was rejected, but even had it stricken from the courts record.
Meanwhile, the particular entity Wollersheim had sued, the Church of Scientology of California (CSC), was mysteriously shrinking.
In 1985, the year before Wollersheims trial, in a suit brought by another disgruntled former member in Oregon, an official for CSC claimed that it had assets of more than $350 million. But during Wollersheims proceedings just twelve months later, CSC officials testified that it was worth only $13 million. (And one of Wollersheims attorneys, Dan Stein, used CSCs own documents to show that even this amount was ephemeral. By the time Wollersheim won his verdict, CSC was essentially broke.)
Wollersheim and his attorneys suspected where the money had gone.
In 1981, a year after Wollersheim had originally filed his lawsuit, Scientology had gone through a major, and very complex, reorganization. CSC had been splintered into many separate entities, including a new mother church, the Church of Scientology International (CSI), and something called the Religious Technology Center (RTC), a sort of ecclesiastical clearinghouse which held all of the copyrights and trademarks of Hubbards religious writings and was charged with making sure other Scientology entities kept Hubbards tech pure.
It was RTC and CSI that had brought the Wollersheim 2 and Wollersheim 3 actions, the frivolous lawsuits that had been aimed at derailing Wollersheims original suit against CSC.
Wollersheim has long argued that to avoid paying him, Scientology effected its highly complex reorganization, gutted CSC, and moved its assets to other entities such as RTC and CSI, which in turn used their financial muscle to go after Wollersheim in other actions.
And in 1997, he got proof that his theory was correct. The supposedly dormant CSC had filed yet another lawsuit against Wollersheim (eventually dubbed Wollersheim 4), but after Wollersheim successfully defeated it with a SLAPP motiona California legal strategy that defendants can use to have frivolous lawsuits thrown out of court and be awarded attorneys feesCSI admitted that it, not CSC, was really behind the action and paid Wollersheims lawyers nearly $500,000.
My client believes that it doesnt have a leg to stand on in terms of we are responsible for this amount of money owed and we are going to pay it, CSIs attorney Samuel Abelson said in court, an admission that the new organization, CSI, was really behind a lawsuit filed by the old one, CSC.
Wollersheims attorneys explain that it was nice to get the attorneys fees they had coming in the SLAPP action. But more importantly, they say, the victory provided a blueprint for how Wollersheim should seek his original court judgment.
They spent the next five yearsuntil this past May trying to prove that the alphabet soup of CSI, RTC, and CSC was a sham, and that Scientology, under whatever name, should have to pay the $2.5 million plus interest that Wollersheim had won in his 1986 trial with CSC.
They gathered evidence to show that despite the confusing profusion of names and acronyms, Scientology was really a single enterprise, and its actions and litigation were directed by one man, Hubbards successor David Miscavige. Former high-ranking officials declared that they had witnessed Miscavigewho supposedly had no position or standing at the time with CSC, the corporation being sueddirecting the litigation against Wollersheim and ordering the destruction of key evidence in the case. Special intelligence operations, they declared, were formed to target not only Wollersheim and his attorneys but even the judge, witnesses, and their family and friends. When the jury awarded Wollersheim $30 million, one former official testified, Miscavige vowed that it would never be paid, even if it cost more than $30 million to avoid it. CSC, meanwhile, was purposely ransacked of all assets to make sure that Wollersheim couldnt reach it, two former officers declared.