Debbie Cook Files to Dissolve Scientology's Temporary Restraining Order: We Talk To Her Attorney, Ray Jeffrey
Yesterday, Debbie Cook began her defense against Scientology's lawsuit which seeks $300,000 in damages because she dared to speak out to her fellow church members in an e-mail sent on New Year's Eve.
Cook, through her newly hired San Antonio attorney, Ray B. Jeffrey, filed to dissolve the temporary restraining order that Scientology was granted a week ago which prevents her from talking to anyone -- even her own husband -- about the case or about Scientology. Friday morning, a hearing will be held over Cook's motion, but we are learning that the real fireworks are coming next Thursday, when a hearing about a temporary injunction will give Cook the opportunity to introduce evidence that Jeffrey characterizes as "beyond the pale of what a human being should endure."
We spoke at length with Jeffrey today about Cook's plans to fight back against Scientology, and about his own preparations for what he acknowledges is likely to be a long, and brutal contest.
According to Jeffrey's website, he's a veteran of more than 75 trials since 1989, and served as the mayor of Bulverde, a San Antonio suburb, for a couple of years.
But I asked him what his experience is in litigation with the Church of Scientology.
"None. I've had a mild interest over the years. I've always been aware of Scientology, but that's the full extent of it. Coincidentally I read the Reitman book on vacation last summer. It was quite fascinating," he says, referring to Janet Reitman's history of the church, last year's Inside Scientology.
Jeffrey explained that when Scientology filed its lawsuit, it requested, and was granted, a temporary restraining order. "They're only good for 14 days," he says, "so they're really easy to get."
The TRO runs out next week, and the next step in the process is for there to be a hearing to see if the same restrictions on Cook will be continued in a temporary injunction, which could last the duration of the case.
In other words, Cook could simply wait a few more days for the TRO to expire, and then really begin to fight the case. Instead, as a measure of how anxious she is to take on the church in this matter, she filed a motion yesterday to dissolve the TRO. That's what will be discussed in a hearing tomorrow morning.
"What we've done is rather than wait around, rather than wait until next Thursday, there are so many problems with the restraining order, we're asking that it be dissolved. We're able to do that on only two days notice," Jeffrey says. "We'll argue that they didn't follow the law in getting this TRO and that they didn't follow the rules for any kind of injunctive relief."
Jeffrey explained that the TRO is stunningly broad. "It prohibits her from going and getting a lawyer and defending herself in the lawsuit. It's that broad. She's barred from talking to anyone, even her husband. That on its face is completely inappropriate," he says.
Also, he points out, the church has not explained how it is being harmed by Cook's actions so far, which amounts to an e-mail sent to her fellow church members that complained that her religion had gotten away from its underlying principles.
"The church has an obligation to show what is the irreparable harm that will occur if she is not enjoined from speaking. They don't even make an attempt to spell out what that is. It's just an abusive TRO. I hope that it will be dissolved. If not, it just stays in place until next Thursday, the hearing for the temporary injunction."
I asked him for a preview of what might come out in that hearing next week, and he said they would enter evidence for how Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten were compelled to sign such seemingly draconian non-disclosure agreements.
"The shame of it is, she's still a faithful Scientologist with great love for the church and doesn't wish any ill on the church. And why they would squash her, when she has done nothing more than communicate with other Scientologists about the direction of the church, and in a very positive way," he says. "I want to point out, however, that the Texas Constitution is even more protective of free speech than the federal Constitution."
And if the court denies her requests?
"We could seek extraordinary relief from the appellate court, and I'm confident that would be granted," he says.
I asked Jeffrey if he was aware of Scientology's litigation history -- its reputation for "scorched earth" tactics.
"I fully understand that they're going to argue and fight over everything, and they're a multiple billion dollar organization," he says.
And Debbie? Is she up for a prolonged fight?
"For 17 years she supervised well over a thousand employees, managed a budget of 150 million dollars a year, worked extreme hours, had incredible pressures," Jeffrey says. "You know that saying, that which does not kill you makes you stronger? Well, she's ready."
And the other side? I asked him about George Spencer, the local attorney that Scientology hired. (I've put in a call to Spencer and will update this if I hear from him.)
"He's a respected lawyer in San Antonio," Jeffrey says. "He's the son of one of the founders of the firm, Clemens and Spencer. His wife is a probate court judge in San Antonio. And I'll tell you something interesting. His co-counsel, Mark Cannan, was the attorney for the San Antonio Express-News. He is knowledgeable about First Amendment law, and he should know better, in my opinion."
Debbie Cook Coverage in the Village Voice...
Also, please see our primer, "What is Scientology?"
Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications.
Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared
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