Scientology, Deposed? Debbie Cook Goes on the Offensive (UPDATED)
UPDATE: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin of the Tampa Bay Times have a startling new detail about the Cook lawsuit tonight. They report that in 2009, Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten were alarmed when Church operatives showed up in San Antonio to talk to them, and, worried about their safety, purchased a gun. Cook's attorney Ray Jeffrey says that it's more evidence that the couple not only signed their 2007 agreement under duress, but have been under duress ever since.
On Friday, the Church of Scientology did as promised and filed a motion for summary judgment in its lawsuit against former executive Debbie Cook. The church is asking the Bexar County, Texas district court to see this lawsuit as a simple contract dispute, and one the church deserves to win without going any further.
Cook's attorney, Ray Jeffrey, told us that he thinks there's enough disagreement over the basic facts that a judge won't grant Scientology's motion -- the church maintains that when Cook sent out a New Year's Eve e-mail complaining about how Scientology is now betraying its original principles with a focus on "extreme fundraising," she violated the terms of a 2007 non-disclosure agreement she signed when she left the church's employ. But in a stunning February 9 hearing, Cook told a very different story -- that she signed that agreement only under extreme duress, and that she had literally been under guard when she was forced to sign it before she could go free from what had become a nightmare of abuse.
Jeffrey predicted that not only would a judge not cut the case short by granting the church an easy victory, but that the case would get even messier for the church.
Yesterday, Debbie Cook made good on part of that prediction, opening up several new lines in her counterattack with three new court filings that promise to make the discovery process a painful one for David Miscavige, Scientology's leader.
We have copies of those filings posted below.
In the first document, Cook is calling for Scientology to be deposed in the case, this Monday.
Jeffrey explained to me that Cook can ask for the church to produce witnesses to be questioned under oath so quickly as long as no particular witness is asked for by name.
If Cook wanted to depose Kathy True, for example -- the head of "external security" at Scientology's Florida "Mecca" who, Cook testified, hunted down Cook and her husband when they tried to flee the church in 2007 -- they would have to do so in Florida, and probably at a much later date. But under Texas law, Cook instead can produce a list of questions she wants asked in a deposition, and it's the church's responsibility to produce a witness who is competent to answer them -- and without having to go to Florida or anywhere else.
"They're required to send someone who knows what they're talking about," Jeffrey told me by phone yesterday.
Among the questions Cook wants to be addressed in a deposition, and in only a few days...
-- "The Security arrangements at Hacienda Gardens in 2007," the apartment complex where Cook says she and her husband were held against their will, forced to take part in constant "confessions," and felt they had to sign anything to be allowed to leave.
-- "The Defendants' financial compensation and vacation during their employment with the Plaintiff," a question that should elicit some detail about how Sea Org members toil for up to 100 hours and for about 50 dollars a week, with almost no days off, ever.
-- "The relationship between the Plaintiff and David Miscavige from 2006 to the present," and now we're really getting somewhere. As we've written earlier, Scientology's attorneys have so far tried to convince the Texas district court that the church's ultimate leader, Miscavige, is not a party to this suit. But Cook is making this lawsuit more and more about her treatment at the hands of the "Chairman of the Board," particularly during her 7-week alleged imprisonment in "the Hole," a notorious office-prison at Scientology's California international base.
-- "The relationship between the Plaintiff and Marty Rathbun from 1990 to the present"..."The relationship between the Plaintiff and Mike Rinder from 1990 to the present." Now we get into nightmare territory for the church. Not only is Cook indicating that she wants to bring into this case details about the defections of two of Scientology's most formerly high-ranking officials and currently two of its most effective critics, but the filing puts the church on notice that she plans to have Rathbun and Rinder present at the taking of the deposition.
"Of course they're going to fight it, but it's ridiculous that they filed this motion for summary judgment on Friday," Jeffrey told me, explaining that Scientology's attorneys are trying to hurry the case, no doubt because it's gone so badly for them so far.
In the second filing, Cook continues the discovery process by asking the church to turn over various records, and again, church leader David Miscavige is targeted directly.
In the third filing, Jeffrey asks the court to delay the church's motion for summary judgment, pointing out that Scientology is rushing things before a single deposition has been taken or any of Cook's requests for records have been addressed.
Knowing that, under the Bexar County district court's way of doing things, the case will likely rotate to a new judge unfamiliar with what has happened to this point, Jeffrey made sure to hammer home some startling facts...
Ms. Cook was among the most loyal and valuable Scientologists in the world before she was viciously abused and discarded by the Church in 2007. Before her departure from the Church's employment, she was beaten, tortured, terrorized, degraded, kidnapped, denied medical care, held against her will, and forced to sign an unconscionable contract. During her 27-year career, she dedicated herself to her Church employment for long hours, seven days' per week, 52 weeks per year. At one stretch, she worked ten years without a single personal day off. Her financial compensation was less than $10,000 per year. The Church has billions of dollars in wealth, but provides no financial retirement plan for the workers who dedicate their life to its service...
According to the world view of Church leaders, Ms. Cook and her husband now must be squashed like bugs. The current litigation against Ms. Cook and her husband is a classic example of the Church of Scientology's overreaching approach to litigation...
This next part I can attest to myself: I was there to see it...
In its zeal to keep the lid on its misdeeds concerning Ms. Cook, the Church sought unsuccessfully to exclude the news media from the courtroom. The attorney went so far as to make his opening statement, and then request that the Defendants' attorney be prevented from making an opening statement on their behalf...
Jeffrey says Scientology's motion for summary judgment was "ridiculously premature," and is an attempt to end things before his client can even get going.
In an e-mail, Jeffrey also wanted us to know how much the readers of this blog are contributing to the way this lawsuit is turning out...
Tony, I would like your readers to know how much we appreciate their responses to your posts of the case documents. Aside from the humor (which I, for one, need during this ordeal), their brilliant legal minds are helping us with their analyses. They may not be privy to all the facts and the nuances of Texas legal rules, but they are raising important points that we are incorporating into our multi-pronged counterattack ....Again, Debbie and my thanks to them and you. -- Ray
And here are the documents. As usual, I look forward to your analysis of them!
1. Notice of Deposition
2. Requests for Production
3. Motion to Compel
********** Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories, which tend to come out each and every morning at 8 am, but can suddenly appear at any time of the day. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories. As for our regular features, on Thursdays we do a roundup of world press, on Fridays we visit L. Ron Hubbard on the yacht Apollo circa 1969-1971, on Saturdays we celebrate the week's best comments, and on Sundays we publish Scientology's wacky and tacky advertising mailers that people send us.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.
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