Last Friday, we started a countdown that will give credit — or blame — to the people who have contributed most to the sad current state of Scientology. From its greatest expansion in the 1980s, the church is a shell of what it once was and is mired in countless controversies around the world. Some of that was self-inflicted, and some of it has come from outside. Join us now as we continue on our investigation of those people most responsible…
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
The first person Lisa McPherson’s family thanked after their ordeal was over and they had pried a settlement out of Scientology nine years after Lisa’s death was their attorney, Ken Dandar. McPherson’s aunt, Dell Liebreich, wrote this about Dandar after the court case was finally over:
He and his brother Tom are very brave and withstood the onslaught of the persistent attacks of Scientology and its agents. No other attorneys would help us. Even after Ken had a quintuple coronary bypass, he was in court facing Scientology, three days following his hospital discharge. His wife, Lauren, and his daughter, Christina, also withstood the great pressure in facing Scientology, things I dare not mention here. Over these many years, I am amazed at how many people, including lawyers, told me and my sisters how lucky we were to have someone like Ken and his brother fighting for us, undaunted by the methods used by Scientology. Not even the Minton efforts of Scientology could stand against Ken. We thank Luke Lirot, Ken’s attorney, for doing a great job in representing Ken and us in court.
(For those unsure what we’re talking about, please pick up a copy of Janet Reitman’s excellent book, Inside Scientology. Her four chapters about the life and death of Lisa McPherson, and the ensuing court battles over it, form the heart of her gripping history of the church. For the uninitiated, the quickest of recaps: McPherson was a Scientologist who suffered an apparent mental breakdown in Clearwater, Florida in November, 1995. After being treated at a hospital, her fellow Scientologists convinced doctors that she didn’t want a psychiatric evaluation — which was against her religion — and took her to Scientology’s Fort Harrison Hotel to recover. 17 days later, she was dead, and her corpse was in horrific condition. Years of litigation ensued, with the church battling claims that it had followed Scientology policies of isolating and not communicating with the mentally unstable woman while she died of dehydration. Here’s one place to learn more.)
I asked Scott Pilutik, a younger lawyer who is quickly becoming an authority in the field, to give me his assessment of Dandar:
Ken Dandar in many ways represents the greatest threat to the Church of Scientology’s continued existence, and consequently they’ve shown an unceasing willingness to undermine him at every turn. Most people thought it was Bob Minton who threatened Scientology the most, but Scientology only destroyed Minton in order to get at Dandar. That he’s still standing after all they’ve thrown at him is ample evidence of his unflinching tenacity. And Scientology continues to use the Lisa McPherson case as a weapon — arguing in the Kyle Brennan wrongful death suit (in which Dandar represents the Kyle Brennan estate) that the settlement agreement between the Lisa McPherson estate and Scientology prohibits Dandar from litigating against Scientology forevermore! An argument which Florida state court judge Beach — a longtime admirer of Scientology’s legal creativity — actually gave credence to, despite ample precedent that it’s against public policy to interpret an agreement to restrict an attorney’s law practice. But these are the lengths to which Scientology must resort, as being found liable for wrongful death — whether Lisa McPherson’s or Kyle Brennan’s — is something Scientology can’t have on its ledger.
Look, litigation is tough, and there are plenty of Denny Crains out there who wear their court victories like notches on their belts. But it takes a special kind of lawyer to spend year after year battling Scientology, which never saw a local court rule that it didn’t want to pervert, a judge it didn’t want to baffle with bullshit, or a court clerk it didn’t want to bury in paper by the ton.
The late Dan Leipold, for example, was the kind of attorney who kept coming on no matter what obstacles church attorneys threw in his way. He and another tenacious attorney, Ford Greene, worked together on something as significant as the Lawrence Wollersheim cases, and also something as strange and unsettling as the Raul Lopez matter.
In the Wollersheim saga, Leipold and Greene were seeking the money that the church had owed the former Scientologist since he’d won his fraud case against the church in 1986. In 2002, when I spoke to them about it, they were still trying to get Wollersheim his money. And they were doing it in an incredibly creative way — by threatening to lay bare David Miscavige’s ultimate control of every Scientology entity, in violation of the church’s tax-exempt status with the IRS.
The very morning that evidence was finally going to be heard in a Los Angeles courtroom, a Scientology subsidiary that was supposed to be broke suddenly showed up to the courtroom with a check for almost $9 million to finally end the case.
“They caved because we had the goods on these guys in direct contravention to their tax exempt status. Miscavige has been running the church since 1986,” Leipold told me.
Leipold and Greene also worked on the oddest of Scientology lawsuits: the case of Raul Lopez, a brain-damaged young man who was being fleeced out of the $1.7 million he’d received in a settlement after the auto accident that injured him. Wrote my colleague Ron Russell at the time:
In the intervening years, Leipold and Greene claim, their client was “systematically looted” of his wealth at the hands of the church and individuals associated with it. Between 1987 and 1996,their complaint says, Raul Lopez spent nearly $600,000 for Scientology products and services thatcan be documented. Much of the money went to pay for months of auditing sessions at Oxnard,which took place up to six times a week, before he was passed up the bridge for more advancedauditing at both the church’s Celebrity Centre International in Hollywood and at its sprawling FlagService Organization (commonly referred to within the church as Flag Land Base) in Clearwater,Florida. He says he passed out during auditing on at least three occasions and that each timechurch representatives attributed it to personal inadequacies that they said only pointed up theneed for more intense auditing. In addition, the lawyers contend that their brain-impaired clientforked over hundreds of thousands of dollars to people connected with the church for other purposes. “They isolated him from his family and took control of every aspect of his life,” says Leipold.”They squeezed him until there was nothing left.”
Sadly, Leipold died in 2007 at only 59 years of age. I asked his old partner for a remembrance of him, and this is what Greene sent me:
Dan Leipold was a dogged professional whose sense of injustice Scientology profoundly offended. Creative, effective and taking no prisoners, Dan kicked Scientology’s ass on behalf of the Cult Awareness Network, Raul Lopez and Lawrence Wollersheim. He was a fox hole brother whose presence — and humor — is always missed.
Greene, meanwhile, has gone on to a surprising new racket: he’s the mayor of San Anselmo, California.
There’s another attorney, however, who never seems to leave the trenches. One of the most difficult stories I have ever reported was a 1999 story about the “fair game” attack on lawyer Graham Berry.
Berry was not only a tireless litigator against the church, he happened to be a gay man who had lived in New York during the 1970s. Hoping to slime Berry, Scientology sent its legendary goon, a disgraced former cop named Eugene Ingram, to look for any leverage it could use against the attorney, and found it in a troubled man named Robert Cipriano. Pressuring Cipriano about his own legal troubles, Ingram and Scientology convinced him to sign a false affidavit that was filled with homophobic slander about Berry.
It took Berry years to fight that attempt to slander him, and that only brought him into Scientology’s noose even tighter: I watched as the church bankrupted him, and harassed him with constant depositions that would have broken 100 other men or women.
To this day, however, Berry has not only refused to give up his fight against Scientology, but he’s done it on the front lines, speaking at conferences, manning picket lines, and somehow doing it with no means of visible support. You just can’t kill the man’s spirit.
And finally, I want to mention
Brooklyn Manhattan attorney Scott Pilutik, who has become a favorite with Scientology watchers for the clear but detailed analyses he does of ongoing church litigation at his blog, realitybasedcommunity.net.
For example, he’s helped us non-lawyers understand the tricky jurisdictional issues in the lawsuit filed by Laura Decrescenzo. “Laura D’s” case is especially troubling, writes Pilutik:
At age 9, Laura began working for the Church of Scientology’s Sea Org in the most miserable conditions imaginable in a non-third world country. At age 16 she married a fellow Scientologist staff member and soon became pregnant. Scientology forced her to abort her child-Sea Org workers with children aren’t nearly as productive and, accordingly, having them is forbidden. Laura endured many more years of abuse within the Sea Org, spending long stretches of time on the Rehabilitation Project Force (Scientology’s brand of prison camp). In 2004, at the age of 25, she had finally had enough. Knowing that the quickest way out was to be seen as visibly suicidal, which would cause Scientology to “offload her,” she ingested bleach in view of another Sea Org worker.
If that’s frightening, you should see what’s happened to her case in the courts. The jurisdictional and timing issues are complex and make my head hurt. But “T1kk,” as he calls himself, has helped us all understand better where the case is headed.
The most recent ruling Pilutik called “a potentially devastating blow to the Church of Scientology.” Well, we’ll see.
Barry Van Sickle has been involved in many of the most important cases of litigation against the church in recent years, including lawsuits involving Lawrence Wollersheim, Graham Berry, John Lindstein, Laura DeCrescenzo, and the Headleys. Talk about a glutton for punishment! I asked Scott Pilutik to give me some thoughts on Van Sickle’s career:
Barry Van Sickle has great instincts for ‘what Scientology will do next’, having litigating against them for twenty plus years. Although the Headleys’ lawsuits were dismissed, a case currently before the Supreme Court, Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, may ultimately vindicate not only the Headleys, but Barry too, as the law on who is a “minister” is examined by the highest court for the first time.
Michael Flynn was a pioneer of litigation against Scientology — he brought some 20 lawsuits against the church in the 1970s and 1980s — and paid for it with extreme harassment. Scientology’s chief goon, private investigator Eugene Ingram, accused Flynn of trying to steal $2 million from L. Ron Hubbard with a forged check — and broadcast that accusation in full-page advertisements in major newspapers! Flynn, however, not only beat back that attack, but ended up winning a settlement of more than half a million dollars from the church.
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#1: L. Ron Hubbard
#2: David Miscavige
#3: Marty Rathbun
#4: Tom Cruise
#5: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin
#7: Mark Bunker
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church’s HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church’s other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord
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
SCIENTOLOGY IN THE VILLAGE VOICE
[Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis secretly recorded discussing “disconnection”]
[Benjamin Ring, LA deputy sheriff, wants you to spend your 401K on Scientology]
[Scientologists: How many of them are there, anyway?]
MARTY RATHBUN AND THE SIEGE OF SOUTH TEXAS
[Scientology has Rathbun arrested] | [Rathbun and Mark Bunker reveal surprising ties]
In Germany with Ursula Caberta: [Announcing plans] | [Press conference] | [Making news about Tom Cruise, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair] | [Post-trip interview]
The Squirrel Busters: [Goons with cameras on their heads] | [Rathbun’s open letter to neighbors] | [Ingleside on the Bay, Texas rallies to Rathbun’s cause] | [Squirrel Buster’s claim to be making a “documentary”] | [VIDEO: “On a Boat”] | [“Anna” sent to creep out Monique Rathbun] | [Squirrel Busters go hillbilly] | [A videographer blows the whistle on the goon squad] | [Ed Bryan, OT VIII, shows the power of Scientology’s highest levels]
SCIENTOLOGY SPYING AND “FAIR GAME”
[Secret Scientology documents spell out spying operation against Marc Headley]
[Scientology’s West U.S. spies list revealed] | [Scientology’s enemies list: Are you on it?]
Spy operation against Washington Post writer Richard Leiby: [Part 1] | [Part 2]
[A Scientology spy comes clean: Paulien Lombard’s remarkable public confession]
[Scientology advertises for writers in Freedom magazine]
[Accidental leak shows Scientology spy wing plans to “handle” the Voice]
SCIENTOLOGY AND CELEBRITIES
[“Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [Tom Cruise likes coconut cake] | [Tom Cruise has a sense of humor] | [“Tom Cruise not a kook!”] | [Paulette Cooper on Tom Cruise]
[Paul Haggis, director of Crash, issues an ultimatum, leaves the church]
[Character actor Jason Beghe defects noisily] | [Actor Michael Fairman reveals his “suppressive person” declaration] | [Michael Fairman talks to the Voice]
[Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh: Scientology-Branch Davidian link makes sense]
[Russell Brand weds ex-Scientologists in wild ceremony] | [Skip Press on Haggis]
[Placido Domingo Jr.: Scientology’s retaliation is “scary and pathetic”]
Grant Cardone, NatGeo’s “Turnaround King”: [Doing Scientology’s dirty work?] | [Milton Katselas complained about Cardone’s smear job] | [Cardone runs to Huffpo]
JANET REITMAN’S INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY
[Our review of Inside Scientology] | [An interview with Janet Reitman] | [A report from Reitman’s first book tour appearance] | [At the Half-King: Reitman not afraid]
[Scientology doesn’t like Inside Scientology] | [Q&A at Washington Post]
[A roundup of Reitman’s print reviews, and why isn’t she on television more?]
HUGH URBAN’S THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY
EX-SCIENTOLOGISTS SPEAK OUT
[Marc Headley: “Tom Cruise told me to talk to a bottle”] | [The Nancy Many interview]
[Sympathy for the Devil: Tory Christman’s Story] | [Jeff Hawkins’ Counterfeit Dreams]
[86 Million Thin Dimes: The Lawrence Wollersheim Saga] | [Mike Rinder on spying]
[Scientology singalong, “We Stand Tall”] | [Captain Bill Robertson and “Galactic Patrol”]
[Scientology wins a major award!] | [Scientology wants your money: Meet Dede!]
[Birmingham in the House! The “Ideal” dance mix] | [Scientology and the Nation of Islam]
[When Scientology was hip] | [Sad: David Miscavige makes fun of his own fundraisers]
[Freedom magazine parodies The New Yorker. Hilarity ensues.]
[Scientology surf report: Anonymous parties outside the New York “org”]
THE VIEW INSIDE THE BUBBLE
[A scientologist’s letter to the Voice and its readers] | [Scientology silent birth]
[Tad Reeves: Scientology might listen to this guy] | [More Tad Reeves and family]
[Scientology never forgets: A heartwarming telemarketing holiday miracle]