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Church of Scientology drops motion for temporary injunction against Debbie Cook

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — Stung by damaging testimony about its inner workings, the Church of Scientology abruptly ended its effort to silence former Clearwater leader Debbie Cook on Friday, beating an uncharacteristic legal retreat and emboldening Cook to keep talking.

Just hours after the church dropped its request for an injunction enforcing a confidentiality agreement with Cook, she sat with reporters and said she hopes the turbulent events of the past few days open church members' eyes.

"I'm hoping that it will create a reformation from within," said Cook, who had previously declined to talk to the media.

Cook, 50, said she revealed abuses on the stand Thursday that she never talked about with anyone, including her husband. She said it was only the "tip of the iceberg" of what she knows about problems within the church.

She said she didn't want her testimony to "reflect badly toward Scientology because really the reality is that this is coming from one person," referring to church leader David Miscavige.

Miscavige, who took power in 1986, has directed the church away from the teachings of founder L. Ron Hubbard, Cook said.

She said she hopes her revelations will "help the church and ultimately help Scientologists and others ... recover it back to its origins, its original goodness and kindness."

Cook is on a "bitter hate campaign" and her claims are false, the church said in a statement.

It said Miscavige "has dedicated more than 30 years of selfless service for the good of the religion," and staff and parishioners applaud that service.

It added: "The church has always been true to L. Ron Hubbard's teachings." Cook was expelled for violating scripture, the statement said.

The church sued Cook last month in San Antonio, where she and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, moved after leaving the Scientology staff in October 2007 and signing agreements never to talk about the church.

The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $300,000, claiming Cook violated the agreement by sending a New Year's Eve email to fellow Scientologists that questioned several church practices and was critical of church leadership.

The legal battle came to a boil Thursday when the church called Cook to the stand, which opened the door for her lawyer to pose questions. Cook recounted several instances of violence that occurred in her last seven months on staff, including a time when Miscavige ordered one church worker to slap her. She said he also ordered her to be confined for seven weeks with more than 100 other top church executives in a surreal setting that came to be known as "The Hole" at the church's compound east of Los Angeles.

After returning to Clearwater, where she had been the top authority figure from 1989 to 2006, she tried to escape but a church team tracked her down and brought her back. She was held in confinement three more weeks before she and Baumgarten agreed to sign confidentiality contracts and accept $50,000 each.

Cook's attorney, Ray Jeffrey, said she signed the agreement under duress and his questioning of her Thursday sought to establish that. She was scheduled to retake the stand Friday morning.

But church attorney George H. Spencer Jr. said his clients had heard enough.

"As we had predicted and feared, the defendants and their counsel have used the court's own process to make numerous gross, false and disparaging statements, which if made outside the courtroom, would clearly have violated the agreements," Spencer told District Judge Martha Tanner.

He withdrew the church's request for a judge to enforce the non-disclosure agreements until the end of the lawsuit. He said ending the hearing prevented Cook from "further using the court as a pulpit."

Spencer referred to Cook's testimony Thursday in which Cook acknowledged she signed an agreement to make no disclosures about the church, accepted money in exchange and violated it with her New Year's Eve email. He said those admissions will give the church enough ammunition to ask a judge to forgo a trial and rule in its favor.

Jeffrey said the church has no hope of getting such a ruling. So many issues and facts are in dispute, he said, no judge would prevent the case from being decided in trial.

If the case goes to trial, Jeffrey promised to call far more than the three witnesses he lined up for this week's hearing and to replay all Cook's testimony and more.

"If a jury hears this set of facts ... they would want to do more than just give a verdict in favor of my client," he said. "They would be outraged."

Contact Joe Childs at childs@tampabay.com. Contact Thomas C. Tobin at tobin@tampabay.com.

Debbie Cook hugs her attorney, Ray Jeffrey, Friday after a Scientology lawyer withdraws a temporary injunction request.

MAURICE RIVENBARK | Times

Debbie Cook hugs her attorney, Ray Jeffrey, Friday after a Scientology lawyer withdraws a temporary injunction request.

Read about the testimony

Find the story about Debbie Cook's testimony to the judge on Thursday and video of the court appearance along with other previous coverage at links.tampabay.com.

Church of Scientology drops motion for temporary injunction against Debbie Cook 02/10/12 [Last modified: Friday, February 10, 2012 11:28pm]
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