Friday, April 20, 2018
News Roundup

Federal judge to rule on validity of Scientology's refund process

TAMPA — A federal judge on Thursday urged both sides in a lawsuit over the Church of Scientology's fundraising tactics to settle matters on their own before he is forced to make "a difficult decision" after two days of hearings.

If they don't come to an agreement — and there was no indication they would — U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said he will focus on whether the church has a valid procedure in place to arbitrate money disputes with former parishioners.

The plaintiffs, Luis and Rocio Garcia, spent $1.3 million on services and causes over 28 years, and are seeking a refund.

The church contends the couple must go through a "Committee of Evidence" to be considered for a refund. But the couple argues there are no such procedures in place.

According to testimony this week, church policy governing Committees of Evidence never mentions arbitration, and there has never been an arbitration in the history of the church. Whittemore said there is no basis for what one would look like.

Much of Thursday's testimony related to whether someone who leaves or is expelled from the church would be treated fairly by a panel made up of Scientologists in good standing, as required for a Committee of Evidence.

Former Scientologists Hayden James and Christie Collbran told stories about how the church's "disconnection" policies forced family members still in the church to disown relatives who left.

But Whittemore said the First Amendment prevents him from putting any weight on such testimony, no matter how persuasive.

"I have no authority to delve into the beliefs, doctrines, tenets of this organization that calls itself a church," he said.

He also expressed frustration with former church members using their time on the witness stand to air grievances instead of focusing on the arbitration issue.

"This is not a forum to fight with the church," Whittemore said. "I am not going to be dragged into these disputes."

Church attorney F. Wallace Pope Jr. said a Committee of Evidence can conduct an arbitration because it is in charge of all matters of justice. But Whittemore asked for more information to explain the connection between a Committee of Evidence and the arbitration clause in the enrollment agreement parishioners must sign whenever they take a church course or use a service. The Garcias say they signed many such agreements.

Their attorney, Theodore Babbitt, countered that the arbitration clause and the Committee of Evidence policies are inconsistent and polar opposites, and the church would be making up the process as it went.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst

Comments
Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

DUNEDIN — After losing a four-run lead thanks to a bad sixth inning, it would have been easy for Clearwater Central Catholic to fold against Dunedin in the final of the 49th annual Dunedin Spring Tournament. But quality relief pitching from Gar...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

ST. PETERSBURG — Roughly four hours before taking the field against his former team Friday, Rays outfielder Denard Span spoke admirably about the Minnesota Twins, their organization in general, even hometown icon Joe Mauer.But business is busin...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up the ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blue line. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by (Lightning...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 20

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 15, Central 0
Updated: 3 hours ago
St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city said not one of the 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water released on Jan. 18 reached Tampa Bay.There was no mention of the waste released from the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility ever reaching the bay in the city’s notice...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

BRANDON – Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen had not traveled to Tampa as of Friday afternoon, according to coach John Hynes, and his availability for Game 5 Saturday against the Lightning is in doubt.Hynes, however, did not rule out Vatan...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

TAMPA — Private developers would bear much of the cost of a new Rays stadium in Ybor City under a plan Hillsborough County officials are putting together.Developers would benefit by cashing in on commercial, retail and other construction around a ne...
Updated: 5 hours ago
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Updated: 5 hours ago