Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige has sidestepped giving a deposition in a high-profile harassment lawsuit filed in Texas by Monique Rathbun, wife of vocal church critic Marty Rathbun.
A Texas appeals court this week overturned December's ruling by Comal County, Texas, District Judge Dib Waldrip, who had ordered Miscavige to submit to questioning.
Even though Miscavige is named as a defendant, church attorneys argued from the outset that Waldrip's court had no jurisdiction over Scientology's longtime leader.
Miscavige lives in California, they pointed out, and has had no connection to church activities in Texas. He merely attended the 2009 opening of a new church in Dallas, lawyers said.
But Monique Rathbun alleges in her suit, filed in August 2013, that Miscavige directed a three-year campaign of harassment, spying and intimidation aimed at her and her husband. It began soon after Marty Rathbun, who had worked closely with Miscavige before leaving the church in 2004, spoke critically of Miscavige to the Tampa Bay Times and national media in 2009.
Also named as defendants in the suit are the Church of Scientology International, another Scientology corporation, three private investigators and a Scientology parishioner who joined a band of Scientologists who heckled the Rathbuns for several months outside their south Texas home. The couple lives in rural Comal County, north of San Antonio. Monique Rathbun, 42, has never been a Scientologist.
Church officers and attorneys do not contest the Rathbuns were targets. The investigators who watched them and church members who confronted the couple were investigating Marty Rathbun's anti-church activities and his delivery of Scientology services without church authorization.
In its ruling this week, Texas' 3rd District Appeals Court agreed Miscavige is protected by Texas "apex deposition doctrine,'' which shields high-ranking executives from being pulled into burdensome, harassing depositions.
Monique Rathbun and her legal team did not show Miscavige had "superior knowledge'' of the allegedly harassing activities, a threshold that could have compelled his testimony, the appeals court said.
That could happen later, however, the court said. With additional questioning of church representatives and further review of church records, Rathbun's team could demonstrate that a Miscavige deposition is necessary, the court said.
Rathbun declined to comment Friday. Marty Rathbun said Miscavige managed to "delay the inevitable.'' He added, "That opinion doesn't get him out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination.''
Rarely seen in public, Miscavige, 53, has guided the church since Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard died in 1986. He has testified a handful of times.
Rathbun's lead attorney, Ray Jeffrey of Bulverde, Texas, said striking the deposition was a blow. "Our case is clear — that this was a personal vendetta by David Miscavige against the Rathbuns.''
Church officers in Los Angeles did not respond to a request for comment.
Likely next in the case is a decision on the church's appeal of Waldrip's order in March denying Scientology's motion to dismiss the suit altogether. That could come by year's end, Jeffrey said.