Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

Scientology foe gets little comfort from federal judge

TAMPA — The long fight between Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar and the Church of Scientology didn't end Monday, but a federal judge offered scant support to Dandar as he tries to escape more than $1 million in sanctions by a state judge.

The church argues that Dandar violated a decade-old agreement never to sue Scientology again. Dandar said he never agreed to that and the church is illegally trying to restrict his practice, violating his civil rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington appeared reluctant to interfere in the state judicial process.

"Even if I think that decision was incorrect, it's not my place to do anything about it," Covington said during a 70-minute hearing.

At issue before Covington was a federal civil rights lawsuit that Dandar filed against the church in 2012 as he tried to fend off a $1 million judgment the church won against him in a Pinellas County Circuit Court in March.

On Monday, Dandar and lawyers for the church sparred over federal case law as they argued whether Covington should intervene in the state case.

Dandar said the church was part of a conspiracy to deprive him of his civil rights.

"They're still after me," he said, adding that he's had to turn down many Scientology-related cases in recent years. "I can't afford for them to come after me again."

F. Wallace Pope Jr., a Clearwater lawyer representing the church, responded that there wasn't any conspiracy to ruin Dandar. "There was never an intention to do anything but enforce an agreement to force Mr. Dandar to leave the church alone," he said.

Dandar's history of fighting Scientology dates to 1997, when he filed a wrongful-death suit against the church on behalf of a Texas relative of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 while in the care of church staffers in Clearwater.

That lawsuit gained national attention. In court, Dandar often stood alone against teams of church lawyers.

The case took a bitter turn when Dandar succeeded in naming church leader David Miscavige as a co-defendant.

After seven years of legal wrangling, Pinellas Circuit Judge Robert Beach ordered the parties to settle the case in 2004. Terms were confidential.

In 2009, Dandar took on the church again. He filed another wrongful-death suit, this one on behalf of Victoria Britton of Virginia, whose son, Kyle Brennan, had died in 2007 of a gunshot wound while visiting his father, a Scientologist who then lived in Clearwater. Police ruled the death a suicide.

Dandar sued in federal court, naming as defendants the church, the father and two other Scientologists. He argued Brennan's father, Tom Brennan, had confiscated his son's antidepressant medication a day before the shooting because of Scientology's opposition to psychiatry and psychotropic drugs.

Church lawyers promptly went to Judge Beach, saying Dandar had breached the McPherson settlement by filing another lawsuit against Scientology.

Beach agreed and ordered Dandar to pull out of the Brennan case. That prompted a protracted fight in federal court and an appeal that went in the church's favor. Meanwhile, Beach imposed fines against Dandar.

Beach has since recused himself, but the issue remains in the Pinellas courts before Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell. Dandar faces the prospect of having to pay $1.07 million in attorney fees racked up by the church, court costs and fines originally imposed by Beach.

Dandar hasn't paid a dime yet. Although he has lost some appeals in state courts, one final appeal is pending.

Kyle Brennan's mother said she is grateful Dandar took her case.

"It's difficult for me to understand why the legal system would take it to such an extreme where they would want to destroy someone's livelihood," Britton said. "He was really just trying to help a distraught mother who loves her son."

The church didn't respond to requests for comment.

Judge Covington said she would issue her order soon.

Charlie Frago can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago.

Comments
Three things to watch for at the Federal Reserve meeting today

Three things to watch for at the Federal Reserve meeting today

WASHINGTON — On the day when Janet Yellen will hold her final news conference as Federal Reserve chair, the Fed has left little doubt what it plans to do Wednesday: Raise its benchmark interest rate for the third time this year. The increase would be...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
For Weeki Wachee River, Hernando commission agrees to study how much use is too much?

For Weeki Wachee River, Hernando commission agrees to study how much use is too much?

BROOKSVILLE — For a year and a half, residents along the Weeki Wachee River have loudly voiced their concerns about the waterway’s future, begging local and state officials to do something to protect the important resource and to curb gro...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

Switch to wing helps Lightning’s Tyler Johnson

ST. LOUIS — Tyler Johnson hasn’t played very much wing in his career, primarily sticking to his natural center position. But lately, Johnson has been stellar on the right side.Johnson’s assist in Tuesday’s win over the Blues extended his point streak...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Rick and Tom podcast: Should the Rays go full fire-sale mode?

Rick and Tom podcast: Should the Rays go full fire-sale mode?

As baseball’s hot stove starts heating up, should the Rays go full fire sale to build for the future?In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss whether the Rays should trade guys like Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, Alex Colome and more,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Roy Moore won’t concede Alabama Senate race; ex-Tampa police sergeant learns fate; older Americans take too many unneeded pills; Rays’ dilemma: Retool or rebuild?

The Daystarter: Roy Moore won’t concede Alabama Senate race; ex-Tampa police sergeant learns fate; older Americans take too many unneeded pills; Rays’ dilemma: Retool or rebuild?

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecast• It was cold. Then it was warm. And now it will be cold again. Our yo-yo weather continues as another cold front rolls in and drops tempera...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Yankees become Tampa Tarpons in a nod to history

Tampa Yankees become Tampa Tarpons in a nod to history

The Tampa Yankees have officially changed the name of the Class A Florida State League team to the Tarpons.The name change is a nod to the original Tampa Tarpons minor-league team that played at Al Lopez Field from 1957-87.For the first four years th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Picturing something different: St. Petersburg man finds second career as photographer

Picturing something different: St. Petersburg man finds second career as photographer

A chance meeting during a really tough time in Rossie Newson’s life resulted in him finding a talent he never knew he had. After leaving his job as an illustrator at the Tampa Bay Times in 2009, Newson devoted most of his time and energy to his fathe...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Daniel Ruth: Buckhorn stood with good ol’ boys as firefighter proved city harassed her

Daniel Ruth: Buckhorn stood with good ol’ boys as firefighter proved city harassed her

They tried to shut her up. They tried to make her go away. They made her life miserable. Yet Tanja Vidovic — persisted. Long before most people had ever heard of the knuckle-dragging sexually harassing escapades of oafs like Harvey Weinstein, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Woman, 54, killed while crossing U.S. 19 in Hudson

HUDSON — A Hudson woman died Tuesday evening after being struck by a car while crossing U.S. 19 near Babson Avenue, according to Florida Highway Patrol.Patricia Lynn Pla, 54, was crossing U.S. 19 westbound about 6:10 p.m. when troopers said she was s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, The Cars top 2018 Rock Hall of Fame inductees

Nina Simone, Bon Jovi, The Cars top 2018 Rock Hall of Fame inductees

NEW YORK — Iconic singer Nina Simone and New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi lead the 2018 class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, which includes four first-time nominees. The Cars, as well as first-time contenders Dire Straits, The Moody Blues and Si...
Updated: 2 hours ago