Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Judges in two cases reject Scientology efforts to disqualify opposing lawyers

TAMPA — Judges in two states have rejected the Church of Scientology's attempts to undercut lawsuits that allege activities ranging from fraud to spying.

In both cases, the church attempted a rarely used legal strategy: Try to get the other side's lawyers disqualified.

But in federal court in Tampa and state court in Texas this week, the answer was no.

U. S. District Judge James D. Whittemore heard four hours of testimony on Thursday before ruling that two south Florida lawyers can continue to represent a California couple who brought fraud claims against the church in January.

Rocio and Luis Garcia contend church fundraisers used deceptive, high-pressure tactics to induce them and other Scientologists to donate millions to church humanitarian efforts and building projects.

The Garcias singled out the church's massive Super Power building in downtown Clearwater. They donated more than $420,000 to that project and claim the church deceived members to contribute many millions more than what was needed for the project.

But their challenge stalled in May when the church filed a motion asking Whittemore to remove the Garcias' attorneys, Theodore Babbitt of West Palm Beach and Ronald P. Weil of Miami.

The church alleged the Garcia team committed an ethical breach by accepting help from former church lawyer Robert E. Johnson of Tampa, and former church legal affairs officer, Mike Rinder of Palm Harbor.

Church lawyer F. Wallace Pope Jr. of Clearwater questioned Johnson and Rinder on Thursday, attempting to show they were deeply involved church legal matters. They must keep confidential information secret. The Garcias' team should not have accepted their help, Pope argued.

Whittemore disagreed. The Garcia case is "wholly distinct'' from work Johnson did for Scientology between 1982 and 2000, Whittemore said.

"This is not a case of a lawyer changing sides,'' he added.

Church lawyers also failed to show Rinder acted improperly while serving as a paid consultant to Garcias' lawyers, Whittemore ruled.

After the hearing, Luis Garcia and his lead attorney, Babbitt, said the hard-fought legal wrangle over the disqualification request was a gambit by Scientology to prolong the case and distract the Garcias.

The church's chief legal officer in Clearwater, Peter Mansell, who sat through the hearing, declined to comment.

The judge now can take up the church's next motion — a demand the Garcias submit their claims for refunds to Scientology's internal arbitration unit.

Their suit clearly has the attention of Scientology's top brass. At least seven veteran church lawyers from various parts of the country sat behind Pope.

Many of them were in a Texas courthouse in September, signaling the church is taking high interest in that case, too.

Monique Rathbun, wife of former high-ranking church officer Marty Rathbun, sued the church in August, claiming she suffered emotional duress over the past three years as church operatives stalked, spied on and harassed her and her husband.

A judge issued a temporary restraining order directing Scientology leader David Miscavige and other church operatives to stop harassing Ms. Rathbun.

The Rathbuns live in a remote area north of San Antonio. Marty Rathbun was Miscavige's top assistant before leaving the church in 2004. He emerged in recent years as a high-profile critic of Miscavige.

After his wife sued, Rathbun provided her lawyers with an affidavit detailing some of his experiences in church legal efforts.

As in the Garcia case, church lawyers demanded Ms. Rathbun's legal team be disqualified, arguing her husband shared confidential church information.

Tuesday, the judge denied that request.

Comments
Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

Carlos Gomez says he was guilty of only one thing in Sunday’s epic walkoff homer celebration

BALTIMORE – Carlos Gomez is perfectly willing to explain the specific elements that went into his epic celebration tour around the bases following Sunday's walkoff home run.The bat flip and raised arms were his initial reaction to how well he h...
Updated: 1 hour ago

High school scoreboard for April 24

Tuesday’s scoreboardBaseballCalvary Chr. 8, Jesuit 1Boys TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, King 1Girls TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Regional Semifinal: Osceola 4, Freedom 1...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

Days before graduation, crash kills Lakewood High senior, injures two others

ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

SRO being investigated in Pasco County for arrest of student

LAND O’LAKES — A school resource officer at Sunlake High School is under investigation after he tried to take a female student into custody on Tuesday, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.School officials asked the SRO remove the student f...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

Teen killed after SUV runs red light; man who fled scene captured

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 17-year-old girl was killed Tuesday when her car was hit by a sport-utility vehicle that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.One of the occupants of the SUV who ran from the crash scene was captured hours late...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

Softball: Haley Murphy, East Bay back in top form

PLANT CITY — East Bay senior Haley Murphy had to take a few games off early this season to give the flaring tendinitis in her left knee a rest.When Murphy did come back around midseason, East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez eased her into the fl...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

Sarasota student, family apologize for racist ‘promposal’

The family of the 18-year-old Sarasota high school student under fire for the racist prom proposal he sent out on social media this weekend has publicly apologized for their son’s actions.They also said that as a result of his actions, he will not at...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Softball: Boca Ciega gets a shot at defending district champ

DUNEDIN — Standing in centerfield during her team's Class 6A-9 district semifinal Tuesday night, Boca Ciega's Mia Blasingane had one dominating thought: "We want Tarpon Springs real bad. I was saying that to myself. I want to see Tarpon Springs...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Softball: Alonso knocks off defending state finalist PHU in 9A-8 semifinals

PALM HARBOR — To get an idea of just how tough the competition is in Class 9A, District 8, consider that there has been a different tournament champion each of the past three seasons.All three — Newsome (2015), Alonso (2016) and Palm Harb...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

Rays Journal: On the early rainout, pitching plans, medical matters, more

BALTIMORE – If the Rays were going to get rained out Tuesday, they were happy  the Orioles made the decision at a good hour, around 5 p.m."I think they probably did the right thing in the fact that they knew there's a bunch of rain coming,...
Updated: 4 hours ago