1. News

Appeals court rules in favor of Tampa attorney in years-long fight with Scientology

Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar. [Times files]
Published Mar. 3, 2016

A state appeals court has dealt the Church of Scientology a blow in its efforts to collect a $1.07 million judgment from its long-time nemesis, Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal unanimously ruled Wednesday that a Pinellas County court had no jurisdiction to enforce a 2004 agreement between the church and Dandar. Though Dandar was found to have violated its terms, the appellate judges said the proper steps were never taken to formalize the agreement.

Their ruling, if it stands, would wipe out a court order that since 2014 has allowed the church to garnishee the bank account of Dandar's law firm.

"It's a great day and I feel vindicated," Dandar said Wednesday. "A million-dollar judgment has a very bad effect on anybody, and it had a terrible effect on my entire family. So we just pick up the pieces now and get back to where we were in 2009, when this thing was filed."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Scientology starts collecting $1 million judgment from longtime Tampa nemesis

INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY: A guide to Times coverage of the church

Neither the church nor its attorney in the matter, F. Wallace Pope Jr. of Clearwater, responded to requests for comment.

The ruling was just the latest turn in a long tale that begins with the case of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died in 1995 at age 36 after 17 days in the care of church staffers in Clearwater. Dandar represented McPherson's family in a wrongful death lawsuit against the church.

As part of a 2004 settlement, Dandar signed an agreement with the church that later became the center of a dispute. The church said Dandar agreed to never sue Scientology again; Dandar said he agreed to no such thing.

The church cited the agreement in 2009 when Dandar decided to represent a Virginia woman in another wrongful-death suit against Scientology. That suit eventually was dismissed, but the issue of Dandar violating the 2004 agreement developed into a legal battle all its own.

In March 2014, senior Pinellas circuit judge Crockett Farnell agreed with church lawyers that Dandar had breached the McPherson settlement. He ruled Dandar must repay Scientology for its legal fees and other costs, a bill totaling $1,068,156.50.

Dandar said Wednesday the church froze his firm's account as well as that of a client for whom he had secured a judgment.

Asked how he functioned under those restrictions, he said: "With extreme difficulty because they were watching my every move. They monitored all the cases I had filed anywhere to see if I won, if I collected any money. They took my deposition. They took my daughter's deposition. They took my wife's deposition, my brother's deposition."

Still, he said, the church had not collected any money from him because he filed objections with the court and the matter was never set for trial.

Though pleased with the ruling, Dandar acknowledged the dispute was probably not over. "They can appeal it to the Supreme Court. They can do all kinds of things," he said of the church. … "They will try to figure out a way to continue this somehow."


  1. James Rybicki, 63, faces charges of lewd and lascivious molestation and possession of child pornography. But he could go free after a judge found that Pinellas sheriff’s detectives and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors lied to obtain a search warrant in his case. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A Pinellas sheriff’s detective and Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors “made false statements” to obtain a search warrant, a judge has ruled. The evidence was thrown out.
  2. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, the ranking member, concludes a day of testimony by key witnesses as it probes President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The United States ambassador to the European Union told the impeachment inquiry his efforts to press Ukraine to announce investigations were ordered by President Trump, and top officials knew.
  3. The woman was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and culpable negligence.
  4. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell during a hearing to review the guardianship cases once overseen by Traci Hudson, who faces criminal charges in one of those cases. Hudson was not present during Wednesday's hearing in a St. Petersburg courtroom. Pinellas sheriff's detectives say she stole more than $500,000 from an elderly man for whom she held power of attorney. Court records show she was appointed as a guardian in about two dozen cases. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Traci Hudson had served as guardian overseeing the affairs of 26 people until her arrest on a charge of exploitation of the elderly. Her handling of those cases will be reviewed.
  5. Robert "Bobby" Mavis, 40, top left, is shown in this family photo with his wife Elizabeth and their children, from left, Evan, Kendall and Kyle. The father of three died in the Nov. 13 chain-reaction crash on northbound Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County. Courtesy Elizabeth Mavis
    Robert “Bobby” Mavis, 40, was on his way home from work last week when a semi-trailer truck crashed into his Mercedes.
  6. Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority bus driver Rekira Owens is seen at the wheel behind a newly installed shield as they board the bus on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, in Tampa.  The clear divider is meant to protect drivers from physical assaults after a driver was killed earlier this year. A bus driver on Tuesday was operating a vehicle without a shield when he was attacked by a rider. CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times
    About 75 buses still need the clear, plastic doors. The transit authority plans to install eight a day.
  7. Bins filled with products move on conveyor belts at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Ruskin. Amazon just announced it will open a similar center in Auburndale, Fla. (Times | 2018) Tampa Bay Times
    The new center will span more than 1 million square feet and be No. 11 in the state.
  8. Vacant land along Manhattan Avenue at the north end of MacDill Air Force base may the site of the forgotten Port Tampa Cemetery. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The property was a burial ground for people who lived in the old city of Port Tampa.
  9. An overlay map showing where Ridgewood Cemetery is located on the King High School campus. The red outline indicates the boundary of the cemetery and the pink boxes the graves. GeoView
    Ridgewood Cemetery, a pauper’s burial ground from the mid-20th century, was sold to the school district as part of the property where King was later built.
  10. Ashley Laquita Moore, 34, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and culpable negligence after intentionally running into a bus. Hillsborough County Sherriff's Office
    Ashley Laquita Moore faces charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and culpable negligence.