Advertisement
  1. News

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

Plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia spent $1.3 million on church services and causes.
Published Feb. 20, 2015

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 cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  2. Neeld-Gordon Garden Center, open at this location since 1925, is closing on Sept. 28. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The development of Pinellas County and the arrival of the big box stores helped hasten the store’s demise.
  3. Suzanne Natzke, an artist and teacher with the Pasco Fine Arts Council, arranges her watercolor paintings for an upcoming exhibit, 'Moments in Time.' The exhibit will be held through Oct. 21 at the council's new gallery at Avalon Park West in Wesley Chapel. MICHELE MILLER  |  Michele Miller
    The countywide Council will exhibit work at the Avalon Park West community.
  4. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.
  5. A still image from a 2014 video of Granville Ritchie's interrogation with Temple Terrace detectives the day after 9-year-old Felecia Williams vanished. He is now on trial for her murder. JAMAL THALJI  |  [Photo courtesy of WTVT-Ch. 13]
    Jurors watched his interrogation the day after Felecia Williams was last seen in 2014. “This situation is very complicated for me,” he told police.
  6. Tampa investor and owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning Jeff Vinik, right, speaks about his investments in the video game industry at the eSports Summit Wednesday in Tampa as Matt Samost, Vice President of New Ventures for Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment looks on. LUIS SANTANA   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A summit at USF brought together major players and explored the possibility of an esports arena.
  7. Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. Courtesy of Lynn Cristina
    My husband and I usually divide and conquer on the parenting front — and I was a man down.
  8. Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, now faces four counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person and a violation of probation charge, according to police. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    Falo Kane now faces a total of seven counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person.
  9. Female driver texting on mobile phone while driving. STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS
    Police are choosing to issue warnings instead of tickets — so far.
  10. 7-Eleven Inc. is opening its first location in a Brandon mall. Pictured is a location in Port Richey in 2018. | [Times (2018) TYLISA JOHNSON | TIMES  |  TyLisa Johnson | Times
    It is the first of eight mall locations opening this year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement