UPDATE: Rathbun vs Scientology
Monique Rathbun's lawsuit against the Church of Scientology inched forward last week during a hearing to consider whether the suit violated the Church's First Amendment rights.
Comal District Judge Dib Waldrip was asked to consider an Anti-SLAPP motion filed by Church of Scientology International's (CSI) attorney Richard Cedillo. The motion is an attempt to have a lawsuit dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
Monique Rathbun says the Church, led by David Miscavige, participated in systematic harassment against her while she lived at Ingleside on the Bay, forcing her to move to Bulverde. There, she says, the Church placed cameras on adjoining property to film her home. Monique's husband, Marty Rathbun, was second in command of Church before he left in 2004. He began publicly criticizing the Church and Miscavige in 2009.
Her lead attorney, Ray Jeffrey, asked the court for more time to fight the Anti-SLAPP motion because the Church has failed to provide any of the evidence he has asked for. The law allows a very limited time frame for courts to decide if a defendant's First Amendment rights are being violated by a lawsuit.
Waldrip decided to allow CSI to present its case and gave Rathbun continuance until February. He also ordered the Church to turn over any information related to the Rathbuns, including text messages, phone records, photos and memos, items that Jeffrey said would "blow their First Amendment arguments out of the water."
Cedillo accused the plaintiff of "looking for a smoking gun to show that there is black heart and malice" in the Church's actions against the Rathbuns. "But even if there was, it wouldn't matter because the Supreme Court says free speech is protected." Cedillo argued that motive cannot be considered in regards to First Amendment rights.
The attorney delivered a detailed case that, he said, shows "the lawsuit is based on, relates to, or is in response to CSI's exercise of their rights to free speech, association and right of petition."
Cedillo accused Marty Rathbun of trying "to impugn the reputation of the leader of the Church, Mr. Miscavige," which prompted members of the Church to launch protests. He also said that the private investigators were hired to observe if Marty was violating the Church's trademarks and copyrights, stealing Church materials, and to see which Church members were visiting the Rathbuns.
Cedillo then played a professionally produced and narrated video praising Miscavige. Miscavige claims he does not control the actions of CSI.
Another video documented Marty Rathbun's altercations with the protesters, which prompted an objection from Jeffrey. The judge said he would permit the video, but with the caveat that he would "allow such evidence from (the plaintiff), and that could include extra discovery."
“I will take that risk," Cedillo said.
Another professionally made and narrated video, this one criticizing Monique Rathbun, prompted another objection. Waldrip sustained the objection, saying it is a "documentary made clearly for the purpose of this litigation."
Jeffrey equated the Church filing an Anti-SLAPP motion to "Alice in Wonderland." He said the statute was meant to protect "John Q. Public" from being "crushed" in lawsuits against big entities.
In a rebuttal to CSI, Rathbun attorney Marc Wiegland argued the Anti-SLAPP rule does not apply because the intent of the suit is not to violate the Church's First Amendment rights and that if the harassment was to intentionally cause distress, the suit is valid.
Things became testy during arguments over CSI's photos of the Rathbun's homes. During the exchange, Lamont Jefferson, who represents Miscavige, weighed in on the debate. Waldrip asked why Miscavige's team was involving itself in the argument.
A Special Appearance has been filed on behalf of Miscavige, arguing the court has no jurisdiction over him. The judge has ordered the church leader's deposition on that issue.
“I'm having hard time trying to figure how the Special Appearance defendant can ask for something that they don't think the court has jurisdiction over," Waldrip said.
The judge then complained that the Anti-SLAPP and jurisdictional issues are starting to overlap.
“We better get his deposition next week," Waldrip said, referring to Miscavige. "Because I can't move forward without it. You better get him ready."
Jefferson reminded Waldrip that he filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider the deposition.
“Unless there is anything new in there, I don't need to hear it," Waldrip said, noting that the numerous motions are "bogging down litigation."
Nick Rogers covers courts and crime for the TX Citizen.