Getting Your Dandar Up: Judges in Florida Squabble With Each Other Over Jurisdiction in Scientology Case

A lawsuit against the Church of Scientology has now pulled in two unlikely litigants: a state and a federal judge. Pinellas Florida Judge Robert E. Beach has filed a motion in federal court contesting an order from U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday enjoining him from imposing planned sanctions on lawyer Ken Dandar, who is suing the Church. The motion raises some interesting questions of jurisdiction and ethics.

At issue is Dandar’s representation of the estate of Kyle T. Brennan in a federal wrongful death lawsuit. Brennan committed suicide in 2007 by shooting himself. The lawsuit names Denise Gentile, the twin sister of the church’s current worldwide leader, David Miscavige, as well as her husband, Gerald Gentile. In her lawsuit, Brennan’s mother claims that Gentile and her husband persuaded Kyle Brennan’s father to take away his son’s prescription for depression, Lexapro. Scientology has long opposed both psychiatrists and such prescription drugs.

They went to Dandar is well-known for his willingness to take on Scientology. He was the lawyer who litigated the Lisa McPherson case. McPherson, 36, died in 1995 while in the care of church staffers in Clearwater.

Under a settlement with the Church in the MacPherson case, both sides agreed that they would have no further dealings with each other. The Church insists that the agreement included Dandar — a curious condition to bind the lawyer.

The Church went to Beach and he agreed that Dandar could not take another case against the Church. He ordered Dandar to get off the case. Instead, Dandar filed objections with Merryday saying that he was not barred under the agreement. When Beach ordered Dandar sanctioned with a fine of $130,000 and threatened his license, Merryday issued an order enjoining Beach. However, Beach insists that he is not a party and cannot be subject to such an injunction. Beach also objects that Merryday’s order prevents him from recusing himself from the case by enjoining any further actions in the case.

Quite a mess. I am surprised by the claim that an attorney is barred from ever taking a case against Scientology. Since Scientology reportedly believes in getting its followers to sign a billion year contract, that could be a pretty long time for a life limitation for Dandar. On the jurisdictional front, it is not uncommon to see a federal judge enjoin a state entity but it is extremely rare to see an injunction of a state judge.

Source: Tampa Bay

24 thoughts on “Getting Your Dandar Up: Judges in Florida Squabble With Each Other Over Jurisdiction in Scientology Case

  1. This is BS…well so is the cult…so what do you really expect…Stat and Feds….Do we really have a Federal Question in this matter?

  2. The Church insists that the agreement included Dandar — a curious condition to bind the lawyer.

    I’m very surprised that the local judge interpreted an ambiguous contract in that way, since in doing so he’s attributing an ethics violation to Dander.

    Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-5.6(b) — A lawyer shall not participate in offering or making: (b) an agreement in which a restriction on the lawyer’s right to practice is part of the settlement of a controversy between private parties.

  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/14/access-to-justice-in-us-a_n_762355.html

    In March, Attorney General Eric Holder appointed prominent Harvard Law Professor Larry Tribe to serve as a senior counselor in charge of a new Access to Justice Initiative. His goal is to work with judges and lawyers across the country to find ways to help people who cannot afford a lawyer.

    As Tribe himself put it in a June speech:

    The truth is that as a nation, we face nothing short of a justice crisis. It is a crisis both acute and chronic, affecting not only the poor but the middle class. The situation we face is unconscionable. It’s why the President and the Attorney General created the Access to Justice initiative that I am leading, and it’s why we won’t rest until we have made measurable and sustainable progress, but to make that progress and to do it across the board, we have got to first acknowledge that what we do know is far outweighed by what we don’t know.

  4. Well, the above was posted accidentally. And what’s displayed is directly quoted from the article. This said and, given that I can’t “unsubmit” it, the article is titled “Access To Justice In U.S. At Third-World Levels” by Dan Froomkin. I was thinking about posting it to another more appropriate thread, but my new computer seems to have a mind of it’s own at times. Worth the read, whereever it’s posted, IMHO.

    I know this for certain. As Tribe says, “The situation we face is unconscionable.” And that, “what we do know is far outweighed by what we don’t know.” We’re in serious trouble.

  5. Blouise – The link is in the first comment. (Thanks for your comment a couple of days ago in another thread — I’ll be in touch. And thanks for sharing some of your personal stories (in other threads). I laughed about the Republican/Dem outings with your parents and was moved by your account of the Cleveland protest many years ago. )

  6. non nurse….not a mistake that you posted it IMHO….I am in SoFla and having had my 1st exposure to the courts and the minions of…I can only say this…

    …my problem is that I have a really hard time seeing the grody underbelly of what I use to have faith in.

  7. W=C (to use Buddha’s “equation”): Thanks for sharing a bit about your experience. The song is apt — it’s no wonder that well over 2 million people have viewed it. My “faith” is also at an all time low, but I still believe (perhaps naively) that, in the end, good people will win the day. This is not to say that there won’t be a lot of suffering, in the meantime. (“The arc of the moral universe is long but veers toward justice.” MLK Jr. — I may not have it just right.)

    As Blouise noted in another thread, there is tremendous power in the internet. Good people, the power of the internet, and the hubris of those who seek to undermine the rule of law, will, hopefully, bring this country back around.

  8. IANAL – when I hear that a settlement covers “the parties” in a suit, I tend to not think of the lawyers as members of those “parties.” It is perhaps telling that the Scientology organization appears to think of a litigant and his/her lawyer as one conjoined party in a suit…

  9. W=C, I just posted something else and happened to notice that you had posted to this story. That’s funny — I was going to tease you about it earlier, but forgot. (I really am a nurse, though. :-))

    I’m sorry for the problems that you’ve had in South FL. “We’re in a world of trouble”, as it’s said.

  10. I’d look into Judge Beach a little bit if I was Mr. Dandar. Either Beach is an idiot or there are connections and influence not apparent on the surface. The cult of scientology goes after anyone that they feel crosses them; members, lawyers, judges, newspapers, the family of their perceived enemies etc. They use their network of contacts and secret members to accomplish their aims. As well they use those that they can influence with money or bullying. Once idiocy is ruled out (and it hasn’t been) you have to wonder what Judge Beach’s angle is.

  11. Binding a lawyer to a settlement agreement between parties and then sanctioning him $100,000.00? Beach seems more suited for his namesake than the bench. Quite the imbecile there, dude.

  12. Judge Beach has never met a motion from Scientology that he didn’t grant. He has been a plague in Pinellas County for years. It looks like he finally clashed with the wrong person: a federal judge. There is no way in Hell Judge Beach has jurisdiction over a federal case, and the fact that he even pulled this stunt shows his incompetence. Whether his incompetence arises from senility or something more sinister is yet to be determined.

    In any case, this Macrobian should resign from the bench, as he is a walking argument for mandatory retirement ages, which are generally a bad idea.

  13. “Instead, Dandar filed objections with Merryday saying that he was not barred under the agreement. ”

    That’s not quite correct; it’s far stranger than that. Dandar attempted to literally comply with the Beach order sanctioning him for failing to withdraw from the federal case by filing a motion to withdraw in the federal case. In that withdrawal motion, he laid out the unusual circumstances necessitating the motion. Merryday rejected Dandar’s “request” to withdraw, and Scientology promptly went back to Beach and whined that Dandar had circumvented Beach’s order because his withdrawal motion was not “sincere.” Beach unsurprisingly agreed and permitted Scientology to convert those sanctions to a judgment, which prompted Merryday to issue the present injunction (he denied Dandar’s first injunction request because the harm to Dandar was not imminent–a judgment changed that).

    Although Merryday has expressed a low opinion as to the validity of the Settlement Agreement as it applies to Dandar, his ruling doesn’t touch upon the Settlement Agreement, and that issue will eventually play out in the Florida courts when this federal case is over (the federal issue, to answer another commenter, is diversity, I believe–Kyle lived in Virginia). In the Settlement Agreement, Dandar is listed as a “party” in one section, and in another, there is a clause that the parties will not engage in anti-Scientology activity, etc. To the extent this leaves the Agreement ambiguous as to its applicability to Dandar, such ambiguity should not be construed to be illegal, as Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-5.6(b) suggests it is.

  14. The article did not mention that the 2nd District Court of Appeals (a panel of 3 judges) affirmed Beach’s decision and agreed that Dandar violated his 2004 contractual agreement with the church.

    The church presumably paid millions in the settlement to Dandar and the McPherson estate, in addition to dropping several lawsuits, all in return for Dandar’s promise not to bother the church again. When Dandar filed suit in the Brennan case, the church asked the courts to step in to enforce the agreement.

    Judge Beach issued two orders: the first in June 2009 ordering Dandar to comply with the agreement (this order was affirmed by the 2nd DCA), and the second was an order of contempt issued in April 2010 after Dandar refused to comply with the first order. (An appeal of this order is pending.) The monetary sanctions imposed in the second order were most likely spelled out in the original settlement agreement.

    For those who believe Dandar’s compliance with the 2004 settlement agreement violates the Florida Rule of Professional Conduct, do keep in mind that Mr. Dandar spent several days in mediation helping to craft that very agreement, after which he signed it, and then pocketed the money. A “change of heart” six years later does not release him from the contract that he signed. And since Dandar and the McPherson estate are probably not in a position to repay the church all of the money they received in the settlement (and the church is not able to re-file the lawsuits that they dropped six years ago), the only remedy is to force Dandar to comply with the agreement.

    Judge Beach is a highly respected judge with a prestigious career and a reputation for making the legally correct decision regardless of public opinion. It was the luck of the draw that he got stuck with this volatile case.

    Judge Merryday apparently took it personally when Beach ordered Dandar to stop violating the contractual agreement and to withdraw from the pending federal case.

    Merryday’s injunction against an entire profession (i.e.; all judges) — which prevents them from taking any action against Dandar with regard to the McPherson case — is strange, to say the least. It’s possible he had not been informed of all of the facts of the case before entering such a reckless (and odd) order. It was Merryday who crossed the line by interfering with a state matter that had already been affirmed in the appeals court.

  15. Martini,
    Who paid you to write that drivel? All attorneys profit from a win or settlement in a case. That is why they do what they do, it is a business like any other and the goal is to make money.
    Any judge that accepts the claim that a lawyer is just another “party” in a lawsuit is ridiculous. Lawyers represent parties, they are not part of the lawsuit and I cannot believe I actually have to explain that to you-no matter how you try to spin it. If all attorneys were also bound by the clause “if we settle, you cannot sue us again”, there would be no attorneys left. People who sue get that kind of thing all the time ie: insurance companies. If you are in an accident and get a settlement from the insurance company, there is a clause that states the person cannot come back and sue to try for more money and the person must sign that they agree or no settlement is given.

  16. __continued….BUT the attorney is not part of the “clause”. They can come back and sue that same insurance company with a different client anytime they want to. They are not a “party”….they are a lawyer. Scientology is famous for spinning things their way and getting away with it. But this? Get real.

  17. I will explain Martini’s asinine explanation – he/she is an OSA operative. In other words- – Scientologist. Nice try, miscavige – do you realize how stupid your “church” looks at this point?

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