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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. __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.

  4. 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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