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