Church wants judge removed in McPherson case
Questioning his impartiality, Scientology asks Judge Brandt C. Downey III
to remove himself.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN and WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
St. Petersburg Times
March 3, 2000
LARGO -- The Church of Scientology says it fears Pinellas-Pasco Circuit
Judge Brandt C. Downey III cannot be impartial and is asking that he
remove himself from presiding in the Lisa McPherson case.
In a motion filed late Thursday, Scientology asserts that several of
Downey's former law partners were active in anti-Scientology efforts in
the late 1970s and early 1980s, after the church's controversial arrival
The motion also notes that Downey has been an officer in local mental
health groups involved in providing psychiatric and psychological
services. Scientology is staunchly opposed to psychiatry and psychology,
calling its practitioners "psychs" who are "the sole cause of decline in
Scientology's Clearwater entity faces felony charges of practicing
medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult in the case of
McPherson, a Scientologist who died in 1995 while in the care of church
Downey was handed the case last month after the original judge, chief
judge Susan F. Schaeffer, became ill.
A five-week trial is scheduled for October. However, prosecutors are
reviewing whether they still have a case after a recent ruling by Medical
Examiner Joan Wood that McPherson's death was an accident.
Reached Thursday night, Downey said he would address the church's request
at a hearing this morning.
In its motion, the church says it recently discovered aspects of Downey's
background that "reasonably cause it to fear that it will not receive fair
treatment before the judge . . . because of his prejudice or bias against
the Church of Scientology as well as its religious beliefs relating to
mental health treatment."
The motion notes that those beliefs are central to the case. The church's
defense is based in large part on an argument that staffers who cared for
McPherson were engaged in religious practices rooted in the notion that
psychiatry and psychology are harmful.
According to the motion, Downey once belonged to a small Clearwater law
firm that included attorneys N. David Karones, Tom Hersem and Barry Glenn.
As a former president of the Greater Clearwater Chamber of Commerce,
Karones participated in a 1979 resolution calling for an official
investigation into the church, the motion stated.
Hersem and Glenn, it said, both represented people requesting refunds from
the church in the early 1980s.
In addition, Downey has been active in the Foundation for Mental Health,
the Pinellas-Pasco District 5 Mental Health Board and the Mental Health
Association of Pinellas County, the church said.
Noting its opposition to psychiatry and psychology, the church argued that
it is "entitled to a fair trial conducted by a judge who is not only
unbiased and impartial but who does not give even the appearance of bias