Battles continue in Scientology suit
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 1999
TAMPA -- More than two years have passed since the family of Lisa
McPherson filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of
Scientology, but both sides are still launching new and increasingly
vigorous legal attacks.
The ongoing tempest continued Monday when lawyers for the church said they
have uncovered evidence that an aunt of McPherson's was fraudulently named
to represent McPherson's estate. The estate and the aunt, Dell Liebreich
of Texas, are the only plaintiffs in the case.
If the allegation were proved, the church would ask Hillsborough Circuit
Judge James S. Moody Jr. to remove both plaintiffs and dismiss the case.
The lawsuit, filed in February 1997, alleges that the church is
responsible for the 1995 death of McPherson, a parishioner who spent 17
days in the care of Scientology staffers in downtown Clearwater while
suffering a severe mental breakdown.
McPherson, 36, was said to have died in a van while church staffers took
her to a Scientologist doctor in Pasco County.
Also Monday, the Tampa lawyer who represents McPherson's family sought to
expand the lawsuit for the fifth time, this time asking that the church's
top ecclesiastical leader, David Miscavige, be added as a defendant.
Ken Dandar asserted in a motion that Miscavige, based in Los Angeles, had
final authority over McPherson's care in Clearwater and thus contributed
to her death. Dandar says the motion is supported by an affidavit from
Jesse Prince, once a top Scientology official and now a critic of the
Outraged at Prince's involvement, Scientology's lawyers sought to ban him
from participating in the case. They played for the judge a 15-second
video showing Prince using a profane reference to Miscavige while Prince
picketed Scientology's headquarters in Clearwater last year.
Church lawyer Sandy Weinberg said Prince's presence during sworn
depositions would be so "incendiary" that no Scientologist could sit in
the same room "without some incident."
Moody declined to exclude Prince from the case. But he placed all
documents regarding Prince's affidavit under seal until a Sept. 24
On that date, Moody will rule on the proposed changes to the lawsuit and
on the issue of alleged fraud regarding McPherson's estate, which was
filed in Pinellas County.
Weinberg said court documents and handwriting samples help prove Liebreich
was improperly appointed to represent McPherson's estate. McPherson's
mother, Fanny McPherson, died in Dallas just days before the lawsuit was
A trial has been set for June 2000 but could be delayed if more issues
arise. Another issue -- whether counseling records from McPherson's 13
years in Scientology can be released to the public -- is awaiting action
by Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Also pending is a Pinellas criminal case in which Scientology's Clearwater
operation is charged with abusing McPherson and practicing medicine
without a license. The criminal trial has been set for March 6.