Battles continue in Scientology suit

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 1999

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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

church.

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

hearing.

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

filed.

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.