Church drops venue change
Scientologists will allow the upcoming trial to "determine the ability
empanel and unbiased jury."
By ROBERT FARLEY
Times staff writer
CLEARWATER - Church of Scientology officials thought hard before making public
survey they commissioned that found widespread negative opinions about
The church used the survey to argue that negative media reports had prejudiced
Tampa Bay area residents so badly that the church would not get a fair trial in
an upcoming civil case. The trial should be moved, they said.
Church officials knew the survey would mean a public relations hit, church
spokesman Ben Shaw said two weeks ago. "What we came down on was the side of
justice," Shaw said. "Let the chips fall where they may."
But Monday, the church withdrew its motion for a change of venue. The turnaround
came after Judge W. Douglas Baird wrote a letter to the church's attorneys
noting his wife is a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, and that his 'circle of
social acquaintances" includes staffers at both the Tribune and the St.
Baird wrote that with the church claiming that media outlets "are largely
responsible for what the (church) perceives is widespread hostility and
prejudice against Scientology, I am concerned about a potential conflict of
Church of Scientology attorney Wally Pope sent Baird a letter Monday stating
that he had conferred with church officials. The trial is in less than four
weeks, he said, "where there will be a first hand opportunity to determine the
ability to empanel an unbiased jury, or not."
The church is defending itself in the lawsuit filed by the estate of former
Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after being cared for by church
staffers. The change of venue motion came in a countersuit against the McPherson
estate and its attorney, Ken Dandar.