A Los Angeles federal judge dismissed Monday a $2-million libel suit by the Church of Scientology of California against a Boston lawyer because of the failure of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to appear at a court-ordered deposition.
Lawyers for the Church of Scientology had argued that they had no way of contacting Hubbard, who was last seen in public in 1980 while living in the Hemet area. Hubbard, 74, had been ordered to appear for a deposition in Los Angeles on March 20.
Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real, in dismissing the libel suit against Boston attorney Michael J. Flynn, challenged the claims that Hubbard cannot be contacted as he waved a Scientology advertising supplement from The Times at the Scientology lawyers.
The Scientology advertisement, which Real said he noticed in his Sunday newspaper, proclaimed, "You can always write to L. Ron Hubbard," and quoted Hubbard as saying:
"I am always willing to help. . . . Any message addressed to me and sent to the address of the nearest Scientology Church or Mission listed in the back of this booklet shall be given prompt and full attention in accordance with my wishes."
Real introduced the Scientology advertising supplement into the court record after John G. Peterson, an attorney for the church, had repeated his position that Hubbard was not available to be deposed by Flynn's attorneys in connection with the libel suit.
"Then why do you advertise that he can be reached?" Real asked.
In dismissing the libel action, Real awarded attorney fees to Flynn. Outside the courtroom, Flynn's lawyers, Jeffrey Tidus and Raul L. Martinez, praised the decision as "complete vindication" for the Boston lawyer in a long-running legal dispute with the Church of Scientology.
The Church of Scientology of California filed the libel suit in 1983, charging that Flynn had implied in a speech that church members had tried to kill him. Last year, Real dismissed the suit on procedural grounds but was reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and ordered to rehear the case.
Peterson, speaking after the decision, said, "We're confident the 9th Circuit will reverse this decision just as they have reversed him previously in this case."
The Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, said he believes that Hubbard is now in seclusion writing, but may appear again in public this fall when a movie version of one of his works is to be filmed.