A Los Angeles federal judge, breaking with a series of recent court rulings and a magistrate's recommendation, said Tuesday that she has no plans to dismiss a Church of Scientology lawsuit simply because church founder L. Ron Hubbard has failed to appear for a deposition.
In a Scientology suit against members of a splinter group accused of using stolen church documents for their own financial gain, U.S. District Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer tentatively rejected a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Volney V. Brown that the case be dismissed because of Hubbard's failure to appear at a scheduled deposition last month.
While Pfaelzer agreed to delay a final ruling on the request that the Scientology lawsuit be dismissed, she strongly indicated a belief that Hubbard's testimony would be irrelevant to the question of whether Scientology documents had been stolen and should or should not be used by rival churches and counseling centers.
'Planning to Try Case'
"I'm not planning to set up this case for default," Pfaelzer said. "I'm planning to try this case."
Pfaelzer's comments came at a hearing on a Scientology lawsuit against a former Scientologist, Robin Scott, who is accused of stealing secret church instructional materials from a Scientology group in Denmark.
The Church of Scientology contends that the stolen materials were passed to another former Scientology member, David Mayo, now president of the Church of the New Civilization, also known as the Advanced Ability Center, in Santa Barbara.
Earle C. Cooley, a Boston lawyer representing the Church of Scientology, urged Pfaelzer not to dismiss the lawsuit because of Hubbard's absence at the deposition, saying Hubbard has nothing to do with current management of the church and cannot be reached by church officials.
"This is a matter that has ripened into a national strategy," he said. "It's what I call the strategy of the easy victory--to move to depose L. Ron Hubbard. We are looking at this strategy around the country--the power to decimate the Church of Scientology."
Recent Rulings Cited
Arguing that Pfaelzer should have agreed with Brown's recommendation to award a default judgment against the Church of Scientology, Santa Barbara attorney Gary Bright, representing Mayo, cited recent rulings against the church by other federal judges in cases where Hubbard also failed to appear at scheduled depositions.
Bright's references were to rulings against the Church of Scientology in Portland and Washington as well as to a default judgment awarded last year by Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real in Los Angeles after Hubbard failed to be deposed in connection with a libel suit against a Scientology critic, Boston lawyer Michael J. Flynn.
"I've spent more time with it than the other judges," Pfaelzer responded. "I came at it with a totally open mind, that's the problem."
Commenting on Pfaelzer's remarks outside the courtroom, the Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, praised the judge for looking at the case without emotion.