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Scientology suit trial site shifted

Title: Scientology suit trial site shifted
Date: Saturday, 28 June 1980
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Craig Roberton
Main source:

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The Church of Scientology has won the first major skirmish in a $1.5-million damage suit brought against it by former Clearwater Mayor Gabriel Cazares and his wife Maggie.

Circuit Judge Fred Bryson ruled Friday that there has been so much negative publicity about Scientology in Pinellas County that a fair and impartial jury could not be seated here.

He ordered that the trial portion of the Cazares' suit be moved to Daytona Beach. Asked what factors led to his decision, Bryson said only, "I felt that the motion (made by the Scientologists, asking that the trial be moved) was well taken."

HOWEVER, BRYSON turned down the Sciantologists' suggestion that the case be tried in Dade County. Paul Antinori, attorney for the church, said he would have preferred to try the case in "a large urban area — a metropolitan area."

Nevertheless, Antinori said he is "extremely delighted" that the case will be tried in Volusia County, even though the population there is far less than Dade's. Daytona Beach, Volusia County's principal city, has a population of about 50,000.

"Southeast Florida was our first preference" because publicity about the trial would tend to be more obscured in a large city, Antinori said. "But I suppose anywhere along the East Coast would be suitable. We are happy with Daytona Beach. I'm sure we will be able to get a much fairer-minded jury there than we would have gotten anywhere on the West Coast of Florida."

Antinori called the decision "a substantial interim victory for the Church of Scientology."

Bryson also refused to remove himself from the care, despite a request by the Scientologists that he do so. Church spokesman Hugh Wilhere said Bryson should step down because he is a resident of Pinellas County and has been subjected to the same barrage of publicity about Scientology as other local residents.

"WE ARE pleased the motion has been granted," Wilhere said. "However, we believe the judge is being unfair to himself by going with the case. Any judge from this area, exposed to the publicity about the church and potentially facing reelection, would be putting himself in a difficult position to sit on this matter."

Tony Cunningham, attorney for the Cannes, said Bryson's decision "will not affect our case."

"Daytona Beech is a medium-size community in Florida," Cunningham said. "It appears to be a good choice to me. I don't know how he (Bryson) made it, but we're not discouraged."

Cunningham said be still believes that an impartial jury could be seated in Pinellas County. "But that is up to the judge," he added. "That is what he is there for and Judge Bryson gave it every consideration."

In their effort to convince Bryson to move the trial, the Scientologists introduced photocopies of every newspaper article on Scientology that has been printed in the Tampa Bay area since 1976. They also called church critics, such as Clearwater City Commissioner Richard Tenney, to testify about their efforts to force the Scientologists from town. And they commissioned an exhaustive study that counted the number of times that pejorative terms, such as "cult," have appeared in newspaper articles.

THE CAZARESES' attorneys tried to prove that the bulk of the publicity about Scientology has been in the Upper Pinellas area, and that a fair jury could be seated from southern Pinellas.

The Cazareses claim in their suit that the church harassed them and managed to plant a spy as their attorney in another suit filed against the church in 1976.

In other action Friday, Bryson denied a church motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He also denied a separate motion by defendant Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of church founder L. Ron Hubbard, to dismiss the lawsuit as it pertains to her. Antinori filed an immediate appeal of Bryson's refusal to grant Mrs. Hubbard's motion and asked Bryson to stay further proceedings until the appeal is decided. The judge scheduled a hearing on the motion to stay for next week.