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Judge not hurrying church decision

Title: Judge not hurrying church decision
Date: Thursday, 20 April 2000
Publisher: St. Petersburg Times (Florida)
Author: Thomas C. Tobin
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The judge ruling on Scientology's plea to remove its leader from a lawsuit says he'll carefully sift arguments.

TAMPA – A judge said Wednesday he will take some time to decide whether Scientology leader David Miscavige should remain a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology in Clearwater.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge James S. Moody Jr. will consider a variety of legal issues, including whether Miscavige was properly served with the lawsuit at his Hollywood, Calif., office and whether his late addition to the suit places him at a disadvantage.

The lawsuit was filed in early 1997 against the Church of Scientology's Clearwater entity and several Scientologists, all of whom are accused of causing the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson while in the care of church staffers. Miscavige was added as a defendant in December 1999. His New York attorney, Samuel D. Rosen, argued Wednesday that leaves little time for him and his client to prepare for the June trial.

Rosen also criticized Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, saying he has accused Miscavige in McPherson's death without any evidence to back it up. Dandar represents McPherson's estate, which brought the lawsuit. Rosen urged Moody to remove Dandar from the case.

"This is the most heinous charge one could make — a charge of premeditated murder against the worldwide leader of an organized religion," Rosen said, adding: "This is an irresponsible pleading."

Dandar said he has circumstantial evidence Miscavige ordered the Scientology staff in Clearwater to let McPherson die. He added Miscavige to the lawsuit after discovering a church document that, he said, helps establish the California-based leader as the head of Scientology's Clearwater operation.

Rosen said the document proves nothing of the sort. Furthermore, he said, it is part of Scientology scripture and, under the First Amendment, cannot be interpreted by the courts.