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"I am not a missing person," Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard said in a signed statement that has led a judge to believe the reclusive author is healthy despite a son's claim to the contrary.
Superior Court Judge David Hennigan said Friday that the declaration, which included fingerprints experts have said belong to the 72-year-old Hubbard, made him believe Hubbard still is alive.
Hubbard has not made a public appearance in years.
Hennigan said the seven-page document, filed with the court on Thursday, was the primary rebuttal to a civil suit by Hubbard's estranged son, Ronald DeWolf, 48, that contends his father is either dead or mentally incompetent.
"It (the case) would have been resolved in your favor if it had not been for the declaration," Hennigan told DeWolf's Los Angeles attorney, Wilkie Cheong.
The judge gave Cheong three weeks to discredit the document before making a final ruling.
Cheong said he had not had time to fully review the declaration, but "that declaration could have been typed up by someone else who then had Hubbard sign it, not knowing what he was doing ... even assuming the signature is authentic."
DeWolf told The Associated Press late Friday that his attorneys plan to file a petition for conservatorship that would force the court to examine Hubbard directly.
"Assuming this declaration is from my father, this proves that he can be contacted," DeWolf said by telephone from Carson City, Nev. "So we want to know his state of health and who is manipulating him. We are going to file a petition for conservatorship which will require his examination."
DeWolf said that if his father is alive, the son still has enough evidence of illegal drug use and forged legal documents to have Hubbard declared incompetent to handle his own affairs.
Asked if he now was inclined to believe his father was alive, DeWolf replied, "We honestly don't know."
Los Angeles attorney Stephen Lenske, representing the Church of Scientology, said outside court he received the declaration by commercial carrier Wednesday afternoon.
DeWolf's suit had asked that he be appointed trustee of Hubbard's financial affairs. But the declaration asked that the civil suit be dismissed "once and for all" as a "false and malicious" action.
The declaration denounced DeWolf as "neither a friend nor a family member in the true sense of the word. Although biologically he is my son, his hostility and animosity to me are apparent and have been for years."
The writer of the declaration said it was filed because the court had indicated it would not accept as authentic a reputed Hubbard letter sent to the court last Feb. 3.
"I am not a missing person," the latest letter proclaimed. "I am in seclusion of my own choosing. My privacy is important to me, and I do not wish it or my affairs invaded ..."
Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International, accused DeWolf of trying to "cash in" on his father's success.
DeWolf, estranged from Hubbard for more than 20 years, filed a probate petition in Riverside County on Nov. 10, claiming church officials were systematically looting his father's estate.
DeWolf says Hubbard has not been seen since March 1980 and he contends the church is a sham and his father is dead or a drug addict suffering from venereal disease along with being mentally ill.
The declaration, however, said Hubbard's affairs are being handled properly by financial advisers, that he is competent and healthy.
DeWolf left the church in 1959. Claiming harassment, he changed his name in 1972 from L. Ron Hubbard Jr. to Ronald E. DeWolf. He now manages an apartment complex in Carson City, Nev.
Hubbard is the author of 240 books, including "Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health."
The Internal Revenue Service claims the Church of Scientology owes $6 million in taxes and penalties for the years 1970 through 1974. The IRS says the sum is due from income not used for church purposes.
Civil suits have been filed against the church by former members who claimed to have been swindled, harassed and even kidnapped, and a court in Australia has revoked Scientology's status as a religion.