Judge to Decide if Scientology Leader Must Testify in Upcoming Trial

posted by City News Service - 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge is scheduled to rule next week on whether the leader of Scientology should be compelled to testify in a lawsuit by a former member, who alleges she was coerced to have an abortion at age 17.

Laura Ann DeCrescenzo also claims she was forced to work long hours as a young child.

Lawyers for the church's Religious Technology Center last week asked that church leader David Miscavige -- described in their court papers as having a role analogous to the pope in the Catholic Church -- not be subject to a subpoena.

They asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney to quash the subpoena filed by DeCrescenzo's lawyers, on the grounds that Miscavige's testimony would not be relevant to the claims leveled in the lawsuit, filed by DeCrescenzo in April 2009.

“(De Crescenzo) never has met Mr. Miscavige, never communicated with him and never had anything to do with his activities, or he with hers,” the RTC court papers state.

“Plaintiff's last-minute attempt to drag Mr. Miscavige into these proceedings not only is pure harassment, but would seriously interfere with his ongoing worldwide exercise of his unique religious responsibilities and commitments, thereby impeding the operation of a church with congregants throughout the world.”

Mooney did not immediately rule on the motion to quash Miscavige's subpoena, and scheduled a hearing for Monday.

The trial will have two phases, beginning with a non-jury trial Aug. 13 before Mooney to determine whether DeCrescenzo acted reasonably in waiting so long to file her lawsuit. If he rules in her favor, a jury would decide on liability and damages.

The church is a defendant along with the RTC. The suit's allegations include forced abortion, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practices and wage-and-hour violations.

Although now-retired Judge Ronald Sohigian previously dismissed the case, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed that decision in June 2011, and sent the case back to the judge to determine whether the church was permitted to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.

According to a sworn declaration by DeCrescenzo, she began volunteering to do church work at age 6 or 7 in Orange County. She says that at age 7, she was part of a Scientology group organized to picket the very civil courthouse where trial of her lawsuit will take place.

She claims the demonstration showed the church's ability to “go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits” against the institution, whose followers include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

“I believed that if I took any action against the Church of Scientology -- whether filing a lawsuit or even speaking negatively about the Church of Scientology -- that I would be subjected to severe retribution, including significant financial penalties and loss of my family,” DeCrescenzo stated.

When DeCrescenzo was 12, she was recruited to join the organization's elite Sea Org group, which she said is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the religion worldwide.

DeCrescenzo alleges she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and that two more hours were later added to her work day. DeCrescenzo says she remained with Sea Org until 2004, when she was 25.

She says she was told she could not leave Sea Org and was released from duty only after she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing bleach.

DeCrescenzo alleges she became pregnant in February 1996 and was convinced by the church to abort her fetus to show her allegiance to Sea Org.

Photo: Getty Images

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