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Church of Scientology Allowed To Pursue Return Of Tax Records With AM-Scotus Rdp

November 16, 1992 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Church of Scientology may continue its court battle to force the government to return documents and tape recordings obtained in a tax-fraud investigation of church founder L. Ron Hubbard, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the justices set aside a lower court ruling that had said the issue was moot, because the documents and tapes were already in the possession of the Internal Revenue Service.

But the justices said the case is not moot because some court could order the IRS to destroy or return the documents and tapes.

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The documents were turned over last year to the IRS, which began investigating Hubbard’s tax returns in 1984. Hubbard, who also was a science- fiction writer, died in 1986.

″Taxpayers have an obvious possessory interest in their records,″ Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. Even if the government only has copies of the records, he said, ″a taxpayer still suffers injury by the government’s continued possession of those materials, namely, the affront to the taxpayer’s privacy.″

Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology, said the Supreme Court ruling ″reaffirms the taxpayer’s right to privacy against the government and against the IRS.″

Prosecutors said the tape recordings showed that the church and its lawyers were trying to cover up fraud.

The tape recordings and documents had been filed under seal in California state court in connection with an unrelated lawsuit involving the church and a former church official.

The IRS sought access to the tape recordings as part of its tax fraud investigation, but the church argued that they were confidential lawyer-client discussions.

After a series of court rulings - including two trips to the Supreme Court - the state court released the tapes to federal prosecutors last year.

The IRS made copies of the tapes and returned the originals to the state court.

The church then sought to force the government to return the tapes and documents, and prevent it from using the information.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the issue was moot. But in its appeal to the Supreme Court, the church said it still had a privacy interest in seeing that the tapes were not used in future court cases.

The government said that question was premature and could not be raised unless the IRS tried to use the information on the tapes in a court case.

The Supreme Court did not rule Monday on the question of future use of the tapes.

″For now, we need only hold that this case is not moot because a court has power to order the IRS to return or destroy any copies of the tapes that it may have in its possession,″ Stevens wrote.