Court Slashes Damages in Scientology Case
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A jury award to a former member of the Church of Scientology who claimed the organization tried to bankrupt him was slashed from $30 million to $5 million by the California Court of Appeal.
The justices concluded that the 1986 jury assessment of $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages against the Church of Scientology of California was disproportionate to the injuries suffered by Larry Wollersheim.
The plaintiff said Scientology robbed him of his ability to think independently. He also contended that when he broke with the church, members damaged his novelty store business by quitting their jobs there, boycotting his products and refusing to pay their bills.
The appellate court, in the opinion released this week, rejected Scientology’s claims that its practices were constitutionally protected religious activity.
″Scientology leaders made the deliberate decision to ruin Wollersheim economically and possibly psychologically,″ Justice Earl Johnson, Jr. wrote in the opinion. ″Such conduct is too outrageous to be protected under the Constitution.″
A Scientology official spokesman called the decision a victory
″This ruling annihilates the opposition completely,″ said the Rev. Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology International.