Mistrial Motion Argued in Scientology Case
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ The lawyer for a woman who won a $39 million fraud judgment against the Church of Scientology has denied an accusation that he misled jurors to elicit a verdict based on religious bigotry.
Rather than being an attack on religion, the jury’s verdict strengthens freedom of religion and speech ″and draws a clear line between religious thought and action that is not,″ Garry McMurry said Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
McMurry’s comments came during a hearing on a mistrial request by lawyers for the Church of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
Attorney Earle Cooley said the verdict was ″an abomination″ and accused McMurry of deliberately misleading the jury.
Cooley charged that one juror’s brother was a former Scientologist, despite her statements to the contrary, and that other jurors failed to report telephone calls from people claiming to be Scientologists.
More than a thousand Scientologists lined the courthouse halls or marched outside, singing ″We Shall Overcome,″ as Judge Donald H. Londer heard arguments on the mistrial motion.
Londer said he would issue a written ruling in two or three weeks. The motion was allowed because Londer had not signed the judgment.
The judgment was returned May 17 in a complaint filed by Julie Christofferson Titchbourne, 27, of Portland. She alleged the group fraudulently claimed Scientology could improve her eyesight, intelligence and creativity.
Cooley alleged that McMurry tried ″to broaden the case into a large-scale attack on religion.″
Testimony about Hubbard’s assets and tactics the group allegedly used against its critics overstepped the bounds of the case, which was supposed to be limited to Ms. Titchbourne’s contact with Scientologists, Cooley maintained.
Testimony that the organization was a business and not a religion ran counter to Londer’s ruling that Scientology is a religion, Cooley added.
″Where I come from, they’ll get you for contempt of court for that,″ he said.
McMurry countered that Oregon rules of evidence permit evidence of ″motive, intent, knowledge and malice.″
He said Cooley had not presented any witnesses to dispute the testimony of former Scientology officials who recounted the group’s tactics in soliciting money and maintaining control over members.
Although Londer told the jury to disregard some statements made by McMurry, Cooley said it was impossible to erase testimony ″that’s been implanted that firmly in the jury’s head.″
He called the judgment ″a runaway verdict, an obscene verdict,″ and said, ″The eyes of the world are on this case because it cannot be explained how that (verdict) came about.″
Scientologists have staged daily demonstrations, news conferences or concerts in Portland since the verdict was returned.
Peter Thompson, a spokesman for the group, said a decision would be made today on what course it would take next. He said it was likely that some Scientologists would move their ″crusade″ to Washington, D.C., while others would remain in Portland to await Londer’s decision.