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Judge Plans Awarding Minimal Damages to Church of Scientology

October 16, 1996 GMT

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ A federal judge has indicated that she will likely to award the church of Scientology $2,500 in its lawsuit against a former member who violated copyright law by posting sacred text on the Internet.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled in January that Arnaldo Lerma, a longtime church critic, was liable for damages, but she told the church not to expect much money.

In her written ruling filed Oct. 4, Brinkema said she is likely to award the church a minimal $2,500 unless convinced otherwise.

She added that she does not plan to award the church attorney fees, noting that Lerma is ``suffering financial hardship″ and no longer has a lawyer of his own.

In a case closely watched by computer users, the church argued that trade secrecy and copyright laws prohibit unauthorized dissemination of secret church texts. It said the texts are confidential instructional materials for advanced members.

Scientology is a religion founded 41 years ago by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. It requires initiates to undergo teaching and counseling that can cost thousands of dollars.

Lerma has said he joined the church in 1963 and was forced out in 1978 after pursuing a romance with one of Hubbard’s daughters.

In September 1995, Lerma began placing documents describing alleged wrongdoing by the group _ and some of its most sacred texts _ on international computer bulletin boards.