“Don’t tangle with journalists, they get the last word.”
We descended into Jacksonville, Florida, through dark clouds laden with rain. Maybe it was our mood or the reason we were there, but the city, in my estimation, could never qualify as a destination hot spot. Everything seemed gray and cheerless. The air reeked of sulfur and damp newspaper, reminding me of an old factory town suffering through a toxic overspill. Even though it’s touted as a “super cool” U.S. city, Jacksonville was a place we’d never expected to visit. It was the end of the road for our court case.
It hadn’t been much of a shock to discover that the Scientology lawyers, and a few identified Office of Special Affairs (or OSA) operatives, were also staying in our hotel. Compared by many to CIA or KGB agents, OSA people—according to the Church—are responsible for directing legal affairs and pursuing investigations. They target Scientology’s critics. Fighting a case in court against Scientology is stressful and anxiety-producing enough. But having a posse of secret-agent-like Scientologists and their lawyer’s park themselves at tables within earshot was extremely disconcerting.
But now, much to my relief, they were gone; the small hotel bistro was empty. The four of us sat around a small table. We were somber and reflective. The journalist from the Tampa Bay Times casually leaned back against the restaurant’s papered wall, his tall thin frame stretching across the confined space, taking up space for two.
Still decked out in his courtroom attire, Kyle’s lawyer, Luke Lirot, broke the silence: “I’m sorry that it had to come down to this, Victoria. Kyle deserved better. We can walk away knowing that we did everything we could to get justice for him.”
After a brief pause, he continued: “I don’t want you carrying any regrets.”
We knew before we’d arrived that the outcome wouldn’t be good. When Luke first heard the names of the judges appointed to hear Kyle’s case, he delivered a grim assessment.
“Frank Hull?!” Luke exclaimed. “She’s the judge involved with Judge Robert Beach when he wanted to stop Ken Dandar from being your attorney. This is the worst!”
Engaging in litigation with Scientology is precarious. When you’re assigned a judge there are numerous factors that come into play, factors of which the general public is unaware. For example: Can OSA find comprising dirt on the judge? Can that information be used to sway the judge’s ruling? These concerns became a very real part of the litigation.
“Having Hull involved in an earlier proceeding of Kyle’s case should have resulted in her recusing herself,” I said. “But, after all, this is Florida.”
(Hull’s judicial legacy to date—other than ruling against our appeal and trying to make me lawyer-less—was being a nominee in a ridiculous contest called “Who’s Hot Under Their Robes.”)
Nodding in agreement with my sentiment, and looking at me with compassion, the journalist added exactly what you’d expect from a writer: “No matter the outcome of today’s hearing, it’s a good story that should be told.”
“That’s right, Victoria,” Luke adds, turning towards me. “There’s a book waiting to be written. What do you say?”
The judicial system failed Kyle, but at that moment I realized we weren’t out of options. If the Church of Scientology expected us to limp away broken and beaten, they were sorely mistaken.
What all of us at that crowded bistro table knew is that the written word is a powerful weapon. Along with the truth, the written word is a formidable enemy of injustice.
And, as I thought about it, I remembered Kyle—barely out of his teens—had learned this lesson as well. He’d been introduced to the world of journalism by his step-father, Rick Britton. Rick had worked for Media General, as a print and broadcast journalist with The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Kyle got to experience him writing travel/feature pieces for The Washington Times, and even got to join him on a few assignments. That really opened Kyle’s eyes and got him interested in writing.
My eyes were opened too. Words have power! Writing a book seemed like the natural next step. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to historian and abolitionist William Roscoe in 1820: “We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead. . .”
Deposition Excerpt of Steve Bohling
“A former high ranking Church of Scientology member contended in sworn statements that the church attempted to compromise U.S. District Judge Ben Krentzman.”
Mark C. Rathbun Deposition-Judge Robert Beach
Mike Rinder, Former Director of the Office of Special Affairs-Mark C. Rathbun, Former Senior Executive, Inspector General of the Church of Scientology.
Scientology’s War Against Judges-Karen Spaink
Judge Frank Hull
“They are too sexy for their robes. Their milkshakes bring all the clerks to the yard. Everyone wants to get underneath the robes of these jurists. Who are they? Yes, you guessed it: the nominees for UTR’s Superhotties of the Federal Judiciary!”
Judge Paul G. Breckenridge; Scientology v. Armstrong
|[The court record is] replete with evidence [that Scientology] is nothing in reality but a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts by pseudo-scientific theories… and to exercise a kind of blackmail against persons who do not wish to continue with their sect. […] In addition to violating and abusing its own member’s civil rights, the organization over the years with its ‘Fair Game’ doctrine has harassed and abused those persons not in [Scientology] whom it perceives as enemies. The organization clearly is schizophrenic and paranoid, and this bizarre combination seems to be a reflection of its founder [L. Ron Hubbard]. The evidence portrays a man who has been virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background, and achievements. The writings and documents in evidence additionally reflect his egoism, greed, avarice, lust for power, and vindictiveness and aggressiveness against persons perceived by him to be disloyal or hostile.||Judge Paul G. Breckenridge, Jr., 6/20/84; Scientology v. Armstrong, affirmed on appeal 232 Cal.App.3rd 1060, 283 Cal. Rptr. 917.|