One of William Shakespeare’s most famous lines appears in Henry VI, Part 2, written in the 1590s. In the scene, rebel leader Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne of England, is describing how he’ll improve the country once he ascends to power, when one of his henchmen—“Dick the Butcher,” a murderer—blurts out: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Over four hundred years have passed since the “Bard of Avon” penned Henry VI, and yet the sentiment still endures. A recent Google search of the phrase “why we hate lawyers” resulted in an astounding 36,800,000 million sites. Does this mean that lawyers comprise the most hated profession? Imagine the following: Young, altruistic students dreaming of becoming modern-day Atticus Finches. Then, after trudging through years of law school, passing the extremely difficult bar exam, reality sets in: Most people hate you!
Unfortunately, I occupied an unenviable front-row seat in a tragedy that gave me valuable insight and a deeper understanding as to why society despises lawyers. Not just any attorney, mind you, a certain brand of attorney.
When the Church of Scientology goes to court it uses high-dollar lawyers to overawe and intimidate its less-than-wealthy opponents. This type of lawyer plays the game to the hilt: overwhelming the courts with motions and counter-suits, escalating the costs by dragging out their cases, and using every dirty trick—including outright lies—to impugn the integrity of their opponents. This is something critics of the religion, former Church members who’ve spoken out against Scientology, and bereaved mothers seeking justice have all come to understand and expect.
These tactics are all a part of the Church of Scientology’s “fair game” doctrine, an aggressive policy first described by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in the mid-1950s. According to Hubbard, Scientologists and their lawyers, when dealing with enemies of the Church, should “always find or manufacture enough threat against them to cause them to sue for peace. Don’t ever defend. Always attack.” Lies, propaganda, defamation of character—they’re all a part of this religion’s “fair game.” And, of course, the law can be bent to Scientology’s will. “The purpose of the suit,” wrote Hubbard, “is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody . . . will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.”
But not all attorneys are cut from the same cloth. In a landmark case, lawyer Kennan Dandar helped the family of Lisa McPherson win a settlement against the Church of Scientology. In November of 1995, McPherson, an avid Scientologist, evidently suffered a mental breakdown in Clearwater, Florida, after a minor traffic accident. At the hospital—following the tenets of her faith—she refused psychiatric observation saying that she wanted to be treated by fellow Scientologists. Taken to Clearwater’s Fort Harrison Hotel—the Church’s headquarters—McPherson was dead 17 days later, her corpse’s condition proving that she’d suffered from dehydration and lack of care. In 2004, after years of litigation, Dandar prevailed against the Scientology lawyers. The civil suit was settled out of court.
Ken Dander also represented my son’s estate when we sued the Church of Scientology and several of its celebrity followers for my son Kyle’s wrongful death. (Kyle Brennan, who was not a Scientologist died in 2007 under suspicious circumstances while visiting his Scientologist father in Clearwater, Florida.) In the process of litigating against the Church, Dandar was subjected to years of harassment, emotional stress, unnecessary counter litigation, and character assassination simply because he wanted to help a dead boy’s family find answers and uncover the truth.
The war tactics employed by the Church of Scientology lawyers to destroy Dandar were almost successful. In these two high-publicity cases, Dandar devoted a total of 19 years toward helping two bereaved families.
So, let’s not hate all lawyers, just those who abuse their power at the expense of the broken, the vulnerable, and the voiceless.
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