Church of Scientology seeks millions from Tampa lawyer

A Pinellas County jury is deciding how much an attorney should have to pay the Church of Scientology in damages for an improper legal maneuver the church claims led to a wave of bad publicity.

In closing arguments in the civil trial Tuesday, Church of Scientology attorney Samuel Rosen told jurors that Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar launched “a frontal attack on an entire religion” as opposing counsel in a wrongful death lawsuit against the church.

Rosen implored jurors to award heavy punitive damages against Dandar, who for six years has waged a legal battle that has caused nightmares for the church.

The battle stems from the wrongful death lawsuit Dandar filed on behalf of the estate of Lisa McPherson, a Scientologist who died in 1995 after 17 days of care at the church’s spiritual headquarters in downtown Clearwater. The case now before the jury is an outgrowth of that lawsuit.

Church officials sued Dandar when, more than two years into the wrongful death case, he sought to add as defendants several top church officials, including the church’s worldwide leader, David Miscavige.

The ensuing bad publicity was devastating to Scientology, church officials said, and it violated a private agreement between the church and the McPherson estate not to add additional defendants.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird agreed that the private agreement was breached. Now, the jury will decide how much Dandar and the estate owe the church in damages.

Jurors began deliberations Wednesday morning.

Rosen argued that church critic Robert Minton paid Dandar $2,050,000 to “hijack” the lawsuit and use it as a platform to attack the church. Rosen stopped short of recommending a potential award, but said, “you don’t punish until that amount is more than $2,050,000.”

Dandar and his attorney, Luke Lirot, contend that the breach of contract case is nothing more than an attempt by the church to financially ruin Dandar and the estate and prevent further pursuit of the wrongful death lawsuit.

In testimony Monday and Tuesday, Dandar insisted Minton’s money did not influence his decision to add Miscavige. The addition was not a deliberate attempt to hurt the church, he said.

No trial date has been set for the wrongful death case.

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