A tape recording of the founder of Synanon, Charles E. Dederich, suggesting violence as a means of dealing with troublesome lawyers and reporters, has been played to a jury in the organization’s $21 million slander suit against KGO-TV, the San Francisco affiliate of ABC, and six staff members.
Mr. Dederich, 69 years old, who founded the drug rehabilitation organization 24 years ago, said on a 1977 tape: ”I’m quite willing to break some lawyer’s legs and then tell him, ‘The next time in I’ll break your wife’s legs; then I’m going to cut your kid’s arm off,’
”And that’s the end of your lawyer. That’s the end. And all of his friends, you see. It’s a very satisfactory, humane way of transmitting information. It’s worked.”
In 1979 Mr. Dederich pleaded no contest to a charge of conspiracy to murder a Los Angeles lawyer by placing a rattlesnake in his mailbox, after the lawyer won a $300,000 suit against Synanon. Mr. Dederich was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine as a result of the attack. Tapes Given to the Police
The tape was one of several turned over to the Los Angeles Police Department by Synanon during an investigation of the rattlesnake incident. They were made as part of Synanon’s normal operating procedure in order to pass information among the group’s centers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif.
Mr. Dederich testified for seven days. Regarding the tape he said that the words were an extravagance of language, not a call to action. He said it was his voice but that he did not remember using the language because two strokes had robbed him of memory of that time.
”If Mr. Dederich wanted a glass of water, he didn’t have to ask anyone to get him one,” Robert Fremlin, KGO’s attorney, said in his opening statement. ”All that he had to say was ‘This glass is empty,’ and someone would rush out to fill it.”
Synanon charges that the station’s coverage of a purchase of 138 guns by the organization falsely made Synanon appear to be a terrorist group. KGO says its defense is truth and its attorneys say they will produce evidence to prove their case. Received $2 Million From Group
A statement cited in the suit was one by Van Amburg, a news program anchor, that Charles Dederich was ”raking hundreds of thousands of dollars off the top” of Synanon.
On cross-examination, Mr. Dederich was confronted with Synanon records and agreed that they showed members of his family had received $2 million of the organization’s funds over a four-year period. Sharon Green, the chief Synanon attorney, said the money was a legitimate salary voted to Mr. Dederich by the organization’s board of directors.
Only five of more than 200 witnesses scheduled have appeared before Judge Lawrence S. Mana and the seven-man, five woman jury in San Francisco Superior Court. The proceedings are expected to last four to six months.
Synanon’s suit is one of several it has filed as part of what it calls a campaign against misrepresentation of the organization. Other suits that seek a total of more than $400 million have been filed against the columnist Jack Anderson, Reader’s Digest magazine and David Mitchell, who won a Pulitzer Prize while working for The Point Reyes (Calif.) Light. A second suit is pending against KGO.