A former member and longtime critic of the Church of Scientology has been ordered by a Marin County judge to pay the church $500,000 for speaking out against the controversial religious movement.
Legal and Disclaimer, GerryArmstrong.org
Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee issued that order in a breach-of- contract lawsuit against Scientology defector Gerald Armstrong.
The Church of Scientology had sought $10 million from Armstrong, who joined the church in 1969, left the fold in 1981 and later became one of the movement’s harshest critics.
He was sued by the church in 1984 for allegedly stealing thousands of pages of private papers that shed new light on the movement’s mysterious founder, the late L. Ron Hubbard. Hubbard, a prolific science-fiction writer and freelance philosopher, founded the Church of Scientology in the 1950s and died in 1986.
During his years in Scientology, Armstrong says he worked as an intelligence officer and communications officer and compiled documents for a church-sponsored biography of Hubbard. He says he has been in Scientology’s sights since the church filed its 1984 lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court to get control of Hubbard’s private papers.
Judge Paul Breckenridge Jr., who presided over that case, issued a ruling in which he called Hubbard “virtually a pathological liar when it comes to his history, background and achievements.” In settling that case in 1986, Armstrong agreed to return the documents. He says that the church paid him $515,000 ($800,000 including his lawyer’s fee) and that his attorney at the time persuaded him to sign an agreement promising to “maintain strict confidentiality and silence with respect to his experiences with the Church of Scientology.”
That agreement says Armstrong would pay $50,000 for every utterance about Scientology. The church maintains that Armstrong has violated the agreement at least 201 times and owes it just over $10 million.
Duryee heard arguments Friday from Ford Greene, a San Anselmo anti-cult lawyer who represented Armstrong, and Scientology attorney Andrew Wilson of Sausalito.
Duryee then ordered Armstrong to pay $500,000 to his former church. The judge discharged two previous contempt-of-court citations against Armstrong and sentenced him to five days in jail for a third contempt order issued during his long battle fighting Scientology lawyers.
But Duryee said she would consider that five days already served because Armstrong, a former Marin County resident, traveled from Chilliwack, British Columbia, for his court appearance.
Wilson called Duryee’s ruling a victory for Scientology.
Greene said he was disappointed that Duryee upheld “an extremely one- sided contract that seeks to gag” his client. “He made a deal with the devil. ”
The lawyer noted that his client had declared bankruptcy to avoid paying past damages won by Scientology, and Armstrong still vows to never pay a penny to the church. “They (Scientology) know the only way to silence Armstrong is to shoot him,” Greene said. “This suit is really directed at other people who might be inclined to speak out. It’s a PR ploy to keep other people silent.”