Day One just ended in the temporary injunction hearing of Monique Rathbun’s harassment lawsuit against the Church of Scientology and its leader, David Miscavige.
We live-blogged the first half of the day’s session, which included opening statements by attorneys on both sides. But then Judge Dib Waldrip called for a ban on recording devices during Monique’s testimony in the afternoon, so we had to quit live-blogging and went back to pen-and-paper tech. It was old school time!
Monique gave two hours and twenty minutes of testimony guided by her attorney, Ray Jeffrey, and after a short break, she then was cross-examined by Church of Scientology International’s San Antonio lawyer, Les Strieber, for another hour or so.
In her direct testimony, Monique described the peaceful and happy life she and Mark “Marty” Rathbun were living in Ingleside on the Bay, Texas until, in 2009, Marty decided to begin speaking critically of his former employer, Miscavige. Over the next four years, the Rathbuns were surveilled, photographed, and harassed, and Monique says she can’t take it anymore. Under cross-examination, the church attempted to portray her as a public figure who has joined her husband’s fight against the church — in other words, if she got hit back by the church, she deserved it.
The Underground Bunker even got a starring role in the cross-examination, and we could only beam with pride.
We have copious notes about the session, and we have now installed ourselves at our new favorite location to put together these notes for you. Hey, if you’re in the neighborhood, join us here at the Pour Haus in downtown New Braunfels….
Since there’s so much to tell you, we’re going to post our story in bunches, so keep hitting refresh and we’ll try to get everything down in a reasonable time. So here we go!
We learned that Monique Rathbun was born in 1972 in the Bronx, and lived there until she moved to Long Island at 10. She graduated in high school in 1990, worked for a time, then obtained an associate degree at a college where she played for the basketball team, took classes full time, and still managed to work a 40-hour job on the weekends.
Her first husband eventually got a job transfer to Texas, so that’s what brought her to the state. But then she was divorced in 2004. The following year, she met Marty Rathbun through Match.com, and before long they were living together in Houston. On a business trip to Corpus Christi, however, they fell in love with the town and decided to move there. That’s when they rented the house in Ingleside on the Bay. She described an idyllic existence as they fished, took walks on the beach with their dog Chiquita, and generally loved living in a place so close to the water.
Monique had never had anything to do with Scientology, but she knew something about Marty’s involvement in it. She also knew that he’d left his old life so far behind when he left the church in 2004, there were online reports that he was dead. But then, through MySpace, Marty made contact with an old friend, Mat Pesch. In 2008, Mat and his wife, another former Scientology executive, Amy Scobee, came to visit them. Monique says Marty became angry when they told him what had happened in Scientology after he left — Amy has told us that her stories about how her mother had been harassed through Scientology’s toxic policy of “disconnection” particularly incensed Rathbun. Word started to get around that Marty had resurfaced. His next visitor was the actor Jason Beghe, who had just made his own very public defection that March.
“That was the first time that Mark audited someone in my presence,” Monique testified, saying that until Beghe’s arrival, Marty lacked the “leads” he needed for his e-meter. But Beghe brought some with him, so Marty audited his old friend.
“Um, meters and leads?” Judge Waldrip interrupted at this point, and there was a knowing giggle around the courtroom.
Oh boy, this guy really doesn’t know what he’s in for, does he!
(OK, time to take a swig. Part 2 coming shortly…)
While he was in the church, Marty had not just been the second-highest executive, working directly with Miscavige, he had also been one of the church’s most respected auditors. As she said in Channel 4′s documentary, Scientologists at War, Monique said that auditing again really transformed Marty and made him seem more alive. Do more of that! she told him.
So Rathbun began letting it be known that he was auditing again, but now for other “independents” who had left the church itself. Soon people from around the world were coming to their house to get auditing, and Rathbun also, in 2009, began his blog, which was severely critical of Miscavige and the church.
He had warned her that as soon as he resurfaced, reporters would come calling. And sure enough, as soon as Marty began posting items on the Internet, Joe Childs and Tom Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times came calling. (The result was Tobin and Child’s amazing 2009 blockbuster, “The Truth Rundown,” which, for our money, is still the single greatest investigative expose of the church in any form since the 1990 Los Angeles Times series.)
Anyway, it wasn’t just reporters who came calling. So did the church’s Office of Special Affairs. In her testimony, Monique now began describing the years of harassment that she and her husband went through.
The first thing, she remembers, was an article in the church’s propaganda magazine, Freedom, which was a reaction to the St. Pete Times series. Freedom‘s article, she said, included a photograph of their house in Ingleside on the Bay. And the reason it had such an effect on her, she explained, was that because of the way the cars were parked in the photo, she knew it could only have been taken while Marty was out of town.
And the idea of Scientology operatives casing her house while she was home alone seriously affected her, Monique testified.
“They’ve got people watching me and my house when Marty is out of town,” Monique said, and the emotion in her voice was unmistakable.
And then the e-mails started. Monique began getting messages sent from hushmail accounts telling her she should leave Marty, that he is evil, that they could help her out if she wanted to get away.
At her job — she works in the health field — she received a “dead agent pack” about Marty. It’s a classic Office of Special Affairs tactic. An envelope, hand delivered and not mailed, with packets of information about Marty that was culled from his supposedly confidential confessional files while he was a member of the church.
“They were trying to get me to leave him,” she said.
Throughout her testimony, CSI’s attorney Les Strieber frequently stood to object, either complaining that Ray Jeffrey’s questions were leading or that he was asking for hearsay. Judge Waldrip sustained some of his objections, and overruled others. But at about this point, there was some confusing back and forth between the attorneys, and Waldrip surprised us by suddenly reeling off a summary of the last twenty minutes of Monique’s testimony.
This guy is really paying attention, we realized.
(Time for a drink. Part 3 coming shortly.)
An example of an objection — at this point, Ray Jeffrey asked if Monique knew who was behind the church’s surveillance. Yeah, she said, it was Dave Lubow, a private investigator who worked for church attorney Eliot Abelson…
Oh wow, the attorneys for the church were up at the bench for a conference like they were sprinting. So Ray then asked Monique if she was concerned to hear that her family members were starting to get visits by church operatives. Yes, she said, like my father, who was visited by…
After some additional Scientology attorney agita, the judge allowed Monique to continue. She explained that her father had just gone through a heart transplant, and the last thing he needed was harassment by church private eyes.
Meanwhile anonymous smear websites started showing up. Monique found out about them when an old high school friend called her and asked, have you Googled your name lately?
OBJECTION! “Google is hearsay,” Les Striebel said, and we wondered if they could have hired Saul Goodman instead. At least Saul’s clothes would have been better than Les’s objections.
“GOOGLE IS HEARSAY” — I think we have a new meme, like “Buy the Ducati.”
Anyway, Monique did Google her name, and she was stunned to see what someone (cough, cough) had posted online about her.
“I was really a man. I’d had a sex operation, which is why we couldn’t have a baby,” she testified. “And at that time, we were trying to have a baby, and I wondered, how did they know so much about us?”
At that moment, we were embarrassed and ashamed to be in the courtroom.
(Part 4 coming!)
Now, it was time for a “dramatic change,” in their harassment, Ray Jeffrey said, in a classic bit of understatement…
APRIL 18, 2011 — YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN…
Ah, that fateful day. The Squirrel Busters make their first appearance on a cul-de-sac in Ingleside on the Bay.
Every day. Four to six people, getting in their faces outside their home, yelling at them that they were “squirrels” as they tried to walk their dog. Speeding to catch up to them in a golf cart.
Jeffrey shows a short segment of video from that first day, with John Allender with a camera strapped to his forehead.
One hundred and ninety nine days. Every day. Sometimes up to TWENTY encounters in a single day.
“How are you doing, Mr. Squirrel?” Joanne Wheaton screeches in one segment.
And how, Jeffrey asked, did Monique know they were from the Church of Scientology?
But Judge Waldrip allowed her answer. Monique explained that one day, she’d talked to the Squirrel Busters. What was it going to take to get them to stop coming to their house? Marty has to stop talking about the church, she was told.
It was the blog. Because Marty Rathbun was writing a blog about Scientology, church members from around the country had been flown in, a house had been leased, and day after day the Squirrel Busters were disrupting their lives.
They were from the church. There was no question.
(And remember, in the morning session, CSI’s attorney, Les Strieber, had admitted that the church surveilled the Rathbuns because they were challenging Scientology’s orthodoxy! At one point, Ray Jeffrey said that Strieber had admitted that the church had sent the Squirrel Busters, but Strieber shook his head, laughing and said he’d admitted no such thing.)
Jeffrey then began asking Monique about one Squirrel Buster in particular, a guy she could only describe as “sleazy,” who would knock on her door and ask to talk to her only when Marty was out of town.
“I was very scared. One, that they knew he was gone, and that they always knew what we were doing,” she said. “Obviously, he was the there to let me know that they knew I was alone.”
Jeffrey: “Was he there to talk to you about the trademarks of Scientology?”
No, Monique answered, and there was a wave of laughter around the courtroom. (Earlier, CSI’s attorney, Strieber, had tried to justify the church’s surveillance of the Rathbun’s by implying that they had violated the church’s trademarks somehow.) Trademarks. Sheesh. Does the church really think this is still 1994?
(Part 5 soon!)
Ray Jeffrey then put up a slide showing that the Squirrel Busters had leased a house that gave them a direct view of the Rathbun house. They had later leased another house just down their block. And they had inquired about three other properties surrounding them.
Monique said that one of them would have given them a direct view of their bedroom window.
Jeffrey then showed more footage of the Squirrel Busters, bringing her attention in particular to Ralph Gomez, a local former cop who she described as their muscle. At some point, she testified, he had called her a bitch.
And how did it make her feel, with the Squirrel Busters outside her home, filming every day for 199 days?
“Like I feel today. Nauseous. Shaking.”
One day, she got a sex toy in the mail at her work. After she’d had a day off, she came in and it was sitting on her desk, in a Fedex box.
Then, another day she was out of the office, some flowers arrived for a receptionist, and they included a note with a suggestive message, supposedly from Monique.
“How do you explain something like that to your coworkers and your peers? How do you do that?” she asked.
At some point, Marty and Monique escaped the madness of the Squirrel Busters with a trip to Arizona. (Marty had been to LA, and Monique met him in Prescott, Arizona.) They had a week of escape, and Monique was happy to finally be away from the madness. Then they went to the Phoenix airport to fly home, and suddenly they were surrounded by church operatives, with Jim Lynch getting in her face, asking her questions about her father..
“It crossed a line for me,” Monique said, and we only wish we could convey the contempt in the sound of her voice.
“Jim Lynch was standing there, asking whether my dad had hypnotized me to get Mark to attack the church.”
At this point, we feel some dread in reporting, Strieber objected, saying that there was no proof that Jim Lynch worked for the church.
We had half a thought of leaping over the railing and grabbing Les Strieber by the collar and shoving his face into the nearest laptop computer with the following words from Jim Lynch…
I’m a reporter writing a profile of ex-Village Voice editor Tony Ortega for Freedom Magazine which is sponsored by the Church of Scientology.
…which appeared in this article published by the Atlantic magazine, which has been around since the Buchanan administration.
OK, after that, we need a drink.
(Part 6 soon!)
Another way the Rathbuns escaped the Squirrel Busters was a short trip to Germany. And while they were in Hamburg to meet Ursula Caberta, they made a side trip to Berlin. And while they were touring the former wall separating east and west, Monique realized they were being followed.
Then, as they made their way into the subway system, wherever they looked, Scientology magazines that had a photo on the back of Marty had been propped up in their way.
Next, Ray asked Mosey about the house down the block.
After 199 days, the Squirrel Busters had finally left in September 2011, and through most of 2012 they were feeling that they were living in relative peace. There were still drive-bys performed by private eyes who photographed the license plates of their visitors, but there was much less harassment. Still, the church always seemed to know when they had visitors or when they came and went.
We visited the Rathbuns in November, 2012 — when Paul Marrick and Greg Arnold made their trip to Ingleside on the Bay — and we were there when Marty discovered that a private investigator was hiding out in a house down at the end of the block.
It was then that the Rathbuns discovered that very sophisticated cameras had been set up in the house, attached to a laptop computer, and the cameras appeared to be recording what was happening at the Rathbun house, sending that info somewhere over a network.
At that point, Monique said, she knew they needed to move. She just couldn’t take it, not after seemingly outlasting the Squirrel Busters. Here someone was watching their every move and beaming it to someone — and Marty assumed it was Miscavige himself.
In the fall of 2012 they decided to move. They then went to great lengths, Monique said, to find a place in secret. They considered several locations around the country before finally settling on a rental house in Bulverde, Texas. It was perfect, they thought. Secluded, surrounded by forest. There would be no Squirrel Buster nonsense at this house. So on December 1, they moved.
They did still experience some surveillance. Some clumsy following by private eyes when they went to the movies, for example. But in general, the situation was much better. They could relax. (Marty’s blog, meanwhile, was much less strident.)
Then, one day recently, they discovered that a camera had been placed on a tree behind their house, aimed right at them. It had an antenna, which told them that once again, images of their house were being beamed over a network.
Monique said that her first reaction was that they had to move again. “We gotta go. I even started looking for another place. But then, I thought, you can’t keep running. At some point you just know you have the right to live your life,” she said.
And that, Ray said, is why she filed the first lawsuit in her life. (Earlier, the Scientology attorneys had said that Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder are part of a “cabal” that is involved in 15 lawsuits against the church. But Jeffrey pointed out that Monique Rathbun is the plaintiff here, and she’s never sued anyone, ever.)
So then Ray asked Monique to try to quantify all the sleepless nights she’s had, all the hours lost to worry, and the value of what she’s lost to the harassment in her life. Each time, she said she couldn’t add it all up.
So what are you asking for in this lawsuit, Ray asked?
“I’m asking to not let it happen anymore. To stop it,” she said, about the harassment. And that’s how her direct testimony ended..
(Next, the cross-examination!)
Les Strieber did not have an easy job.
Monique Rathbun had been credible, she’d been emotional, she had almost been fragile on the witness stand. If Strieber came on too strong, it would not go well.
So he was cautious.
What do you do for a living? (She’s a regional manager for a health company.) Does she work with her husband? (No.) Does she help him with his blog? (Only approving comments when he’s out of town.) Does the blog earn them money? (Some donations.) Does Marty make money from auditing? (“Some people pay, some people don’t.”)
What is auditing? Les asked, and Judge Waldrip asked for clarification on the word “preclear.” (Remember, Les only first heard about Scientology two weeks ago.)
Is it Scientology that Marty is doing? (He’s auditing people, using the e-meter.) Is he calibrating the e-meter? (I don’t know.) You’ve never been a member of the church? (Correct.) Have you studied the Scientology religion? (She’s learned about auditing.) You’ve been a preclear? (Yes.)
Strieber then asked them about their wedding in 2010, performed by Mike Rinder at the first Indie Scientologist summer gathering. Wasn’t it a Scientology ceremony — the first indie wedding, according to a posting on the Internet? Monique didn’t take the bait. It was a wedding, get over it. (At least that was our interpretation of her answer.)
He then asked her about doing some auditing of her own. Who trained her? (Her husband.)
Maybe the strangest question of the day: “You were using my client’s material to do indie Scientology?”
Les’s query, and what the hell he was getting at, was so obscure, there was some back and forth between the judge and the attorneys, and then Monique pointed out that she hadn’t done any auditing since they moved to Texas last year, and you could feel the air go out of Les’s strategy.
Is there any evidence that the Church of Scientology International ever trespassed on your property? (No.) Have you seen any photos from the camera that was mounted behind your house? (No.) Do you know if that camera ever took any photos of you inside your house? (No.) Did the Squirrel Busters every trespass on your property? (No.) After they left in September 2011, did anyone else ever trespass on your property? (No.) Did you ever see any photos taken by the cameras in the house on your block in Ingleside on the Bay? (No.)
At this point, however, Les asked if after the Squirrel Busters had left, there were consequences for people who visited them, and Monique said yes, there were. And she got in that people who visited them were then questioned by Jim Lynch or other church agents. We think Les walked into that one a bit.
And then it happened again. Previously, when Jeffrey was questioning her, he had tried to ask her about harassment of her father, but Strieber had objected, calling it hearsay. But now, on his own cross-examination, Strieber had opened the door by asking about harassment that people she knew were getting after the Squirrel Busters had left, and she said yes, in December 2012, her father had been harassed — something she had not been able to get in when Jeffrey was questioning her.
That’s months after the Squirrel Busters had disappeared, and when her father was still recovering from a heart transplant. Again, Les seemed to walk into that one.
(One more section coming — have patience!)
More from Les: Were you ever physically assaulted? (No.) Do you believe that people should have the right of free expression?
At this point, a reporter I won’t name leaned over and said to me, “Oh, here comes the irony.”
Does Marty write on his blog every day? (No.) Is the blog available for people to read every day? (Yes.) Is the majority of what he writes anti-Scientology, or anti-Church of Scientology? (No.) Is there anti-Scientology material on the blog? (Yes.)
Are you on the blog? Huh? Are there pictures of you on the blog? (Yes.)
At this point, the Scientology team put up Marty’s blog on a big screen in the courtroom. Les pointed to a link on Marty’s blog that said, “News about Monique.” He asked his colleague, Lamont Jefferson, to click on it.
And it led to…
THIS VERY BLOG YOU ARE READING!!!
At this point, when Les Strieber then began hyperventilating about what the hell “The Underground Bunker” was, and who this Ortega character was, frankly, we were so busy grinning like we’d swallowed Les Strieber’s tie we forgot to write anything down.
Right there, in a Texas courtroom, the Church of Scientology was trying to make it look like Monique Rathbun was some kind of evil collaborator because your proprietor was so darned quick to get a story up about her lawsuit and beat the rest of the world’s press.
Hell, here we thought we deserved an everlovin’ PRIZE or something, and Les Strieber is trying to make it look like we done something low-down and dirty!
We will swear on a stack of Bibles, this was Les Strieber’s next question for Monique Rathbun…
“Are you picking a fight with the Church of Scientology?”
Please, please, we beg Observer or one of our other talented shoop artists, will you please make a poster out of that? We are still reeling from that moment in court.
So then Les Strieber tried to establish that Monique Rathbun is a media whore who deserves everything the church has thrown at her. Rock Center! Channel 4! Interviewed by Ortega of the Village Voice! ORTEGA INTERVIEWED HER IN HER OWN HOME!!!
Wasn’t she quoted in Texas Monthly! (Um, no.) Didn’t her husband write three anti-Scientology books? (They were critical.)
Wouldn’t you say that with his blog, and his interviews, and his books, that your husband is a public figure? (Yes.) Aren’t you also a public figure? (No.)
Since when did this become a defamation trial, Les?
Strieber then showed a couple of videos taken by the Rathbuns, when they confronted the Squirrel Busters. The first, in July 2012, was a fun little moment. When a neighbor had asked one of the Squirrel Busters what they actually believed, they couldn’t give her a decent answer. So Marty and Monique copied out of a book the “Creed of Scientology” and handed out copies to the Squirrel Busters. (Comedy gold.) Later, Monique got in the face of Ed Bryan, a Squirrel Buster who had showed up wearing a T-Shirt that referred to Marty getting arrested on his wedding night in New Orleans (a favorite Scientology hobby horse).
The point here that Les seemed to be going after was that Monique was giving the Squirrel Busters as good as she was getting, and essentially, this was just a religious debate, and one that was covered by first amendment freedoms. Monique seemed nonplussed by the questioning.
Strieber then showed a video made by Marty in October 2012, which he directed at OSA employees, telling them they should rebel and bring him information. When Streiber tried to bore into Monique about it, Ray Jeffrey pointed out that Marty wasn’t a party in the lawsuit, and Strieber had to back off.
He then started to ask about Daniel Montalvo, a young Sea Org employee who defected and carried out with him some hard disks with Scientology information. But again, Monique deflected it skillfully. She never received any disks or information from anyone.
It felt like a fishing expedition.
So he asked about the sex toy. Oh boy. But his question was very simple: Did she have any evidence about who mailed it to her? (No.) And the flowers sent to her co-worker, did she know who sent it? (No.)
He then brought her back to her question to the Squirrel Busters — how to make the harassment stop. Did she think about her husband continuing to abuse the trademarks of the church on his blog?
Oh, Les. Again, this isn’t 1994. Enough with the trademark silliness. IT’S ALL RIGHT FOR BLOGGERS TO TALK ABOUT THE CHURCH. Hell, we do it every day, home boy.
Wasn’t it obvious, from the blog, that Marty dislikes David Miscavige? (Sure.)
“Is that what this fight is about?” he asked.
Well, we have to say, that was one strange way for Les Strieber to finish off his cross-examination.
So at the end, the other parties (RTC/Miscavige, the other defendants) “reserved” their right to question her further, and Ray Jeffrey reserved his right to do re-direct.
Judge Waldrip’s next big headache was figuring out what we’ll be doing tomorrow. After a full day on the temporary injunction, he has agreed to hear the church’s disqualify motion at the beginning of tomorrow’s session — and he said it might take up the entire day.
So the rest of the temporary injunction hearing — with witnesses like Bert Leahy and Mike Rinder, might not happen for weeks. Yikes.
Tomorrow, however, we’ll see if the church can convince Waldrip that Ray Jeffrey should be kicked off the case because of the Marty Rathbun affidavit.
We’ll see you first thing in the morning for more live-blogging, and opening statements in court should begin at 10 am local time (11 am New York, 8 am Pacific.)
Posted by Tony Ortega on September 12, 2013 at 18:40
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