SCIENTOLOGY SETTLES WITH DEBBIE COOK
Earlier this morning we reported that charges had been dropped against Scientology executive Jan Eastgate in Australia.
And now, another stunning development: Marty Rathbun just reported at his blog that the Church of Scientology has settled its lawsuit against former church executive Debbie Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten.
I just confirmed this with Debbie's attorney, Ray Jeffrey, who tells me he really can't say anything else about the terms of the settlement
"The matter is settled. That's the full extent of it," he says.
Rathbun, who had helped raise money for Cook's defense and had worked closely with Jeffrey, says that for both sides, the major revelations in the case had already been aired, and neither side had an interest for the case to continue...
"On Debbie and Wayne's side the only thing to gain was further opportunities for exposure of what has already been exposed; and the potential of an award for their limited counterclaims. The 9 Feb testimony of Debbie was for the most part all that the world at large would be interested in hearing from her."
Rathbun also indicated that Debbie Cook will not be a part of the "independent Scientologist" movement that he's been a part of...
"I am fairly confident that part of settlement includes that there will be no future participation of Debbie and Wayne in the Independent movement."
Does that mean she's really, truly, going to stay quiet about the church from now on? The lawsuit itself, of course, was about her speaking out in violation, the church said, of her non-disclosure agreement.
Let us review...
Scientology was rocked by allegations of greed in an e-mail that was sent out on New Year's Eve by one of its most legendary former executives, Debbie Cook, who had run Scientology's "mecca" -- Flag Land Base -- for 17 years, from 1989 to 2006.
In her e-mail, Cook complained that Scientology was betraying the principles of founder L. Ron Hubbard as current leader David Miscavige turned the church into little more than a constant fundraising machine.
Cook herself had at one time been an enforcer of that fundraising focus, but after experiencing degrading confinement and homophobic hazing at an office-prison on the grounds of Scientology's international base in California, she had become disillusioned and left church staff in 2007. She moved to San Antonio, and had remained a church member but was cut off from the people she knew in the church and her own family -- but kept in touch with many Scientologists through social media.
On January 27, the church sued Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten, revealing that they had each been paid $50,000 and signed non-disclosure agreements when they left the church's employ. The church alleged that by sending out the New Year's e-mail, they violated those agreements by disparaging the church.
On February 9, we were on the scene as Cook provided stunning testimony about her confinement at "The Hole," the office-prison on the campus of Scientology's "Int Base" in California. The hearing had been intended for Scientology to argue for a temporary injunction to keep Cook quiet during the duration of the lawsuit, but after she gave that testimony -- essentially making the injunction meaningless -- church attorneys withdrew their request for it.
Cook and Baumgarten then gave an interview to several of us reporters. Cook reiterated her faith in L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, at the same time that she seemed determine to fight against the lawsuit filed by Miscavige's church.
Then, about two weeks into March, the case went quiet. We heard that there had been an illness in Jeffrey's office, and that the case had been put on hold. But after several weeks, that excuse began to seem less likely.
We suspected that settlement talks were happening. Just last night, we were calling people involved in the case, but they were careful and didn't tip us.
I have sent a request for a statement to church spokeswoman Karin Pouw, and I'll let you know if I hear anything.
UPDATE: OK, one more big story today and my head is going to explode. The always reliable Roger Friedman has details on Will Smith's donation to a school that pushes Scientology's "Study Tech" -- turns out he gave the school $1.2 million.
UPDATE 2: For those who seem to think Debbie Cook walked away with a large cash payment, you might review the facts in this case first. I just had a lengthy talk with Scott Pilutik, our resident legal resident on Scientology matters. He reminds me what Cook was facing in this case: she had put out a single e-mail, expressing her religious feelings, and for that she had been sued by a church that was demanding $300,000 in damages and probably a lot more than that as the case went forward.
Cook had to be concerned about the draconian nature of the agreement she had signed in 2007, which was simply astounding in some of its terms. As Jeffrey had pointed out to me, if they strictly followed the terms of that agreement, the church was entitled to ask for millions in damages from Cook and Baumgarten.
At any time, however, the Church of Scientology could simply drop this case and walk away from it if they wanted to. So why, no matter how well Cook had been doing in this case so far -- and she had been doing very well -- would the church pay her to get out of the lawsuit?
Pilutik and I have no knowledge of the actual terms of the settlement, but an educated guess tells us that Cook and Baumgarten may have made a new promise not to speak publicly about the church in return for Scientology dropping its demand of hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of dollars. A scenario where the church would pay Cook is harder to imagine.
We are not privy to what Cook and Baumgarten brought to the settlement talks, of course, but those accusing Cook of "being all about the money" might keep some of these basic facts in mind.
UPDATE 3: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin now have their story up. The Tampa Bay Times duo recount some of the amazing testimony that was heard in the case.
"The settlement was reached as the church was preparing to ask for a summary judgment, an attempt to seize a victory before the case got off the ground. But Jeffrey said Cook's Feb. 9 testimony raised numerous issues that warranted further inquiry, including a hearing by a jury," they write. "A hearing on the summary judgment motion was set for early May."
UPDATE 4: Tobin and Childs now have the court filing ending the case. As our expert Scott Pilutik predicted, it calls for Cook and Baumgarten to keep quiet about the church, the church drops its demands for damages, and no money changes hands:
The agreement dated Monday allows both sides to essentially call it even and go their separate ways. Neither pays the other side money, and Cook and her husband are legally prohibited from ever again speaking ill of the church.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and if you ask nicely he'll put you on his mailing list for notifications of new stories. You can also catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, a Tumblr, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, "What is Scientology?" Another good overview is our series from last summer, "Top 25 People Crippling Scientology." At the top of every story, you'll see the "Scientology" category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we've covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology's "Mecca," whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology's policy of "disconnection" that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We've also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there's plenty more coming.