Radar Gets It Wrong: How Scientology Is Likely To Be an Issue in the Divorce of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise

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Yesterday, RadarOnline, one of several online tabs trying to churn out incremental stories about the celebrity story of the year, grabbed for attention by quoting two lawyers who said it was unlikely that Tom Cruise's Scientology would be allowed as an issue in his divorce with Katie Holmes.

Aside from the fact that it was obvious Radar's two "experts" didn't know the first thing about Scientology, our own legal expert tells us that they're flat out wrong anyway -- family court is different than civil court, he says, and the religion of a parent can become an issue when a judge is trying to decide which parent should take custody.

After the jump: our legal expert, Scott Pilutik, a Manhattan attorney with a deep understanding of Scientology history, fills us in on how New York's family court may indeed be forced to consider the religious question of Suri's upbringing.

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Debbie Cook -- Exiled by Scientology?

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Tampa Bay Times journalists Joe Childs and Tom Tobin have done it again, surprising us with yet another gem of reporting on the Church of Scientology.

This time, they learned from a man named Jon Donley, who worked as a media consultant for Debbie Cook, that she and her husband, Wayne Baumgarten, are leaving San Antonio this week for a new home on the French island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

For those of us who followed Debbie's short but eventful career as Scientology's most visible dissident, it's a disorienting finish to a saga that seemed to have ended prematurely just a few weeks ago. And now, we're left with more questions than answers about this middle-aged couple who once were important officials in a church that has now twice seemingly exiled them from any community where they had family or friends.

In 2007, we learned in Debbie's court testimony, Cook and Baumgarten moved to San Antonio primarily because they knew no one there, and because Scientology had little presence in the town. Now, it appears they are trying to isolate themselves even further, and Childs and Tobin wonder if it wasn't an unstated condition of Cook's recent court settlement.

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How Debbie Cook Exposed Scientology and Got Away Scot-Free

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Debbie and Wayne: Breathing easier?
Our legal expert, Manhattan attorney Scott Pilutik, has been busy fielding questions since news broke earlier this week that the Church of Scientology had settled its lawsuit with former executive Debbie Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten.

After the jump, he takes a detailed look at the court's final judgment in the matter, which spells out the terms of a new gag order that will prevent the couple from ever again criticizing the church publicly.

And Scott also provided me this short version of how he sees this remarkable case, which began with an infamous e-mail that Cook sent out on New Year's Eve to her fellow Scientologists...

Debbie Cook signed a mean-as-hell non-disclosure agreement when she left her job with Scientology. She got to violate it, once carefully (her New Year's Eve e-mail), another time in court (her February 9 testimony), and one more time on national television (on Nightline). Then, instead of paying possibly millions of dollars in damages, she paid the church nothing and turned the clock back to December 31 as if none of it had happened.

I think people are conflating her "victory" at the February 9 injunction hearing with an actual legal victory, which it never was.

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SCIENTOLOGY SETTLES WITH DEBBIE COOK

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Debbie Cook and her attorney, Ray Jeffrey
It's turning into quite a day of revelations for Scientology Watchers.

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.

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Scientology: Dear Judge, Protect Us from Rathbun and Rinder!

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Mike Rinder and Marty Rathbun: Causing problems
Yesterday, we reported that Debbie Cook had gone on the offensive in the lawsuit filed against her by the Church of Scientology.

The church had earlier filed a motion for summary judgment, asking the Bexar County, Texas court to award it an early win in the case; Cook answered back that she wants the church's motion delayed as she requests documents from Scientology in the discovery process. She also asked to depose someone representing the church this coming Monday, and gave notice that during that deposition she plans to have along with her former high-ranking Scientology executives Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder -- both of whom are highly visible and effective critics of church leader David Miscavige.

Last night, we learned about the church's countermove: its attorneys asked the court to
delay the production of documents until their motion for summary judgment has been adjudicated. And if the motion is not granted, to delay the deposition and limit it in scope.

Oh, and one more thing: "That Rathbun and Rinder be excluded from the deposition."


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Scientology, Deposed? Debbie Cook Goes on the Offensive (UPDATED)

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[San Antonio Current]
UPDATE: Joe Childs and Tom Tobin of the Tampa Bay Times have a startling new detail about the Cook lawsuit tonight. They report that in 2009, Cook and her husband Wayne Baumgarten were alarmed when Church operatives showed up in San Antonio to talk to them, and, worried about their safety, purchased a gun. Cook's attorney Ray Jeffrey says that it's more evidence that the couple not only signed their 2007 agreement under duress, but have been under duress ever since.

On Friday, the Church of Scientology did as promised and filed a motion for summary judgment in its lawsuit against former executive Debbie Cook. The church is asking the Bexar County, Texas district court to see this lawsuit as a simple contract dispute, and one the church deserves to win without going any further.

Cook's attorney, Ray Jeffrey, told us that he thinks there's enough disagreement over the basic facts that a judge won't grant Scientology's motion -- the church maintains that when Cook sent out a New Year's Eve e-mail complaining about how Scientology is now betraying its original principles with a focus on "extreme fundraising," she violated the terms of a 2007 non-disclosure agreement she signed when she left the church's employ. But in a stunning February 9 hearing, Cook told a very different story -- that she signed that agreement only under extreme duress, and that she had literally been under guard when she was forced to sign it before she could go free from what had become a nightmare of abuse.

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SCIENTOLOGY FILES FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AGAINST DEBBIE COOK

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As they promised, Scientology's attorneys have filed for summary judgment in their lawsuit against former church executive Debbie Cook, and we have the document for you.

Here's our first impression: After Cook's explosive testimony in a Bexar County, Texas courtroom made news around the world and has more people than ever talking about the shocking and strange abuse allegedly dished out by Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, the church's attorneys are trying their best to convince a San Antonio judge that this is a much drier, less interesting dispute, summed up best in one of their opening lines:

"This is a dispute regarding the enforcement of contracts."

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Nightline's Scientology "Exclusive": What was Exclusive About It, Exactly?

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I had a strange and powerful case of déjà vu last night while watching Nightline's interview with Debbie Cook as she talked about being held in "the Hole" at Scientology's international base in California, where executives who fall out of favor with church leader David Miscavige are sent to rot in an office-prison for weeks, months, even years at a time.

Well, OK, it wasn't really déjà vu I was experiencing. Which fancy French term do you use when you're seeing a news organization claim it has an "EXCLUSIVE" on an interview that quite a few of us other journalists have already heard numerous times before?

I don't know. Anyone out there good with French? Anyone know how to say "cringeworthy mainstream media epic fail"?


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DEBBIE COOK COUNTERSUES SCIENTOLOGY: We Have Her Counterclaim, and the Church's Legal Salvos

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Ray Jeffrey and Debbie Cook
The Voice has learned that Debbie Cook filed a counterclaim against the Church of Scientology Monday afternoon, the first significant development since her stunning victory against the church in a Texas courtroom on February 10.

In her counterclaim, Cook is aiming directly at Scientology's ultimate leader, David Miscavige, by attempting to add two of the church's most powerful entities to the lawsuit that was filed against her by Scientology's Flag Service Organization, her former employer.

Besides Cook's filing, we also have several other documents sent back and forth between the opposing parties which provide a revealing look at how this case is being litigated behind the scenes.

This new information emerges as, this morning, the church's lawsuit against Cook finally hits America's major national mainstream media -- she appeared on ABC's Good Morning America this morning and will on Nightline tonight.

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Debbie Cook: "I Have Seen L Ron Hubbard's Technology Create Many Miracles"

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Debbie Cook, testifying last week
Scientology took on Debbie Cook, Debbie Cook kicked Scientology's ass, and now...Scientology wins?

This afternoon, former Church of Scientology executive Debbie Cook posted a public thank you to her supporters at the blog of Marty Rathbun, who is also a former high-ranking church official.

She describes what we witnessed last week, that the church's attorneys threw in the towel after her day of dramatic testimony about Scientology employees being held in confinement at a California compound, where they were subject to abuse. (The church gave up on its attempt to keep Cook gagged, but the lawsuit continues, and Cook is being sued for a New Year's Eve e-mail she sent out that the church considers disparaging and a violation of a non-disclosure agreement she signed in 2007.)

Cook now says that her testimony Thursday was "a very small sample of the physical abuse committed behind the closed doors of the International Scientology Base."

For those slow on the uptake, that's another way of saying, "you want a trial? I'll give you a trial."

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