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Hush-Hush Money

An anti-Scientology activist claims that the church made him an offer he had to refuse: $12 million.

In a separate action in Virginia, Lerma was found liable for copyright violation for posting the materials and fined a mere $2,500. Attorneys for Religious Technology Corporation, which holds the copyrights to Hubbard's unpublished work, claim that decision (and an injunction against further postings) offers the relief they sought in the FACTNet suit; they recently withdrew their copyright claims in the case. But the suit continues over FACTNet's alleged infringement of previously published Scientology materials; Wollersheim argues that RTC dropped its copyright and trade-secret claims only because his side plans to challenge the legitimacy of Hubbard's secret writings, which some critics believe to be partially authored by others.

Wollersheim suggests that the so-called settlement offer was prompted by the effort his attorneys made last spring to reopen the probate case of L. Ron Hubbard, who died in seclusion in 1986, in order to examine the process by which various copyrights were transferred to RTC and other church entities. Although that effort was rebuffed by a California judge, Wollersheim vows to pursue the matter, as well as counterclaims against the church for the 1995 raid on his home and the damage it inflicted on his organization. He must have struck a nerve somewhere, he contends; by virtue of his judgment against the church in California, he says, "I'm the only one, other than the Hubbard family members, that can challenge the probate."

The FACTNet founder says he went into settlement talks with Rinder and others in a sincere effort to settle all his past and pending litigation against the church, but the conditions sought by the church were unacceptable. By his account, they included not only a "gag order" that would have prevented him from commenting on Scientology in the future but a requirement that he make "false and self-incriminating public statements" repudiating his criticism of the group. Worst of all, he says, church officials wanted FACTNet closed and its archives destroyed; having compiled what he describes as a "massive library" of inside information about the church, including accounts of alleged mistreatment by ex-members and reports of suspicious deaths, Wollersheim refused.

"To allow a free-speech organization to be bought by an organization trying to censor information and destroy a library," he says, "would be cognitive dissonance to the level of insanity."

Scientology critics on the Internet have expressed mixed reactions to Wollersheim's claim of having turned down $12 million. Some have praised him for taking a stand, but others have expressed doubts about his version of events and characterized his account as a fundraising ploy. Wollersheim directs skeptics to FACTNet's Web page (www.factnet.org), where he's launched a "Free Speech Revolt" campaign urging people to boycott movies featuring "celebrity promoters of Scientology" such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta and to donate to a variety of anti-Scientology causes.

"This is not a situation where we want people to come and bring us money in any exclusive way," he says. "I would rather have them boycotting these movies, picketing their organizations and downloading our page and putting it up in a safe spot. We're laying the foundation for somebody else in the future."

In the absence of a settlement, the intensely acrimonious FACTNet case will continue to slouch toward trial, testing the limits of endurance of all involved. In court filings, Wollersheim attorney Graham Berry has complained about private investigators hired by the other side harassing members of his legal team and support staff. While denying any misconduct, RTC's attorneys have sought contempt rulings against Berry and claimed that FACTNet has abused the discovery process.

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane has found the sniping so irksome that he gave both sides a thorough tongue-lashing in a hearing last spring, telling them to "stop screwing around and act like lawyers." He threatened to take the accusations of misconduct to a federal prosecutor for presentation to a grand jury--and if the charges proved unfounded, to impose sanctions on the accusers.

"If you want to fight every step of the way, you'll pay for it," Kane warned. "You'll pay every pound of it, every penny's worth...There is no reason why people should approach litigation in this fashion. I'm not stating who's at fault. I've heard enough of this case at this point to say a plague on all your houses."

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