Scientology settles Bexar County lawsuit

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The Scientology circus playing out in a Bexar County court quietly came to a close this week. According to court records, the church on Monday settled its breach-of-contract suit against a former high-ranking member living in San Antonio, ending a case that drew shocking testimony against the church in open court earlier this year.

Debbie Cook has essentially been exiled in San Antonio since she left the Church of Scientology in 2007. At issue in the church's case against her was a sweeping non-disclosure agreement she signed when she split, something the church claimed she broke when she sent out a New Year's Eve 2011 email to fellow Scientologists criticizing church leadership and its controversial fundraising tactics.

But the church's case against her backfired in spectacular fashion. In pushing the case to court, the church prodded a remarkable hearing in early February in which Cook gave stunning testimony on abuse within the organization. The testimony included claims that leaders threw high-ranking members into a makeshift prison known ominously as “the Hole” for weeks on end, forcing them to sleep on bug-infested floors and eat bowls of inedible “slop.” At the hearing, Cook recounted tales of homophobia, routine humiliation and beatings – one member was forced to lick a bathroom floor for a half-hour, she claimed.

Furthermore, Cook said she was imprisoned and held for weeks at a church-run compound in Clearwater, Fla. and subjected to mental torture before she ultimately signed her non-disclosure agreement. Asked if she signed under duress, Cook gave the chilling response, “I would have signed I stabbed babies over and over again and loved it. I would have done anything at that point.”

The next hearing in the case had been scheduled for May 7, and it appeared an eventual trial could begin as soon as the end of this year. As recently as last month, Cook took to her website to rally supporters, writing, “Maybe my new nickname should be the girl who kicked the hornets nest!”

“Deep down you always believe that the truth and good wins in the end, but when you look around in life that doesn't really seem to be the case,” she continued. “Those who can afford top legal defense certainly have a way of getting away with murder. So we definitely have our work cut out for us.

We have a ways to go to win. But it can be done!”

But Cook's settlement with the church has once again silenced her. Her attorney, Ray Jeffrey, hasn't returned calls from the Current for the past two days, and both Cook's website and Facebook page have since gone dark. Under the settlement neither side collects a cent, and Cook and her husband are now legally prohibited from speaking ill of the Church of Scientology. To anyone. Ever. (You can read the final order, along with its sweeping non-disclosure provision, here).

Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientology member who's taken on the church, continues to call the legal fight, however short-lived, a sweeping success for Cook, and others who would see the church reform. “The toothpaste is out of the tube,” he said. “What was unique about Debbie was she was in good standing

It rang a bell, now the damage has been done.”

Rathbun himself rose to the highest levels within the church after joining at age 20. When he began lobbing allegations at the church from his home in Ingleside on the Bay outside Corpus Christi in 2009, he was hounded about town by groups of men wearing odd helmets, toting cameras and filming his every move. The group, Rathbun says sent by the church, began distributing “Neighborhood Alerts” around town calling him violent, mentally imbalanced, and part of a cult-like hate group.

Though harassment stopped late last year, it picked back up again this week the day after church officials settled with Cook in Bexar County, Rathbun claims. “It's interesting, it's been quiet ever since November 3rd up until two nights ago when they tried to run an operation on me and my wife when were out in town enjoying ourselves,” he said. “They just had guys all over us.”

-- By Michael Barajas, mbarajas@sacurrent.com

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