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I came across some information on the legal issues surrounding Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). The info may be helpful to anyone that is contemplating taking legal action against ?cults?.
(1) An excellent article by attorney Lawrence Levy
http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_articl ... r_suit.htm
Cultic Studies Journal, 1990, Volume 7, Number 1, pages 15-25.
Prosecuting an Ex-Cult Member's Undue Influence Suit
Lawrence Levy, J.D.
The case of an ex-member of the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) who sued the group for damages is reviewed in order to illuminate practical issues in cult-related litigation. It is important that the client be able to withstand the processes of extended and emotionally draining litigation. Plaintiffs should avoid making cult beliefs an issue, focusing instead on destructive behaviors, in this case "garden-variety" torts. Similarly, the term "brainwashing," which connotes extreme physical deprivation to the uninformed public, should be avoided. The legal concept of undue influence was much more useful in this case. It is vital that the client be thoroughly prepared. Attorneys should first educate themselves and then educate judge and jury about the harmful cultic practices of the group in question. Expert and lay witnesses are essential to describe these practices and explain how they are destructive. Former cult members can be helpful in a variety of other ways, including emotional support and research assistance. In this case, the jury awarded $1,563,000 to the plaintiff, Gregory Mull, more than $1,000,000 of which were punitive damages. The decision was upheld by the California Appellate Court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant CUT a writ of certiorari, thus finally ending the case.
From pages 1 & 2, Evaluate the Client
The decision to take on a client who seeks damages from a cult must not be taken without first considering several key factors. The first is the condition of the would-be client: an in-depth evaluation of his or her mental and physical condition must be made. He or she must be able to survive a long and grueling process leading from early depositions through trial and even on to lengthy appeals before the strain is relieved. This process, which lasted over six years in the case at hand, may be too much for some former cult members, who are especially tender, frequently unstable, and difficult to work with following their cult experiences. They still may be using cult-learned modes of thought and speech, which are difficult for outsiders to understand. They are also especially vulnerable to the continuing psychological influence of the cult, even to the cult's psychological warfare, throughout the litigation process, and to harassment out of court, which is not uncommon.
Lawyers contemplating litigation with cults must also be aware that since such groups are typically businesses as well as religions, the leaders, or "owners," are willing and able to spend a great deal of money -- on depositions, motions, investigators, and experts -- to protect their share of the spiritual marketplace. Indeed, they often cross the boundaries of ethical legal practice. This sort of action, when combined with the indirect psychological influence the group still wields over the client, makes your job as an attorney anguished and difficult. You must determine with a fair degree of confidence, then, your client's dedication to the proposed litigation, his physical and psychological stamina, his ability to withstand the cult's retaliation for his apostasy and "turning" on them, and the capacity of both you and your client to sustain the expense of the effort.
From pages 2 & 3, The Issue of Religion
Religion was an important, though largely unspoken, issue in the case. It must be carefully considered when litigating against a religious group. Neither my client nor I addressed CUT religious beliefs in the complaint or during subsequent proceedings. Gregory Mull would not do so out of fear of human and supernatural sanctions, and I understood that First Amendment protection of sincerely held religious beliefs must confine our discussion to the harm that CUT had actually inflicted on my client. The attorney must be prepared to argue in court the necessity of separating conduct from belief. Prepare for this argument long before the trial, since it is sure to surface during the trial. Case law supports my contention that conduct is everything that occurs before one forms a belief and everything that occurs after the formation of a belief, or in spite of it.
I never questioned the validity of CUT as a religion, and the appeal court, while noting that CUT was a religion, agreed that this issue had never been raised during the trial. CUT, on the other hand, made much of the fact that it was a religion and that this justified the facts of its relationship with Gregory. Indeed, their writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court claims that what they did is absolutely protected by the First Amendment. They said that the money Gregory gave to CUT was in response to a Biblical injunction, and thus could not be questioned by the court. This was, in fact, their main defense. I argued that money given by a member to CUT after a two and one-half hour ritual browbeating -- "decreeing" -- is not protected, and cannot be called a "donation." Gregory testified, quite rightly, that the decreeing, which threatens supernatural sanctions, frightened him into giving the money. But I never questioned the belief system, and I asked the judge to instruct the jury that we were inquiring only into actions, in this case extortion, breach of confidence, and more. If religious belief discussion was broached by CUT, I asked for a jury caution that beliefs were not an issue, only tortious conduct and its effects on Gregory. I discussed religion once or twice, but only as it related to conduct. I did not even mention other noted cult cases, so great was my effort to show as starkly as possible that we were alleging only the commission of garden-variety torts.
From page 4, A Word to Avoid
In making such a case, however, I did not use the term "brainwashing." To uninformed judges and juries, the word connotes processes found in Chinese prison camps during the Korean War. The defense will point out that cult life is different, and if you insist on using the term you may well lose your argument about undue influence and coercive manipulation. Whenever CUT counsel brought up the term, implying that we were accusing CUT of brainwashing, I said that I never used the term and would never inquire into the inculcation of religious belief. Thus, we denied CUT'S attempt to make "brainwashing" an issue. Interestingly, CUT moved at one point to prevent use of the word "cult," which many consider to be a pejorative term, and prejudicial to the defense, but the judge ruled that it was simply descriptive and should be allowed.
From page 7, My Client's Death
Three months after the verdict, Gregory Mull died. Only the will to strike a blow on behalf of other cult victims, as he put it, held him together through the ordeal, for in addition to the stress of an action against an organization and leader to which he had once been in thrall, he had begun to suffer severe symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The disease first became clear when, prior to the trial, Gregory told local building inspectors that CUT structures were not earthquake safe. This led to tremendous harassment against him. Threatening calls to his home 24 hours a day and vandalism to his car, among other actions, stimulated a stroke-like incident (which was not, at the time, identified as an MS symptom). He was in acute physical distress day after day in court, but was determined to continue. A subsequent declaration by Elizabeth Clare Prophet that Gregory was "the beast of blasphemy " (a signal that he should be "destroyed") stimulated another stroke. His doctors then determined that Gregory was suffering from MS. His speech patterns had slowed, he walked with a cane, and often required physical assistance. Although I never accused CUT of causing the MS, a physician testifying to the physical effects of membership on Gregory said that the pressures he faced before the trial may have exacerbated a dormant MS. Throughout his life, Gregory Mull sought to do God's work. And in the end, he did. For by telling the truth about CUT, he has helped to enlighten millions who know nothing about the destructiveness of a cult experience. Sadly, it may have cost him his life.
(2) Information on potential class action lawsuit against C.U.T. in 2001
Two ex-CUT members, Peter Arnone and Kenneth Paolini (co-author of 400 Years of Imaginary Friends) were collecting information to see if a class action lawsuit against C.U.T. was possible. They posted a questionnaire with ten questions that were prepared entirely by two attorneys, Lawrence Levy and Stephen Roberts.
The questionnaire was no longer available on the site. Kenneth Paolini also mentioned the possibility of ?statutes of limitations? affecting the people that can participate.
(3) An ex-member?s story
Cheri Walsh, an ex-CUT member mentioned about the meeting with attorney Lawrence Levy on the possible class action suit. She posted an overview of her responses to the relevant portions of the questionnaire. The class action did not proceed.
From above, about Levy:
I was pleasantly surprised when I met Mr. Levy. He is an intelligent and gracious man. He impressed me as a man of principle and practical wisdom. He recounted a couple of his own experiences with Mrs. Prophet during the Mull proceedings and how he came to understand what CUT is really all about.
I think he is one of the few people I have ever met who was not a member of CUT who really understands the true sincerity of people who join CUT and what it is like to be a dedicated believer in CUT.
He understands that many ex-members feel that there is something wrong with them for getting involved with CUT. He says there is nothing wrong with us. On the contrary, we had a noble motivation to be part of something that we were led to believe would help make the world a better place. The wrong was in the misrepresentations of CUT/Mrs. Prophet.
Mr. Levy also understands how to educate a judge and jury about the real CUT. The average person has no idea of the all-consuming hold that CUT/Mrs. Prophet has on believers. They don?t understand why staff/members didn?t just go down the street and join another church when things were off-the-wall in CUT. Juries need to understand CUT culture and the true context of CUT abuses to really get the picture. Mr. Levy knows how to paint that picture.
As an attorney, he has been successful in every lawsuit against CUT that he has been involved in. I saw that if we wanted to bring a lawsuit against CUT, Lawrence Levy is the attorney for the job. I?m glad I met him.
He did warn us about being involved in a class-action suit against CUT. He cautioned that it might take a toll on us personally. He told us to carefully weigh whether or not it was really something we wanted to take on.
When all was said and done, I was glad the lawsuit didn?t proceed. I realized that if the case did go forward, all kinds of ex-staff would come out of the woodwork because of the potential for a cash settlement. I think that is the wrong reason to come forward. I wouldn?t want to be a part of the suit if there were people there only because of the money. So in the end, it worked out okay.
Question: Does anyone have the rest of the questions in the questionnaire and the reasons why the class action lawsuit did not proceed?
From the book ?Deadly cults: the crimes of true believers? by Robert L. Snow, 2003.
http://books.google.com/books?id=75JSQt ... q=&f=false
From page 170:
Levy says that the key to winning legal cases against groups like the Church Universal and Triumphant is to focus on actions, not beliefs. ?I always let the jury know I don?t care what they (the cult) believe,? Levy told me in an interview. ?That?s none of my business. The First Amendment gives people the right to believe anything they want. But it doesn?t give them the right to do anything they want.?
From page 171:
Although Mull became attorney Lawrence Levy?s first case against a cult, Levy has since successfully sued cults more than a dozen times. ?I?ve sued The Way International, the Church Universal and Triumphant, and I?ve sued Hare Krishna,? Levy told me. ?When you scratch the surface,? he said, ?and you don?t worry about their religious interests, then you just find basic torts. They extort from you, they use undue influence. You get in somebody?s pocketbook, though, they usually get upset.?
Some of these cases in 2000 and 2002 are described on Page 171.
Lawrence Levy is an attorney based in Sherman Oaks, California.
http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_profil ... wrence.asp
Lawrence Levy, Esq., a trial attorney in Southern California, has been involved in ?cult? litigation for over twenty years. He has represented clients against Church Universal & Triumphant, Scientology, Hare Krishna, The Way International, and other groups.