LAKELAND – An author who has been writing about the Church of Scientology for two decades expects the spiritual group to file a new lawsuit against the Florida lawyer who allegedly broke a 2004 settlement agreement.
In March, Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a 2009 ruling that Tampa attorney Kennan Dandar had violated the terms of a settlement with the church when he filed a wrongful death claim on behalf of a church member. The appellate court also vacated the $1 million award that Dandar was ordered to pay the church for legal fees it incurred in the dispute over the settlement breach.
“My jaw hit the floor, author Tony Ortega told the Florida Record. "Ken Dandar has been trying for years to get around this judgment, and it seemed like a long shot."
Ortega is author of "The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper."
“The church has said that it is going to file a new lawsuit," Ortega said. "It already has asked for a re-hearing from the 2nd District. Any other entity would look at this and say, ‘enough is enough,’ and just let it go. But this is Scientology. They will go to the end of the earth to bankrupt an enemy."
The adversarial relationship between Dandar and the church, which has its worldwide spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, has meandered in and out of state and federal court since 1997. That’s the year Dandar represented the estate of Lisa McPherson in a complaint against the Church of Scientology. McPherson had been receiving care from the church for 17 days when she died in 1995.
The lawsuit was later dismissed with prejudice. According to Ortega, the church had offered a settlement of $20,000, while Dandar sought $80 million. In agreeing to an undisclosed amount, Dandar pledged to refrain from any adversarial proceedings of any description against the church under any circumstances at any time, a 2013 opinion from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said.
Five years after the settlement, however, Dandar filed another wrongful death complaint against the church. That time, he brought charges in federal court representing Victoria Britton, mother of 20-year-old Kyle Brennan, who died of a gunshot wound while in the home of his father, a Scientologist. Brennan’s death was classified as a suicide.
“Because of their scorched-earth tactics, it’s very hard to find an attorney willing to sue the Church of Scientology," Ortega said. "Ken Dandar was almost the only choice Victoria had."
Although Dandar has argued that the McPherson settlement had no bearing on his representation in the Brennan case, Pinellas Circuit Court Senior Judge Crockett Farnell ruled in the church’s favor. Farnell’s order instructed Dandar to pay the Church of Scientology’s legal expenses, which exceeded $1 million.
In the most recent decision, Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal disagreed.
“The trial court did not have jurisdiction to rule on Scientology's motion to enforce the settlement agreement and, consequently, it did not have jurisdiction to enter a final judgment requiring Dandar to pay damages for attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $1,068,156.50,” the appellate opinion said.
In order to claim Dandar has breached the 2004 settlement agreement, Scientology will be required to file a new circuit court proceeding, the opinion said.
“Ken Dandar may still end up in a heap of trouble, but at least he won’t have a million-dollar judgment hanging over his head," Ortega said. "In the next round, he’ll have a new judge who may see the case differently."