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Ex-Scientologist wins $30 million in church suit

Title: Ex-Scientologist wins $30 million in church suit
Date: Wednesday, 23 July 1986
Publisher: Los Angeles Herald Examiner (California)
Author: Liz Mullen
Main source: link (67 KiB)

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A Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $30 million to a former Scientologist, who claimed the church's religious practice of "auditing" caused him to suffer a nervous breakdown.

Larry Wollersheim, 37, who was a member of the church for 11 years, was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages by the 12-member jury. The trial started last February.

"It's a tremendous verdict for human rights," said Leta Schlosser, Wollersheim's attorney. The Church of Scientology, she added, "is going to scream religous freedom."

"This case will not hold up anywhere, I guarantee it," said Earle Cooley, the national counsel for the church. He said that because none of the jurors were Scientologists "it was constitutionally impossible to get a fair trial."

The president of the Los Angeles Church of Scientology yesterday called on members to demonstrate on the county courthouse steps today.

"What you are being charged with is your religious practices are outrageous to the tune of $30 million," said the Rev. Ken Hoden, president of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles.

He said that the jury tried to bankrupt the California Church of Scientology, since its assets are valued at about $18.5 million.

Schlosser said that psychiatrists testified that the church practice of auditing caused Wollersheim to become a manic depressive.

In "auditing," a church member holds electrodes in his hands while talking about "painful" events in their life, said church spokeswoman Shirley Young. The church member's feelings about the events are measured on an electric meter. A minister of the church "will go over it with them until ... they can face what happened."

Wollersheim's exposure to auditing has caused him mood swings, panic attacks and short-term amnesia, said Schlosser.

Wollersheim "has lived in hiding" and has changed his name since filing suit in 1980, because he feared retaliation from church members, she said.

Wollersheim testified that he had turned over about $60,000 to the church after he was emotionally "weakened" by auditing, she said.

Schlosser said that witnesses testified that church members destroyed Wollersheim's Hollywood lithograph business by making large orders and not paying for months.