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Scientology documents sealed in wrongful death case

Title: Scientology documents sealed in wrongful death case
Date: Thursday, 15 May 1997
Publisher: Tampa Tribune (Florida)
Authors: Jeffrey Stidham, Cheryl Waldrip
Main source:

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TAMPA — A judge in a wrongful death case accusing the Church of Scientology of negligence has temporarily sealed three documents that for three years have been posted on the Internet.

The documents — reportedly church instructions on handling members' illnesses — were included among papers filed in a lawsuit that claims a 36-year-old woman died after Scientologists ignored her medical needs.

An autopsy found Lisa McPherson died in December 1995 of a blood clot brought on by "severe dehydration and bed rest."

After a hearing Wednesday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge James Moody agreed to the church's motion to seal the documents it claims are unpublished records that should not be made public in a court file.

But Moody's ruling is temporary and depends on whether he decides the documents are relevant to the case.

If he decides they are, Moody must then determine whether they are subject to public display.

The church argued it doesn't matter that the documents have been listed on the Internet because "the whole body of copyright law precludes dealing in unpublished works."

In any event, said the church's lawyer, Roger M. Milgrim, the church is trying to have the documents removed from the Internet.

Lawyers for The Tampa Tribune asserted that copyright arguments do not defeat a news organization's right to gather information.

And Ken Dandar, the attorney for Lisa McPherson's estate, contends the church's efforts to seal the documents proves their authenticity.

Earlier this week, Dandar said he believes the documents teach members how to care for the sick. Although McPherson was not at the level of training at which these techniques are taught, Dandar said, her caretakers were.

"They claim to have cures for medical and mental illnesses," Dandar said. "Lisa McPherson is the prime example that they don't know what they're doing."

The wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of McPherson's family alleges that she was held against her will in isolation by the church.