A Los Angeles County judge expressed his intention to move forward with actor Leah Remini’s defamation and harassment lawsuit against the Church of Scientology. However, he did mention that some claims would be dismissed.
Leah Remini, the 53-year-old star of the TV show “The King of Queens,” shares that she was compelled to join the Church of Scientology at the age of eight due to her mother’s unwavering dedication. Remaining a member for over 35 years, Remini estimates that she spent more than $5 million on various services and donations to the organization. However, in 2013, she made the decision to leave the church and has since become one of its most prominent and outspoken critics. She documented her experiences in the memoir “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology” and went on to produce and star in the docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”
In response to the criticism, the church took a proactive approach and countered with a series of videos and articles aimed at discrediting Remini. These materials were posted on a dedicated website and shared on social media platforms, garnering support from both genuine followers and potentially automated accounts.
Last year, Remini took legal action against the Church of Scientology and its leader David Miscavige, alleging defamation, harassment, stalking, and interference with a contractual relationship. One of the numerous allegations in her lawsuit is that the church has branded her as a “suppressive person,” making her a target for any form of attack.
The church filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on anti-SLAPP grounds, a legal tactic used to swiftly dismiss suits that aim to stifle free speech or public engagement. In their defense, the church claimed that Remini’s critique of the church constituted “hate speech” and that the church and its members possess the right to defend themselves.
The church argued in their motion that Remini’s efforts to turn a public debate, which she herself started and benefited from, into a lawsuit is the reason why California implemented its anti-SLAPP statute. They claimed that all the videos, articles, and tweets that criticized Remini were protected speech. Regarding the alleged surveillance, the church stated that it was part of their preparation for a lawsuit by Remini and therefore classified as protected conduct.
LA County Superior Court Judge Randolph Hammock has indicated in his preliminary ruling that he is inclined to dismiss the majority of the defamation claims against the church. However, he does plan to retain most of the harassment claims.
Judge Hammock, who has been serving on the bench for 15 years, expressed that this particular motion has been the most challenging he has ever worked on. With a look of enjoyment on his face, he presided over the three-hour hearing and meticulously examined the 68-page complaint, addressing each allegation one by one.
According to Hammock, it is important to note that none of these statements are actionable. Calling someone names typically indicates malice, but it is well within your rights to express your opinion, even if it involves labeling someone as a Nazi. It is a two-way street – if she attacks you, it is understandable that you would respond in kind.
In his tentative ruling, Hammock likened the campaign to a parody, stating that the statements made could not be taken literally by anyone who viewed them.
According to the article, the judge expressed his likelihood of allowing some of the defamation claims to survive, especially those involving Remini’s father. In her complaint, Remini accuses the church of manipulating her estranged and now deceased father, George Remini, and his third wife, Dana, to spread false statements about her. These statements include allegations that she is a liar, that she craves attention, that she refused to contribute to her father’s cancer treatments, that she abandoned her half-sister when she was hospitalized, that she looted her dying grandmother’s apartment, and that she lacks morals.
According to the judge, certain statements made by the church could be verified or refuted. Additionally, the judge stated that the church may have published these statements without considering the accuracy of the information.
Hammock stated that he is unlikely to dismiss the harassment claims, mentioning that the defendants’ attempt to justify the surveillance with a good-faith belief in litigation lacks evidence and goes against common sense. He further emphasized that there is no public interest in conducting surveillance on private individuals, including celebrities, solely based on unsupported suspicions of potential future legal action.
According to the judge, there is a high possibility that he will approve some of the claims made by Remini regarding Scientology’s interference with her business relationships. Specifically, the claims involve the broadcast and podcast companies iHeartRadio and AudioBoom. The judge emphasized that while the church has the right to express their views and request the removal of offensive content, they cannot engage in harassment that puts the safety of the podcast’s producers and staff at risk.
Remini’s lawsuit also included a request for a declaration that individuals should not be stalked, harassed, targeted, or made to fear for their life or livelihood when leaving Scientology. However, Hammock appeared to be quite dismissive of this particular request.
“I don’t understand,” he exclaimed. “You expect me to label Scientology as evil. But I refuse to do that.”
The judge’s tentative ruling suggests that he is unlikely to change his stance, but it is important to note that the ruling is not yet finalized. In fact, the hearing is still ongoing. The remaining oral arguments will be heard on Friday, which will also include discussions on Remini’s motion for a preliminary injunction. This motion aims to prevent the Church from publicly criticizing or encouraging boycotts against Remini.
Hammock couldn’t help but give a sneak peek of Friday’s hearing, expressing his inclination to refrain from issuing a preliminary injunction.
In response to Remini’s lawyer, he stated, “Present evidence of recent mistreatment towards your client that necessitates legal intervention… If I am convinced that there is a persistent and ongoing pattern of harassment occurring even now, then I will reevaluate my stance.”
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