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The Washington Post

Plaintiff Shifts Stance on Anti-Cult Group ( CAN - Cult Awareness Network )

December 23, 1996, Front Page


Plaintiff Shifts Stance on Anti-Cult Group ( CAN ) Page A4 Wash Post Dec 23 1996

Plaintiff Shifts Stance on Anti-Cult Group, Scientology Linked Lawyer Is Dismissed in Move That May Keep Network Running


By Laurie Goodstein
Washington Post Staff Writer

The young man whose lawsuit has
pushed the Cult Awareness Network into
bankruptcy has done an about-face and is
no longer moving toward putting the group
out of business.

He has abruptly dismissed his lawyer, a
prominent member of the Church of Scien-
tology, the anti-cult group's nemesis, and
hired an attorney who has battled the
church in the past.

The sudden shift by Jason Scott, 24, has
raised the possibility that the Cult Aware-
ness Network (CAN) will be able to
emerge from bankruptcy and resume its
work. The group is a once-influential clear-
inghouse that for two decades counseled
families and others to beware of new and
unconventional religions.

The gradual dismemberment of CAN in
U.S. Bankruptcy Court, reported earlier
this month by The Washington Post, has
shaken some nonprofit organizations whose
work involves taking controversial stands
against powerful interests that they fear
can afford to sue them into silence.
CAN declared bankruptcy after Scott
won a $1.8 million lawsuit against the
group. His previous attorney, Kendrick
Moxon, often represents the Church of
Scientology. By contrast, Scott's new law-
yer, Graham Berry, has assisted CAN
members in the past. Berry says he will
seek a cash settlement that would allow
CAN to keep its files and return to its origi-
nal mission.

The CAN name, logo and telephone
number were sold in Bankruptcy Court last
month to a member of the Church of Scien-
tology, whose members are also trying to
buy the extensive files that CAN kept on
Scientology and other groups.

CAN's telephone hot.line in Chicago,
dormant for six months, is operating again.
The people answering have been instruct-
ed to tell callers that CAN has been "taken
over" by "a new corporation," but "we
would be happy to help you with informa-
tion about religious groups you have an in-
terest in," said Steven L. Hayes, the Los
Angeles attorney and Scientologist who
bought the rights to use CAN's phone num-
ber. CAN has filed an appeal objecting to
the sale of its name and phone.

The key, if unwitting, figure in this saga
is Scott, of Bellevue, Wash. In 1991, at the
age of 18, Scott was kidnapped and held in
an isolated beach house for five days by a
"deprogrammer" and two assistants in an
attempt to persuade him to renounce his
loyalty to the United Pentecostal Church
International.

"Jason Scott has no interest in being part
of Scientology's campaign against the Cult
Awareness Network," said Berry, Scott's
new attorney. "His only concern is to be
compensated for what happened to him."
Scott's former attorney, Moxon, has
filed emergency motions in two states al-
leging that Scott has been coerced by CAN
supporters to switch attorneys and settle
for far less money than he won in court.
'He's really been abused by CAN and dis-
gustingly abused by this guy Berry," Mox-
on said.

The legal battle began when Scott suc-
cessfully sued the deprogrammers and
CAN in Seattle. CAN was sued because
Scott's mother had hired the deprogram-
ruer, Rick Ross, after a referral by a CAN
volunteer.

A jury awarded Scott more than $5 mil-
lion in October 1995; CAN owed Scott as
much as $1.8 million, while Ross owed as
much as $3.4 million. The attorney who
represented Scott in the lawsuit was Mox-
on, a longtime Scientologist prominent in
the church. For many years the Church of
Scientology has denounced CAN and the
activities of deprogrammers.

Scott later left the Pentecostal church of
his own accord, though his wife and two
daughters are still members, according to
several acquaintances. For some time
Scott worked cleaning houses and carpets
while waiting to collect his judgment, but
lately has been unemployed.

But Moxon says that Scott "hasn't col-
lected anything" because both CAN and
Ross declared bankruptcy. Before declar-
ing Chapter 7 bankruptcy, CAN had of-
fered to pay Scott $19,000, but Moxon said
in an interview that he and other creditors
rejected the sum because it was "a com-
plete rip-off of Jason." When CAN went
bankrupt it was taken over by a trustee,
who is selling the group's assets piece by
piece.

As a nonprofit organization, CAN had
few assets besides its ties, its name and
logo, as well as a few lawsuits it hopes to
win, including one in Illinois state supreme
court filed against the Church of Scientology
and Moxon's law firm accusing them of ma-
licious harassment. According to CAN's
bankruptcy trustee, Phillip Martino, Moxon
has said he represents people who want to
buy not only CAN's files, but also its pend-
ing lawsuits.

Moxon has spoken with leaders of sever-
al other new religious movements--the
kinds of groups that CAN considered
cults--asking for pledges of money to help
purchase CAN's fries, according to a knowl-
edgeable source who asked not to be iden-
tified. "What they were really interested in
was the files," this person said. '

Moxon confirmed that he had done so
because he suspects that "there's smoking
guns in the ties" about improper conduct
by deprogrammers and by CAN. But the
Church of Scientology had no particular in-
terest in obtaining the ties, Moxon said,
because he has seen them "and maybe 5
percent of them concern Scientology."

CAN's files--which fill 270 boxes--
range from newspaper clippings to confi-
dential notes about families who sought
CAN's help to find children who had joined .:
cults, said Cynthia Kisser, CAN's former:
executive director. The Church of Sciento-.
1ogy accuses CAN of being heavily involved ',
in forcible deprogramming, but Kisser said
that CAN had a policy against "involuntary
deprogrammings" such as Scott's.
In his extraordinary turnaround this
month, Scott decided to reconcile with his'
mother and with the deprogrammer who
kidnapped him. Scott and Rick Ross signed
a settlement agreement on Dec. 2, enti-
tling Scott to $5,000 and 200 hours of.


Ross's time "as an expert consultant and in-
tervention specialist," according to the con-
fidential settlement agreement.
Ross said that "Jason felt he was being
used, that this whole battle with CAN was
not his battle... and he wanted to collect
a settlement and get on with his life." Ross
said he paid Scott the $5,000 that day.
The next day, Scott fired his attorney,
Moxon, according to court documents filed
in the case. In Moxon's place, he retained
on a pro bono basis Berry, a Los Angeles
attorney well known for litigating against
the Church of Scientology. Berry said he
wants to negotiate a settlement in which
CAN would provide Scott with "some im-
mediate money and further installments
over a period of time" and allow CAN to
continue operating in order to "generate"
funds to pay Scott. Berry says this is pref-
erable to having CAN in bankruptcy.

But Moxon disputes the notion that Ber-
ry can help save CAN from bankruptcy.
"They're gone," he said. "CAN's over.
They declared bankruptcy. They said 'liqui-
date us.'",
Scott made his dramatic turnaround ge-
cause in recent months he had become dis-
enchanted with his former lawyer, Berry
said, and felt that Moxon wasn't commumi-
cating adequately with him, allegations that
Moxon denies.

Scott was not aware of the Scientolo-
gists' interest in buying CAN's name and
fries until he read a Dec. 1 story in The
Washington Post, Berry said. Scott, he
said, was also frustrated because he had
not yet seen any of his settlement money.
But Moxon, in court papers, asserts that
Scott is a victim of "foul play." It appears
that Scott is "again the victim of a depro-
gramming," Moxon said in the court papers
filed in Arizona, home to both Ross and
Scott's mother. Moxon is asking the court
to rescind the $5,000 settlement between
Ross and Scott. Meanwhile, Moxon is ask-
ing a court in Seattle to appoint a "guard-
ian" for Scott, whom Moxon asserts is inca-
pacitated.

For his part, Scott said in a brief tele-
phone interview, "I want to let everyone
know I'm fine, safe, very happy and making
my own decisions now." His attorney ad-
vised him not to answer further questions.

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