A judge has denied a Church of Scientology request to set aside a jury's award of more than $2 million in a consumer fraud and outrageous conduct suit here.
Circuit Judge Robert Paul Jones said the Scientology claims of a violation of First Amendment religious freedom guarantees had already been taken into account during last summer's four-week trial.
Jack L. Kennedy, lawyer for the Scientology defendants and president of of the Oregon State Bar, said he would appeal the ease. "It was a full-blown heresy trial," he said. The awarded damages, he claimed were too high and were "given under the influence of passion and prejudices."
Although the Oregon Constitution makes such jury decisions final within their field, Kennedy had argued that "this provision is not applicable when the case is tried under the circumstances in which this case was tried and when it is clear that the verdict was based on passion and prejudice not supported by substantial evidence."
As a result, he told the court, "the plaintiff was successful in placing an entire religion on trial and having a jury condemn and punish a religion they considered unorthodox."
The successful plaintiff, Julie Christofferson Tichbourne, 22, claimed that she had been defrauded when the Church of Scientology enticed her into taking courses at the church's Delphian Foundation School in 1975. She said the church charged too much for the courses, which she said failed to give her the superior psychological understanding or any additional capabilities in her civil engineering field as promised.
William Lenders of Portland, who was the registrar for the Scentologist course when Titchbourne enrolled in 1975, said the claim of Scientology courses, "would give a person a better understanding of the mind than any psychologist or psychiatrist" was only his own stated belief and not a claim made by the organization.
Garry P. McMurray, the woman's attorney contended that the First Amendment question was a moot point, "No court says fraud is protected by the First Amendment or by the Oregon Constitution. To do so would protect churches to the exclusion of atheists and agnostics and would be unconstitutional.
After the judge refused to overturn the decision, Kennedy, the church's lawyer, said that media coverage of the trial had been "sensational" and exerted a prejudicial influence on the jury.