A Florida judge has ruled that a leading Scientology official, David Miscavige, can be named a defendant in a lawsuit resulting from the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson.

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge James S. Moody's ruling this week is likely to mean a lengthy delay in the case, according to Scientology attorneys, because Miscavige will now have to hire his own legal team. A trial had been set for June 2000.

McPherson died while in the care of church members after she suffered a mental and physical breakdown in Clearwater, Fla.

The lawsuit, filed by McPherson's family, alleges that Miscavige, chairman of the board of the church's Religious Technology Center, directed the care given McPherson. According to an autopsy detailed in court records, McPherson died of a blood clot caused by severe dehydration and prolonged bed rest.

The church denies any responsibility for her death.

The suit maintains that Miscavige was informed of McPherson's failing health and directed how she should be treated. In a 1998 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Miscavige denied he directed McPherson's care.

Moody's ruling came after a hearing during which Scientology attorneys argued that Miscavige could not be named a defendant in the case because of an earlier agreement in which the McPherson family's attorney pledged to limit his suit to the church and not go after other Scientology entities and officers. Moody said the agreement did not protect Miscavige because of definitions involved.

In a separate criminal case, Scientology has pleaded not guilty to charges of abuse, neglect and practicing medicine without a license in its treatment of McPherson.