A judge Thursday issued a tentative ruling allowing a psychiatrist picked by the defense to evaluate a former Church of Scientology member who is suing the institution, alleging she was coerced to have an abortion at age 17.
Laura Ann DeCrescenzo also claims that, as a child, she was forced work long hours for the church’s elite Sea Org, which acts as an administrative unit.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu said the church’s request to have DeCrescenzo interviewed is reasonable because she has made her mental condition an issue by claiming emotional fallout from her history with the church.
“Indeed, plaintiff alleges that she suffers from severe emotional distress, including anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, shame, depression, feelings of powerlessness and anguish,” Treu wrote.
Treu also said that he will not limit the scope of the examination as requested by DeCrescenzo’s attorneys. They wanted to keep the psychiatrist from asking their client about her legal history as well as any disability claims or substance abuse. The lawyers also wanted the psychiatrist to review their client’s deposition testimony and sworn declaration so she would not be questioned on the same issues.
“The court declines to impose such limitations and requirements,” Treu wrote.
Treu also denied a request by the plaintiff’s lawyers to limit the length of the mental evaluation to six hours.
He is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion Friday before issuing a final ruling.
DeCrescenzo sued the church and its Religious Technology Center in April 2009. In March 2010, Judge Ronald Sohigian granted a defense motion to dismiss the case. Defense attorneys said that nearly five years had passed by the time DeCrescenzo raised her allegations.
However, a three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversed Sohigian’s decision in June 2011 and sent the case back to the judge to determine whether the church was permitted to raise the statute of limitations as a defense.
In October 2013, defense attorneys again argued for dismissal, maintaining that the plaintiff not only waited too long to bring her lawsuit, but that she also could not show she was intimidated by church officials from filing one sooner. Sohigian denied the motion and he is now retired.
According to DeCrescenzo, she began volunteering to do church work at age 6 or 7 in Orange County. She says that at age 7, she was part of a Scientology group organized to picket the very civil courthouse where trial of her lawsuit will take place.
She claims the demonstration showed the church’s ability to “go to every length to bring down people who filed lawsuits” against the institution, whose followers include Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
When DeCrescenzo was 12, she was recruited to join the organization’s elite Sea Org, which she said is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the religion worldwide, according to her court papers.
DeCrescenzo alleges she was initially required to work daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and that two more hours were later added to her work day.
DeCrescenzo says she remained with Sea Org until 2004, when she was 25. She says she told she could not leave Sea Org and was released from duty only after she pretended to attempt suicide by swallowing bleach.
DeCrescenzo alleges she became pregnant in February 1996 and was persuaded by the church to abort her fetus to show her allegiance to Sea Org and its long hours.
DeCrescenzo was a member of the church until June 2008.
— City News Service
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