Unbiased columnism # 1.7

Final pleas, or: unprecedented legal costs

Stockholm, Wednesday, June 3 1998

[Previous installment: Questioning McShane. Note: I had had to go back to Amsterdam during the weekend. Zenon did the rest of the trial by himself and wrote this.]

True to my copyright terrorist instincts and traditions, I am happy to serve you the last UC of this bunch: a fake one, written by me in the absence of Karin, meant to ruin her reputation as a writer.

Today was the last day of the hearings. Somehow I couldn’t believe it would be. I had told Magnusson (and the court) that I would be in Holland tomorrow no matter what, and that I would not come to court, even if the hearings weren’t finished. I was absolutely sure that Magnusson would do everything he could to take up all day today, in order to force me to leave without pleading.

I also had double-crossed him and booked a flight that would allow me to to plead tomorrow anyway. This way, I estimated, he could make a fool of himself by taking up time and yet be disappointed at the results. Did he then? Of course he did. You press the button and he reacts as expected time and over again. Never fails. There’s a man you can trust.

But I must admit he started off nicely. “In flagrant violation… total disrepect of the law and courts…continued infringements…” steady pouring, good pace, firm tone. One hour. One and a half. Then he noticed the time, slowed down a bit. And a bit more. By 11.30 he was glancing at the clock on the wall every some 10 minutes, reducing his pace every time. He ended up spelling the words, just like last Thursday and Friday. Body language in court indicated a spreading unrest, irritation, boredom, disgust. I was affected the worst: waiting for the second boot kills me.

I was wondering how far the situation would go. I could protest, but it would be to no use. At worst, the chairman could propose a break, which would give Magnusson the opportunity to waste yet more time. Twice I saw Magnusson’s aide yawning. The chairman is a master of masters in keeping a stone face through anything, but even his irritation was somehow transpiring, although I couldn’t pinpoint how. At some point I grabbed my cigarettes and started making a move out. One more second and I would have left the courtroom in the middle of Magnusson’s plea. I controlled myself. I saw Magnusson himself trying to suppress a yawn. Then I realized that we were not going to have a lunch break before Magnusson decided to finish. The lunch break is usually at an appropriate moment in the proceedings, around 11.30-12.00. It was 11.50 and Magnusson was going on. The chairman looked less irritated. 12.10. The chairman began to look almost relaxed. It might be just my imagination – I was looking at very slight changes of face and posture – but I think I’m right. I think the judge decided to let Magnusson delay everybody’s lunch for just as long as he pleased, and let him feel that he was doing so. Around 12.20 Magnusson was still slowly leafing his papers, pronouncing a word per minute, desperately looking for either something more to say or a decent way to close. He failed with both. At 12.25, almost in the middle of a sentence, he gave up. Ready. Lunch. I was shaking.

At 13.45 we resumed and it was my turn. It seems I can’t get anything done except under pressure. I started working on the case late last Monday evening, on the eve of the hearing, trying to go through and sort out some 2 thousand pages which by then were still in disorder in a carton. Tuesday evening I put them in binders and started going though them, finishing at eight in the morning and going straight to court. I didn’t learn my lesson. I relaxed during the weekend, wasted most of Monday, run a million errands on Tuesday and began to preapare my plea around nine on Tuesday evening. It was ready at six in the morning, whereafter I slept for one hour and went to court. The question now was, was there any logic and coherence in the plea I had prepared in my half-ruined state at night? I hadn’t reviewed it.

It turned out there was plenty, but just a bit short of enough. The final touch, the polishing of the arguments, their correct order, it all could have been better. Yet, I think I made my points quite clear. It’s not easy: RTC’s case is one pile of legal shit, where all energy has been put into cheap rhetorics and none in sorting out the causes and effects and legal conditions and consequences of things. Typical CoS litigation, simply. If you clean out the irrelevant and sort the mess, what is left is just a few very simple issues that can be decided just as correctly in one way as in the other: matters of opinion. Which in turn means that there is no way of knowing – or even guessing – what the ruling will be. Due to holidays it’s expected on August 31.

So far so well. The next chapter deals with legal costs. These are generally fairly low in Sweden compared to other European countries and cannot be compared with what is awarded (or not awarded) in the US. The basic rule is that who loses a case pays his counterpart’s legal costs, within reason. To give you an idea, the lawyer that represented me from October 1996 to October 1997 and did a very good job at it, was paid by the state for about 120 hours of work some SEK 150.000 (USD 19.000). 20% more would still not have been unreasonable, but that’s about it. Plus necessary and reasonable costs. In her case it was another SEK 4.000 (USD 500). If the parties partly win and partly lose, they carry the legal costs proportionally to their gain and loss.

Now, hold your pants. RTC has only demanded SEK 25.000 (USD 3.125) in damages and I have all along expected that it was with the backthought that by trying to win the entire amount, they could aim at hitting me much harder with legal costs. I was expecting a bill of half a million and I was well prepared to dispute it. But when the time came, Magnusson’s aide got up and handed the bill to the chairman and to me without a word. I leafed past the introduction and looked at the figures. Fees SEK 4.500.000. Costs SEK 345.326. USD 562.500 and 43.000 respectively. I started to laugh. I tried to stop, to no avail. The amount is so absolutely ridiculous, so utterly absurd, so completely ludicrous, that you begin to wonder about your own sanity: no-one can be that insane as to ask for such a sum, therefore you must be hallucinating yourself. I looked up. The chairman was pronouncing the figures as if he was tasting every one of them and – first time – he had lost his stone face. A second judge had evidently a hard time to stop himself from looking too amused. I looked down again and turned the paper. It carried on. RTC’s costs for work and expenses: SEK 2.122.992 (USD 265.000). Legal opinions SEK 190.009 (USD 23.700). Notary public SEK 116.010 (USD 14.500). Witnesses SEK 181.115 (USD 22.600). Among them, Mikael Nyström, the computer expert, was billed with SEK 17.000 (USD 2.125) for one hour on the stand. Grand sum SEK 7.684.581.

RTC asked for legal costs. The amount they demand is unprecedented in Swedish legal history: 7,684,481 crowns, that is: circa 1 million US$. Scans of their calculations are included:

  1. Legal bill 1/8
  2. Legal bill 2/8 Explanation: 2.5 – Kerstin Calissendorff is Zenon’s former lawyer; the professors mentioned have been asked for their expert opinion.
  3. Legal bill 3/8
  4. Legal bill 4/8 Explanation: 5 — William Hart is Cowboy Boots, a hired lawyer for RTC.
  5. Legal bill 5/8 Explanation [this is where the fun starts]: Magnusson claims to have spent 3,000 hours on the case; there are two tickets Stockholm / US for a magnificent amount; he claims to have made 100,000 xeroxes. Altogether, Magnusson’s office claims 0,5 million US$ in fees and costs.
  6. Legal bill 6/8 Explanation: RTC claims to have spent an additional 1,000 hours on the case itself; McShane charged another 60,000 crowns; Bill Hart claims 450 hours at a rate of US$ 390 per hour [one would think him to be able to afford better boots, on such a salary].
  7. Legal bill 7/8
  8. Legal bill 8/8 Explanation: The grand total of 7,684,581 crowns, that is: something like 1 million US$. And it’s signed, too…

Discussion ensued. Magnusson defended the bill. I was still laughing, but I felt very tired. What is the point in spending so much time and energy in a case, if you are going to ruin any impression of seriousness you might have made, with such a bill? What is the point of spending two years in court against someone who ridiculed you, if the last thing you do to crown your case, is to ridicule yourself? How is Magnusson ever going to face a judge or a collegue in that court without thinking that they know him as “the famous bill”? Is this what Hubbard does to people, or are they born this way? Somehow I could neither pity Magnusson, nor despise him. The chairman said some words in a deliberately explicit low calm tone that reminded of his tone when he was trying to make us settle, and the hearing was closed. Tomorrow I’ll be back in Holland.

To sum it up, it was all a waste of time and money and legal resources. To begin with, we had a case that could have been refined to set some of the important delimitations between contradicting legislation; to determine where one right ends because another right begins. There won’t be much of this. RTC deliberately derailed the case into confusion, showing all too plainly that it neither believes in the legal system, nor in its own case. But if they don’t, why then bother to sue? The net result of this lawsuit and its offsprings is an irreparable damage to the CoS’ reputation in this country for all overseeable time. Why spend millions on that? I do dislike the CoS profoundly, but I still would like to understand what goes on in the heads of its heads, what makes them self-destruct in the way they do. I had a chat with McShane, and found it far easier than trying to talk to any low-level scieno I have met so far. I might be very naive, but I get the feeling that the top and the bottom of the CoS are mutually completing and equally mislead by their own total lack of independent critical thinking. Somehow I get the feeling that the entire CoS, top and bottom, is an asylum for people that should have been helped elsewhere.

Anyway, this is not the end. As soon as the ruling comes, RTC will appeal against it. They are bound to lose on some point at least (if only on their amazing bill) and we all know they always appeal. In the meanwhile I have invited them to sue me in Holland. I might feel sorry for them sometimes when I’m tired, but that is no excuse that they can use. If there is any chance that they really have spent half the amount they asked for in this lawsuit, I’ll gladly see to it that they spend another as much on a second front. That will keep them from using the money to more destructive ends (and keep providing amusement to alt.religion.scientology).

[Unbiased columnism is a series of seven court reports on the proceedings of Scientology versus Zenon Panoussis. This series covers the May 22,1998 – June 3, 1998 sessions. This was the last episode. In January 2001, I wrote another series during a second Scientology v. Zenon Panoussis court case.]


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