The Church of Scientology’s pursuit of one of its top legal foes has resulted in $1.1 million in sanctions against a Tampa lawyer.
The church sought the sanctions against attorney Kennan G. Dandar for suing the church for wrongful death despite a settlement agreement in another case barring future litigation of any type against the Church of Scientology.
The sanctions, handed down March 17 in Pinellas Circuit Court, represents more than $953,000 in Scientology attorney fees, costs and prejudgment interests after the findings were issued July 16, 2009.
Dandar represented the estate of Lisa McPherson, a member of the Church of Scientology who died in 1995 of a pulmonary embolism while under the care of the Flag Service Organization, a branch of the church that runs a “spiritual mecca.”
A Florida medical examiner initially ruled McPherson’s death was a negligent homicide but later changed that finding to undetermined. Criminal charges were dropped against the Flag Service Organization, which settled a civil suit with McPherson family representatives, including Dandar, in 2004.
Under the settlement, Dandar was barred from suing Scientology ever again. He filed a wrongful death suit in federal court on behalf of Victoria Britton, who blamed the church for her son Kyle Brennan’s suicide in 2007.
Britton claimed Brennan’s father, a Scientologist, was ordered by church officials to confiscate his son’s anti-depressant medication because the church rejects all forms of psychiatry.
Dandar was ordered by a Pinellas circuit judge to withdraw from all Scientology litigation, including the Brennan case. He lost on appeal but did not withdraw from the 2009 lawsuit and was subject to a $1,000-per-day fine until he did so.
A federal judge blocked those sanctions, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed that decision. U.S. District Judge Virginia Covington in Tampa remanded the case to state court.
The financial sanctions against Dandar were ordered by retired Pinellas Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell, who is handling the matter.
Dandar has publicly said repeatedly he is a victim of years-long corruption of the state courts in the Tampa Bay area, where Scientology has a strong presence.
He did not return a call for a comment but is expected to appeal the penalty.
Attorney F. Wallace Pope, who represented Scientology on the matter as a partner for Johnson Pope Bokor Ruppel & Burns in Clearwater, also did not return a phone call for comment.