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TAMPA TRAFFICKING SUIT: Mark Bunker's report from the arbitration arguments
[We just got this report from Clearwater City Councilmember Mark ‘Wise Beard Man’ Bunker from the hearing in Tampa over Scientology’s arbitration motions in the Baxter labor trafficking lawsuit.]
I was hoping to do a short video from the Tampa courthouse today so I could grumble, "underground bunnnker" but it is a busy full day with a council meeting coming up quickly.
Mike Rinder, Aaron Smith-Levin, Amy Scobee and Mat Pesch were in attendance. Tracy McManus was giving the hearing proper coverage and her notes will be more accurate than my memories but here is what I recall:
Judge Barber started by saying that he starts every case by informing the lawyers, "Less is better" which he has had translated into Latin by one of his clerks. He remarked on the length of the submissions and wanted to keep this as simplified as possible.
Then he announced that the first thing to address is the matter of arbitration which took up the first hour of the morning. He asked the large collection of Scientology attorneys a question from law school: "If a videotape is entered into evidence that shows a person signing a document with a gun pointed directly at his or her head should that person go to arbitration or is that signed under duress?" The lead Scientology attorney said, "Yes, that must go to arbitration..." which knocked the wind out of me when I heard it. The judge was also shocked and asked the same question repeatedly of this attorney in every way he could but Scientology's position remained "yes, they signed the document." So it appears Judge Barber is willing to consider some factors that might convince him to pass on sending this to arbitration...but you never know.
A lot of time was then spent on what seemed like the most "loaded gun" aspect from the affidavits, that one (or both) of the Baxters were held aboard the Freewinds and forced to sign the papers in order to get their passports and immigration papers back and be allowed to leave the ship. Scientology's attorney said, "It doesn't say that in the affidavit" but the judge read it back verbatim and clearly it said just that in a couple of the affidavits. Then the lawyer said, "Holding of passports is a standard practice in the cruise industry..." which went undiscussed but seemed highly unlikely to me. When they went to (I believe) Valeska's affidavit where she wasn't on the ship but in Australia where Scientology was holding her documents and threatening to report her to immigration if she didn't sign to get her papers returned, I thought at least they couldn't fall back on "the standard practice in the cruise industry" crap. The judge seemed to believe this was duress but he may have just been doing the "devil's advocate" routine and ultimately rule for Scientology.
A lot was made of the harsh conditions in the boiler room, the punishments and being held under guard on the ship. The judge noted the ages of Valeska, Gawaine and Laura and noted they were adults and could just leave. The judge said if he told his grown daughter to go to her room and stay there she would say no. It was pointed out that the judge likely would not lock her in under guard and force her to pee in a wastebasket. Much was discussed of the conditioning from a young age to follow commands or be punished.
After a break, they turned to the argument that there was fraud involved in the signings but that was more difficult to follow and didn't seem as clear cut as the duress question. It appears a "mini-trial" will likely be held with witnesses to flesh out these issues instead of relying strictly on the affidavits. I hope that is the case because as we have seen in the Masterson case, testimony on the stand is far more powerful and opens up more harrowing details than can be conveyed in a document.
That is as much as I can recall at this time. I left feeling a little more hopeful than when I entered the courthouse. I was sure this would be thrown to arbitration before hearing from the judge but it seems he is at least open to considering otherwise.
This is special correspondent Wise Beard Man sending it back to you.
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