Saturday 26 September 2009

25 Confrontations

As the third week of the trial drew to a close the main plaintiff, Aude-Claire Malton, fended off a final challenge from the defence lawyers.

As normally happens towards the end of a trial in France, the judge invited some of the key players, plaintiffs and defendants, to return to the stand to testify again in the light of what the court had learned so far.

In the hours that followed, the main plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton and the defendant Jean-François Valli offered radically different accounts of how he had come to sell her her courses.

And Scientology’s peculiar account of what “hard sell” meant came up again: this time from the salesman Jean-François Valli, one of the defendants.

And defendant Alain Rosenberg abandoned a scientific justification of Scientology procedures in favour of an entirely religious account.

Aude-Claire Malton, one of only two remaining plaintiffs in the case, was the first to return to the stand. Her earlier, emotional testimony had been widely reported in the press during the first week of the beginning of the trial.

In 1998, she had spent 140,000 francs (21,000 euros) on Scientology goods and services in barely four months, emptying her bank account and getting herself heavily into debt in the process.

It was her case that she had been pressured into taking courses and spending money she did not have and that she had never received the promised benefits.

Malton had at times broken down in tears during her initial testimony and at that time the defence lawyers had been wary of pressing her too hard.

Now however, one of them tried a harder line.

“Have you ever been convicted under law?” asked Maître Louis Pamponet, the lawyer defending the SEL, Scientology’s network of bookshops in France, which was one of the two organisation facing fraud charges.

When Malton said she had not been convicted of anything, Pamponet reminded her of a 2002 court judgment.

This judgment, it seemed, had ordered her to return materials she had purchased from the SEL bookshop in Paris, ruling that they no longer belonged to her because she had been refunded the money she had paid out for them.

Malton’s lawyer, Maître Olivier Morice protested angrily.

“This completely out of order,” he said. The judgment in question had subsequently been struck out. Mme Malton was the victim here, he added.

Judge Sophie-Hélène Château intervened: if Pamponet was talking here about a judgment that had been declared null, then he had gone too far.

There had been mention earlier in the trial of Malton having received a payment in her account for 4,700 euros, years after she had launched her action against Scientology.

There had been no formal explanation or notification of the refund, but it was after that sum had been deposited in her account that the action to recover the goods she had bought from Scientology had begun.

As Judge Château and Morice questioned her on specific points of her testimony, Malton expanded on her story.

She described the pressure she had come under to buy courses in advance: she had not wanted to do so, having never even taken out a loan before.

Under pressure from the defendant Jean-François Valli, one of Scientology’s salesmen, she had borrowed to pay for courses – but that had been completely out of character, she said.

“I have always put money aside and I have never spent so much money in so little time,” she said. “Going in, I didn’t realise I would have to pay so much money in advance. I am not someone who spends a lot of money.”

“I just wanted… them to leave me in peace”

Morice asked her to go over the night of July 14, when Valli had accompanied her home to get her to write a cheque for the next course.

“That evening, I went without my banking card or cheque to do my courses, so I didn’t have anything to pay for other courses. But after my course they asked me to see Jean-François Valli. I didn’t think he would accompany me to my apartment. He said he absolutely had to do it tonight.”

And how long had it taken her to get over her experience with Scientology, Morice asked?

“I needed practically nine years to get over this,” said Malton. It had only been in the last two years that she had felt better, that she had been able to rebuild her life, she added. (Aude-Claire Malton got involved with Scientology in May of 1998 and quit before the end of the same year.)

And overall had it been a negative experience, asked Morice?

“Absolutely,” said Malton.

Judge Château intervened. Valli had said that it was Malton who had asked him to accompany her back to the apartment the evening she signed the cheques.

“He said it was your idea,” said the judge. “You had bought a lot of material and you had proposed to pay for them.”

“No,” said Malton. “I left [the apartment] without a way of paying, there was no question of buying anything, when they convinced me to buy a package – and I absolutely had to pay the same evening.

“In the package, there were a certain number of books. They offered to help me take them back and to pay for them.”

Malton said the only thing she had really asked for was the initial Communication Course, after which she had been regularly pressured to buy more. After two hours of courses she would be called into the sales office for the next pitch. A salesman would tell her he had something to propose her, she said.

“I just wanted to go home and for them to leave me in peace,” she added. “But they would keep explaining, saying the course was very important and it would really help me.

“After several hours in a room – and they want you to stay while they explain – you only want to say ‘Okay,’ so you can go.”

The idea of payment in advance had not been hers, she said. “When I buy, I buy with the money I have. My aim was to finish the course I had paid for…

“I would have wanted to do a course before buying others, but when they forced me to stay and listen for hours I would say, ‘Okay, I’ll pay and I’m going.’”

Judge Château put it to Malton again that according to Valli, it was she who had asked him about getting a loan and it was she who had asked him to accompany her to SOFINCO.

“No,” said Malton. She had had no intention of taking out more loans, she insisted. “I had already taken one out for the last package: they proposed me another.”

Her position had been to avoid ever getting into debt, she said: “But after a lot of harassment…

“You are in a centre surrounding by Scientologists. Everybody is happy, it is fantastic and they propose a package… so to end all this harassment, I said ‘yes’.”

Judge Château asked about her experience of the Purification Rundown, which one of Scientology’s witnesses.

Dr. David Root had said many people fit it into their spare time while still working. Malton had taken a holiday to find the time to do it.

Malton described spending four hours a day in the cramped sauna: there had been eight of them doing the programme at the same time taking doses of vitamins. She recalled how she came out in an itchy rash during the process.

“They bullied me”

The judge asked her about the personality test, the importance of which several of the defendants had minimised. Eric Roux, for the Celebrity Centre, had said it accounted for only around 10 percent of recruits.

“At the beginning, the personality test was important…” said Malton: “It was interpreted so that I was demoralised,” she added, referring to the results. “Programming the [first] course helped raise my morale.”

The result of the second personality test that she had taken, just after she had completed the Purification Rundown, had also been demoralising, she said – especially since she thought she had made progress on the Rundown.

“You are in this atmosphere [where] everything is fine, [a] positive atmosphere – you can’t help feeling good at the end of the Purification Rundown.”

Tired as she had felt at the end of the Rundown, she had been obliged to take the personality test again – and to wait for the results, she said: “And the progress was minimal compared to what I thought I would have.”

“Did that convince you to buy more?” asked Judge Château.

“I said to myself, ‘Perhaps with another course I will have better results,” said Malton.

Malton confirmed the Scientologists’ account of the doses of vitamins on the Rundown having been gradually increased each day. And when she had starting getting the stomach problems they had spread out her vitamin doses over more days, she said.

Some of the defendants had said that people took Scientology founder L.Ron Hubbard’s book on the Rundown, Clear Body, Clear Mind, to their doctor so he would know what was involved. Malton said she had not done so.

Valli’s lawyer, Maître Virginie Benmayor, picked up the questioning. Describing the day she and Valli had gone back to her apartment to get her chequebook, Malton had just spoken of “harassment”, Benmayor noted.

“‘He forced me,’” she said. “That is new.”

She had never used these terms before about the courses she had taken, said Benmayor – and they contradicted her original testimony.

“You said, ‘If I took it, it was because I felt good.’ Can you explain why your story had changed?”

“I have more distance than in 1999,” said Malton.

“You weren’t coached?” asked Benmayor.

No, said Malton. She had given her original statements six months after the events in question.

So now you are saying you were forced, asked Benmayor?

Yes, said Malton. “They bullied me.”

But in her original statement, said Benmayor, she had said that she took out the loan because she had wanted to advance in Scientology. “I don’t understand why you say you were forced now.”

Olivier Morice intervened for his client, offering another passage from Malton’s original statement.

In it, Malton had said that she had told Valli that she couldn’t afford the next course. Valli had urged her to take the course, saying she was spending money on herself – and that he would not have spent the last two hours explaining it to her if he was not worth it.

But another defence lawyer wanted to know what Malton meant by harassment.

It had not been any single thing that Valli had said or done, said Malton. “It was a cascade of words,” she said. “It was he who led the conversation. So for me it was harassment.”

“But you are intelligent,” said the defence lawyer. “You could have said no.”

“That is what I did,” said Malton. “But he insisted: and I had to stay longer.”

Another defence lawyer pointed out that she had now received a full refund: so what material prejudice had she suffered, he wanted to know.

“I feel that I have been abused,” said Malton.

Judge Château picked up the questioning again, asking if it had been her idea to ask for a job at the centre. No, said Malton, they had proposed it to her.

“There are no courses in ‘hard sell’”

Now Valli was called back to the stand to give his side of the story once more.

Referring to the night he had accompanied Malton back to her apartment to get the cheques, Judge Château put it to him that it had been he who had insisted on getting payment, not Malton, as he had claimed.

“I am shocked,” said Valli. Malton had said he had harassed, that she had been tired, but she had been on holiday at the time in question, he said. “She was not at all tired.”

For Valli, Aude-Claire Malton was someone who knew her own mind. “If she didn’t want to do something, she didn’t. She always did things her way.

“She said she was happy and that she wanted to progress,” he added. “She said she wanted to do the Communications Course, but she did not just do that one.”

But why had she paid 140,000 francs in the space of a few months, taking out loans to pay for courses in advance, asked the judge?

“Mme Malton was in a hurry,” said Valli. “She wanted to advance more quickly.” She had taken holidays so she could devote herself to Scientology training.

“She was very motivated. We had excellent relations,” Valli added – just as he had with the judge.

“I haven’t yet paid you 140,000 francs,” said the judge, raising one of the few laughs of the day.

And what about hard sell? asked the judge, using the English term.

“There are no courses in hard sell,” said Valli. “Hard sell is when a person has a question, you answered it. It consists of understanding what a person wants and how best to help him. It is to find the best service that will correspond to what they want.”

Judge Château was not convinced. “I have some notions of English,” she said – and that was not the translation.

“It is jargon in Scientology,” said Valli, referring to the Scientology definition.[1] “It is the act of finding the best service that best corresponds to the person.”

He had worked for 11 years showing people how to reach the state of Clear, said Valli, referring to a much-prized state in Scientology. “You can’t understand what that means to people.”

And how did he interpret what Malton had said about “a cascade of words,” asked the judge?

“I am extremely shocked,” said Valli. Referring back to Malton’s testimony at the beginning of the trial, when she had not expressed herself in such strong terms, he added: “I can only wonder what could have happened in 15 days.”

Malton’s lawyer, Olivier Morice, took over. He referred back to something Malton had said in one of her statements. In Valli’s office and under pressure to buy more courses she had insisted that she had no more money to pay for courses – and that Valli had said there were always more courses to take.

Valli had told her that exceptionally, there was a special price for the next package, said Morice, referring to Malton’s statement. “He also said that he would not have spent two hours explaining this to her if he did not think he was worth it,” he added.

By now, Valli had become more animated.

“I am extremely shocked,” Valli said again. He had read Malton’s first deposition and had never seen anything in it that was a reproach against him.

He had proposed that she do auditing, he said. “She asked me questions, I gave her answers,” he said.

Personality test “part of my religion”

Alain Rosenberg, former executive director of the Celebrity Centre, was recalled to the stand.

He made it clear that he had not been happy with the evidence offered by former Scientologist Roger Gonnet, who had testified against the defendants.

Gonnet had managed his centre in Lyon in the 1980s, said Rosenberg – there was no comparison with the much larger Paris operation running in the late 1990s.

Judge Château asked him about the weekly figures telexed to head office in the United States. Rosenberg said he did not handle that side of things, but the judge did not seem convinced.

Morice asked him about the confusion of finances between the Celebrity Centre and SEL, the network of bookshops and the other Scientology organisation charged with fraud.

“I have nothing to do with SEL,” said Rosenberg.

Another of the three judges on the bench wanted to know what Rosenberg had meant when he had said that the reference in the personality test to its scientific background had no real value.

“I wanted to say that the fact that we put this does not have this… this label is not essential for us. That is what I wanted to say,” said Rosenberg.

“So these personality tests do not have a scientific basis,” said the judge.

No, said Rosenberg. “The tests are part of my religion. It is part of our religious expression. It is an expression of a belief, of a religious belief.”

The personality test, the Purification Rundown; the e-meter; these were all part of Scientology’s religious practice, said Rosenberg.

And referring to his Jewish origins, Rosenberg said he did not think Judaism had shown the scientific nature of circumcision – but that had not prevented discrimination against the Jews, he added, becoming emotion now.

The judge persisted: why the reference to the test’s scientific basis not been removed?

“I don’t know,” said Rosenberg. Millions of copies of the test had been printed with this scientific reference on it. “I did not ask for it to be put on my personality test.”

After Eric Roux, for the Celebrity Centre, had answered more questions about Scientology’s organisational chart, the third week of hearings wound up.

The fourth final week of the trial would be taken up with the lawyers’ pleadings.
[1] Once again: “Hard Sell means insistence that people buy. It means caring about the person and not being reasonable about stops or barriers but caring enough to get him through the stops or barriers to get the service that's going to rehabilitate him.” HCO policy letter Sept. 26, 1979.
Note also the official Scientology definition of hard sell: 1. means insistence people buy. (HCO PL 4 Mar 65 II) 2. caring about the person, not being reasonable with stops and barriers and getting him fully paid up and taking the service (LRH ED 159R-1 INT) Modern Management Technology Defined.

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