Friday, 23 October 2009

35 Defending the Executive Director

June 17: The former executive director of Scientology's Celebrity Centre should not be convicted because three people out of thousands of happy Scientologists had filed complaints, his lawyer argued.

Alain Rosenberg was the last of the six individual defendants to be defended in the final week of closing arguments.

Like Sabine Jacquart, he faced charges of complicity in the illegal exercise of pharmacy and organised fraud because of his executive position at the Celebrity Centre at the time of the events in question.

Rosenberg had occupied the post of executive director, though during the trial he had insisted that his role had been a purely pastoral one and he had had not responsibility for financial or management matters.

His lawyer, Maître François Jacquot, followed some of his colleagues in developing religious freedom defence. But he also argued that in any case there was little or nothing to connect Rosenberg with any of the alleged offences.

In his preliminary remarks, he tackled the first of the charges, which related to the use of vitamins and minerals required by the Purification Rundown. He referring to an opinion given by Dr. Serge Bornstein, an expert appointed to France’s Supreme Court, the Cour de Cassation.

Dr. Bornstein had analysed the procedure in its religious context, comparing it to the practice of circumcision, acknowledged as a ceremonial even in other religions: while this procedure might have had a medical origin, he argued, in this context it had a religious significance.

By the same token, the Purification Rundown, whatever physical benefits it might bring, was primarily a spiritual process, said Jacquot. What was important was the aim of the Rundown: and the aim was fundamentally religious.

Turning to the legal definition of the illegal exercise of pharmacy, he echoed a point made by Maître Christian Beucher, Anne-Marie Pasturel’s lawyer, arguing that the offence concerned the unauthorised sale or dispensing of pharmaceutical products, not their “distribution” – the word used in the indictment.

The investigating magistrate had not been able to turn up sufficient information on the seller of the vitamins, G&G, and so had decided to concentrate on the other end of the supply chain, said Jacquot.

But the fact that someone at the Celebrity Centre had given an address to the plaintiff Aude-Claire Malton was neither here nor there, he argued: the actual sale took place between Malton and G&G – and Malton was not being pursued for anything illegal.

He found it disturbing that Marie-Anne Pasturel, G&G’s intermediary in France, who had played no direct role in the transaction itself, had nevertheless found herself charged with the illegal practice of pharmacy.

As to the allegations that G&G had made unwarranted medical claims for the vitamins and minerals supplied, there was nothing in the packaging or the advertising material seized to support that claim, he argued.

It was worth noting too that the legal definition of a food supplement was a product that met a real or supposed deficiency in one’s diet, said Jacquot.

Referring to the testimony of Dr. David Root, the U.S.-based doctor who regularly uses the programme in his medical practice, he added: “The doctor talked about what people lost during the Purification Rundown in the sauna through sweating.”

Maître Olivier Saumon, for France’s National Council for the Order of Pharmacists (CNOP), as well as several court-appointed experts had argued that taking vitamins in the large doses prescribed for the Rundown meant that they were being used illegally as medicines.

But as Maître Beucher had already argued, French thinking was not in line with European law on this matter – Jacquot referred to the same February 2, 2004 ruling against France in the European Court of Human Rights that Beucher had cited.[1]

It was not the doses but the pharmacological properties that determined if something was being used for medical purposes, he added.

Thus the supposedly dangerously high doses of Vitamin A that Aude-Claire Malton had been taking were anything but, he argued: she would have to have been taking such doses for six months to a year before she approached toxic levels.

The doses that were sold by G&G were perfectly legal in other European countries, said Jacquot. “If they were sold in France they would come under French law, but they were imported from abroad – and European law takes precedence.”

“In any case, M. Rosenberg was never implicated in any act of complicity in the illegal exercise of pharmacy,” Jacquot added. It had been Aline Fabre who had put Mme Malton in touch with Marie-Anne Pasturel.

Court cannot rule on religious matters

Turning to the charge of fraud, Jacquot said: “The court has declared from the beginning that religion is not the subject here – and I’m in agreement.”

But the court had a duty, under French, European and international law, to protect freedom of religion.

He cited an April 5, 2007 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against Russia, in which the court found against the Russian authorities over their repeated refusal to let the Church of Scientology, Moscow, re-register as a legal entity.[2]

“The state cannot make a judgment on legitimate matters of religious belief and the way they are expressed,” said Jacquot.

And just as his colleague Maître Yann Streiff had done before him, Jacquot quoted the distinguished French jurist Jean Carbonnier on the duties French law imposed on the court.

Respect imposes at least a duty of abstention. In undertaking to respect all beliefs, France forbears from exercising, through its laws and its judges, any criticism, even a scientific one, or a rationally based one, in a domain which, of its very nature, is not susceptible to judgment by science or reason.

“This is important because of what the indictment says about the personality test: that it has ‘no scientific value’,” said Jacquot.

“So this is a process that is attached to a religion, and if you launch into a scientific judgment of the personality test, you are trespassing on the religious.”

He recalled the court-appointed psychiatric expert, Dr Daniel Zagury, and his comments on religious beliefs.

Dr Zagury had referred to the former plaintiff Eric Aubry’s delirium when discussing one of his past life experiences and the defence had picked him up on it.

Was he suggesting that the Buddhist belief in past lives was a delirium? Not at all, said Zagury. Then what was the difference between the Buddhist belief in past lives and that of the Scientologists?

It seemed to Zagury that the cultural context had something to do with it. In the Hindu culture, for example, it might not be considered at all delirious to speak in such terms; in the western culture it was more problematic.

For Jacquot though, we were in dangerous territory when we started deciding that talk of past lives was culturally legitimate in one context but problematic in another.

His understanding was that Scientology thinking in this area was derived from the Buddhist tradition.

Similarly, when the indictment dismissed the personality test as being without scientific value, it had stepped over the line by making a judgment about Scientology’s religious beliefs, said Jacquot.

And that meant that 80 percent of what had been debated during the trial – the personality test, the Purification Rundown, the e-meters – was simply irrelevant.

Why go after Rosenberg?

This was not the first time that his client, Alain Rosenberg, had been targeted in a criminal investigation because of his previous role at the Celebrity Centre, said Jacquot.

In all the previous cases, the prosecutors’ office had either decided there was no case to answer or Rosenberg had been acquitted, he said.

What conclusions should one draw from that, asked Jacquot? “What should one think when you are harassed as the so-called chief,” he asked. “I don’t understand the investigating magistrates’ persistence.”

Rosenberg’s position had been at the Celebrity Centre, part of the non-profit Association spirituelle de l'Eglise de Scientologie (ASES); there was no evidence in the files to show that he ran the for-profit network of bookshops, Scientologie espace librairie (SEL) the other organisation charged.

As for the Celebrity Centre, certainly he was a member of staff, and the organisational chart had inspired all kinds of speculation (“a beaucoup fait fantasmer”).

And yet instead of charging the heads of the eight different divisions at the centre, they had focussed on Rosenberg.

“Rosenberg was not part of the posts in finance,” said Jacquot. “Have we forgotten the issue of responsibility?”

Roger Gonnet, the former Scientologist turned critic had argued that Rosenberg had to be privy to everything of significance that went on on at the Centre.

But Gonnet, when he had run Scientology’s Lyon operation, had only a dozen staff members under him; not 120. And Gonnet had occupied all the key posts himself.

“M. Rosenberg, as executive director, does not occupy all the key posts,” said Rosenberg.

The indictment had also criticised the fact that the personality tests were interpreted by people with no real training in this field. “But the fact is, interpreting a test without training is not of itself a criminal offence,” said Jacquot.

Besides, he added: “Scientology never described itself as psychotherapy but as a religion.” And just because Scientology claimed that the personality test had scientific origins did not mean it was claiming a scientific status for it.

Gonnet, in his testimony, had said that the test was fixed. But did he have any special qualifications in this area? Did he know the new, computerised version of the test? It could be filled in on the Internet, said Jacquot: and believe it or not, it gave positive results.

“What is the point of fixing the test if it is always going to be low?” he asked. The test was not used to bring in sales, he added, but to give people an idea of the progress they were making.

Of the plaintiffs, Malton was the only person who had come to Scientology via the tests.

And while on the one hand she had claimed she did not realise she was entering a Scientology centre, on the other hand she told the staff there that she had heard about the 1996 Lyon of several Scientologists.

She had also told the court: “I remember saying that Scientology did not interest me.”

“Was the personality test really such a determining factor?” asked Jacquot. “I don’t think so, having read the testimony of Mme Malton… how did the personality test lead her to spend four months in Scientology?”

And why had she left Scientology? She had sent a copy of Dianetics to her former boyfriend, who had sent her to UNADFI, the French federation of counter-cult groups. And it was only at that point that she decided to file a complaint, said Jacquot – not from any feeling of having been swindled: “She was very happy before,” he said.

The prosecution had tried to characterise the success stories that Scientologists wrote as a duty that was somehow imposed on them, he added. But that was not the impression one got from former plaintiff Eric Aubry.

He had asked for copies of the letters he had written so that he could reread them, said Jacquot. He had described it as a great honour that some of them had been posted on the walls of the Celebrity Centre.

“Four years for what?”

And Dr. Zagury had said of Aubry that he felt the need to evoke his story in writing rather than orally: what better medium than the success stories?

So far as Pierre Auffret’s deception in milking his own company to pay for his Scientology training, what did Rosenberg have to do with this, asked Jacquot?

“And Auffret was a Scientologist well before the matters in question took place,” he added.

The expert reports on the e-meter – both by the court-appointed expert and those commissioned by the defence – agreed on the point that it did measure electrical resistance.

And they also noted the way it appeared to register people’s troubling thoughts, even if they did not agree on what to make of the phenomenon.

Turning to the prosecution’s sentencing request for Rosenberg – a 150,000-euro fine and a four-year suspended sentence – Jacquart confessed his surprise.

“Four years for what?” he asked. “For someone who has spent 40 years in Scientology, whose father was one of the first Scientologists.”

This was someone of Jewish origin, Jacquot noted. “His father only just escaped the camps. Would he have taken his son into a totalitarian organisation?

“Can this man have had the intention to swindle people? Does that make any sense? Someone who uses the e-meter himself, who has done dozens of personality tests himself. Is it conceivable that there was any intention to swindle?”

Did it many any sense to give such a man a four-year prison sentence, he asked? For Rosenberg had not devoted 40 years of his life to Scientology to make money.

“And all because of three people, out of thousands you have not heard, who have not complained of anything.”

[1] “The French procedure for prior authorisation for the marketing of foodstuffs for human consumption enriched with nutrients, manufactured and marketed in the member states, hinders the free movement of goods.” From the official Court press release on the case here.
[2] The court’s press released on the judgment is here; for the judgment itself, see here.

No comments:

Post a Comment