Initially, it seemed like Monique Rathbun would fight Church of Scientology lawyers all the way to the Texas Supreme Court over harassment she claims she endured at the hands of church members. But despite allegations that church operatives chased Rathbun and her husband from the Texas Gulf Coast to the Hill Country, Rathbun's case recently came to a sudden end.
Rathbun was never a Scientologist, but she got the church's attention when she married Marty Rathbun, who'd broken with the church in 2005. He'd been on the inside for 27 years, an executive second only to church leader David Miscavige, and after leaving, he spoke against Scientology — he appeared in HBO's Going Clear in 2015. Then Scientology members started coming after his wife, according to court records.
On its own, this isn't exactly shocking. When former members criticize Scientology, the church tends to hit back, usually in court. And when the church goes to court, things tend to get weird, as in 2012, when former Scientology executive Debbie Cook testified in San Antonio that high-ranking members of the church were once ordered to clean a bathroom floor with their tongues
Monique Rathbun filed her lawsuit in 2013, claiming the church mounted a three-year campaign of surveillance and harassment against her. She hired Elliott Cappuccio's law firm to represent her on a contingency fee. “The church has a lot of resources, and would have 15 to 17 lawyers present in the courtroom,” Cappuccio told the Houston Press. “The numbers were definitely on their side. That's what the church does. They throw a lot of money and lawyers against their problems.”
Rathbun claims church members were so aggressive that she and her husband left their home on the Texas coast for the Hill Country in late 2012. The Scientologists found them. Rathbun stated that operatives followed her in golf carts, yelling insults. They rented homes nearby and installed high-powered surveillance systems to spy on the couple. Someone even sent a sex toy to her work, according to her court filings.
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The church has acknowledged in court documents that it had put Rathbun under surveillance to prepare for litigation, but has denied harassing her. Church lawyers defended the activities as legally protected free speech, as the lawsuit went from Comal County to the Texas Third Court of Appeals. (We've asked the church for comment, but haven't heard back yet.) Neither court bought into the defense that setting up a sophisticated surveillance operation, sending waves of private detectives after the couple, following them in golf carts whenever they dared leave their home and sending sex toys to the office constituted protected speech under the First Amendment.
But after 32 months of litigation and two court victories, things got weird on Rathbun's end. In January, she fired her lawyers by sending a short letter stating she was "terminating representation without cause," Cappuccio says. "We were shocked, because we'd succeeded at every level through the appeals court and we'd expected to succeed at the Texas Supreme Court," Cappuccio says. "In my 18 years of practice, I'd never seen anyone do that." She didn't hire a new lawyer.
After church lawyers filed a 92-page petition asking the Texas Supreme Court to look into their First Amendment claims, Rathbun waived her right to file a response. Instead, she filed a motion to end the legal battle, without prejudice. "I do not have the resources, the time, nor the motivation to litigate in the Supreme Court of Texas against Scientology's army of lawyers," she stated in her motion. She also noted she's not interested in defending "errors made by attorneys who subordinated [her] wishes.” She didn't go into specifics.
The justices granted the motion in early May. Now, a judge in Comal County just has to grant her motion to end the case. Rathbun spun the end of the lawsuit as a victory for free speech. "My husband and I have effectively achieved the primary purpose that the lawsuit was originally intended to serve by our own independent efforts," Rathbun wrote in her lower court motion. "It is a travesty that the statute designed to prevent suppression of the rights to speech, association and petition has been used to delay remedy for violations of those very rights in this case for two and one-half years."