Scientology loses court challenge to McPherson estate representative
By DAVID SOMMER
Feb 4, 2000
A judge has rejected a challenge from the Church of Scientology that could
have derailed a civil lawsuit stemming from the death of member Lisa
The church has no legal standing to interfere with the administration of
McPherson's estate, Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer ruled
Greer did not take up the issue of whether documents in the estate case
were forged. That allegation became moot once he decided that Scientology
had no right to challenge the legitimacy of the estate's court-approved
McPherson died in December 1995 after 17 days in isolation at the church's
spiritual headquarters, the Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater.
Then the estate case file was opened in Pinellas Circuit Court.
In 1997, as McPherson's mother, Fannie, was nearing death from cancer, she
signed over control of the estate to her sister, Dell Liebreich.
Liebreich, along with two other aunts and one uncle, are McPherson's only
After taking over as representative of Lisa's estate, Liebreich sued the
Church of Scientology on behalf of the estate in Hillsborough Circuit
Court. The wrongful death lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, but at one
point the McPherson family responded to a $25,000 settlement offer from
the church by demanding $80 million.
Meantime, in late 1998, the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office charged
the church's Flag Service Organization with one count each of abuse of a
disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license in connection
with McPherson's death.
The church has responded on all fronts with teams of lawyers and reams of
In the case ruled on Thursday, Greer was asked to remove Liebreich as
representative of the estate. Had he done so, the estate's lawsuit in
Hillsborough Circuit Court might have been jeopardized.
Ken Dandar, the Tampa lawyer handling the estate and its lawsuit, said
Thursday that the battle in probate court was nothing more than a church
tactic designed to use up his time and distract him from pursuing the
Church lawyers could not be reached for comment after Greer's ruling.
Even if Liebreich did forge Fannie McPherson's signature, as the church
contended, her brother and sisters are happy with her representation of
the estate, Dandar said.
"The only ones who can complain about it are the brother and sisters of
Dell Liebreich, and they all love Dell Liebreich," Dandar said.
Greer agreed that the church has no right to get involved in the probate
case. Even though church lawyers argued that Scientology could end up
either owing money to the estate or being owed money by the estate, that
has not yet happened, the judge ruled.
The McPherson estate's lawsuit is scheduled for trial June 12 in
Hillsborough Circuit Court. The criminal trial in Pinellas Circuit Court
is scheduled for Oct. 16.
David Sommer can be reached at (727) 799-7413 and firstname.lastname@example.org