Scientology loses court challenge to McPherson estate representative


Tampa Tribune

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

legal filings.

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

Hillsborough case.

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