November 12, 2003
EXPERT REPORT ON BEHALF OF THE DEFENDANTS IN FRONT SIGHT MANAGEMENT . . . and DR. IGNATIUS A. PIAZZA II V. DIANA MERTZ HSIEH….”
Stephen A. Kent (PhD)
Department of Sociology
University of Alberta
Edmonton , Alberta
Canada T6G 2H4
On August 20, 2003 , I received an e-mail from Lori Nelson, who is the Assistant to Kelly G. Watson (who is an attorney acting on behalf defendant Diana Hsieh). The e-mail asked me if I was willing to be retained as an expert in a Las Vegas Federal Court case. Prior to that e-mail, I had no contact with anyone involved in this case, and had only a vague recollection of reading about it on the Internet. I cannot remember how exactly things unfolded from there, but I some point I spoke with Kelly Watson on the telephone, as well as spoke with various assistants in his firm. After having received copies from Kelly Watson’s firm of the material that defendant Hsieh had sent to Dr. Ignatius and posted on her web site, I accepted the offer to write an expert report. All along, however, I let people know that I was very busy until the end of October, since (in addition to various University obligations related to my job as a sociology professor) I had commitments to make paper presentations at two conferences in October. Consequently, I likely would not be able to do much until after the conferences were over.
Kelly Watson’s firm contacted me on the basis of a recommendation (that I previously had not known about) from another sociologist, Dr. Ron Enroth. Dr. Enroth knows that I have published on Scientology, which is a group that plays a prominent role in this case. (My vitae is attached to this report.)
II. CATEGORIZING THE ISSUES IN DR. PIAZZA’S VERIFIED COMPLAINT
After re-reading the Verified Complaint (hereafter cited in the text as “Verified Complaint” and in the bibliography as “District Court, Clark County , Nevada . 2002″) filed by Front Sight and Dr. Ignatius, I decided to identify the key elements of his complaint and then analyze them in order to assess whether defendant Hsieh had made reasonable and defendable statements about him and his company in relation to Scientology. Toward this end, I identified four broad categories of Dr. Piazza’s Verified Complaint. It alleges that:
1. Defendant Hsieh describes Scientology as an “immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization.”
2. Defendant Hsieh provided Internet links to hateful, bigoted, and untrue statements about Scientology
3. Defendant Hsieh conspired to disparage and/or defame Front Sight and/or Piazza by alleging an association between the business, him, and Scientology
4. Defendant Hsieh has hurt Front Sight’s Business
So that the court can see how I derived these four categories, I provide (below) the specific paragraphs from the Verified Complaint that I included in each of them. (Please note that I have a few paragraphs under more than one heading.)
II.1. Defendant Hsieh describes Scientology as an “immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization.”
12. On or about October 26, 2002, HSIEH contacted PIAZZA and FRONT SIGHT via electronic mail, linking the email to her website, and made the following statements, ‘No organization, particularly not a firearms training insititute, can afford to be associated in any way with the immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization of the Church of Scientology.’ Furthermore HSIEH went on to discuss FRONT SIGHT’s and PIAZZA’s involvement with the ‘dangerous cult of Scientology’ (Verified Complaint, pp. 3-4).
17. [in the FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION:] HSIEH persists in publishing to third persons throughout the United States and elsewhere were [sic: where] [I]nternet access is available, libelous statements regarding FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA allegedly being associated with a poorly thought of religion and, furthermore, claiming that FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA are associated with a dangerous cult and/or criminal organization and HSIEH is otherwise holding up FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA to scorn, harassment, threatening behavior, ridicule and so forth (Verified Complaint, pp. 4-5).
24. HSIEH, by continuing to accuse FRONT SIGHT of being involved with the Church of Scientology or inferring that such was the case, even though she knew that such was not the case, acted intentionally with the intent and desire to cause FRONT SIGHT harm, to inflict her will and desires regarding FRONT SIGHT’s principals on said principals, lest have FRONT SIGHT suffer substantial loss or cost, and/or otherwise cause FRONT SIGHT to have to expand considerable sums of money to defend against HSIEH’s unlawful and libelous statements (Verified Complaint, p. 6).
25. HSIEH has no excuse and/or privilege and/or justification available to her for her actions and/or inactions herein sufficient to protect her from liability herein (Verified Complaint, p. 6).
39. HSIEH made multiple false and defamatory written publications concerning PIAZZA which she, without limitation, intentionally, willfully, maliciously, and wantonly published to third parties when HSIEH know that the communication was false and when she knew that it defamed PIAZZA, or HSIEH acted in reckless disregard of these matters; said defamatory communication constituted libel per se in that it imputed to PIAZZA membership in a dangerous cult and/or a criminal organization (Verified Complaint, p. 8).
55.1 That HSIEH be permanently enjoined from making, without limitation as to means of publication, any further disparaging, defamatory, libelous and/or slanderous publications or statements regarding defamatory, libelous and/or slanderous publications or statements regarding FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA being affiliated with any religious, quasi-religious or pseudo-religious organization, or part or portion thereof;
55.2 That HSIEH be ordered to remove as much as possible any comments or statements, no matter where posted, published, placed, or otherwise, stating or insinuating that FRONT SIGHT and/or PIAZZA is or are affiliated with any religious, quasi-religious, or pseudo-religious organization, as part or portion thereof, and in those places where said offending comments or statements cannot be removed that HSIEH be ordered to print retractions and statements to the effect that said retractions have been ordered by the Court (Verified Complaint, pp. 11-12).
II.2 Defendant Hsieh provided Internet links to hateful, bigoted, and untrue statements about Scientology
10. As part of her commentary, HSIEH included links to various other anti-Scientology websites, effectively linking FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA with the hateful, bigoted and untrue statements set forth in said articles” (Verified Complaint, p. 3).
47. HSIEH is in violation of NRS § 203.040 in that she has willfully printed, published and circulated printed matter and documents which, without limitation, tend to encourage or advocate disrespect for the law,-to-wit, without limitation, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to associate, freedom to be free of harassment due to religious preference and freedom to operate a business without having said business interfered with on the basis of the religious preferences of the owner and/or management of said business. HSIEH is therefore liable to FRONT SIGHT under the doctrine of negligence per se in that all persons have an obligation and a duty to others to obey at all times that law applicable to them (Verified Complaint, p. 10).
48. Furthermore, HSIEH is in violation of NRS § 208.185 in that she has violated NRS 203.040 on the basis of the actual or perceived religion of PIAZZA. Again, HSIEH is liable to FRONT SIGHT and/or PIAZZA under the doctrine of negligence per se in that all persons have an obligation and a duty to others to obey at all times the law applicable to them (Verified Complaint, p. 10).
II.3. Defendant Hsieh conspired to disparage and/or defame Front Sight and/or Piazza by alleging an association between the business, him, and Scientology
6. That at all times relevant hereto, HSIEH, for herself individually and on behalf of those persons whom she claims to represent or to be speaking for, who are, jointly and severally, conspiring with each other to disparage and/or defame FRONT SIGHT and/or PIAZZA worldwide, or to otherwise bring about their unlawful agenda, maintained access to what is commonly called the Internet and/or the World Wide Web (hereinafter ‘Internet’), where she could leave and/or receive messages for general view and distribution to those persons obtaining access to the Internet and with whom she was conspiring and/or representing (Verified Complaint, p.2).
13. Furthermore HSIEH stated ‘I have received a large number of e-mails, many of them from Front Sight alumni and First Family members, expressing deep concern and dismay over this issue….Like me, they no longer feel able [to][sic] offer the enthusiastic word-of-mouth recommendations that bring so many students to Front Sight. Additionally, satisfied Front Sight alumni have told me they will not return to Front Sight; potential new students have regretfully said they will go elsewhere. (You may not have heard directly from these people, as many are using me and an intermediary, waiting for more information from me before choosing their own course of action. But they do exist in substantial numbers)” (Verified Complaint, p. 4).
14. That said statements, and other statements in HSIEH’s publications, are untrue, false, libelous, slanderous, disparaging and defamatory and were made with a malicious intent on the part of HSIEH, or were made by HSIEH recklessy and/or with a conscious disregard of the truth of falsity of the statements (Verified Complaint, p. 4).
32. Due to the acts of HSIEH, as enumerated herein, and her stated disavowance of any organization that has a person in its management which has had any involvement with the Church of Scientology, or any other group or organization which HSIEH deems in her estimation to be unworthy of her respect or support, FRONT SIGHT is entitled to a judgement declaring that the memberships sold to HSIEH are to be returned to FRONT SIGHT or are to be considered as null, void, cancelled, discharged and/or of no force of effect (Verified Complaint, p. 7).
[civil conspiracy]: 52. At all times relevant herein, HSIEH held herself out a spokesman, intermediary, advocate, cohort and so forth of those persons who, like herself, were actively speaking out against FRONT SIGHT and/or PIAZZA, encouraging others not to take classes or invest in FRONT SIGHT and so forth, due to alleged religious beliefs of PIAZZA or the refusal of PIAZZA to respond to specific questions from HSIEH and others regarding the depth and/or extent of his religious beliefs and/or practices (Verified Complaint, pp. 10-11).
54. As a direct result of the civil conspiracy of HSIEH and her currently unnamed co-conspirators herein, who shall be named herein once HSIEH divulges said names under oath, FRONT SIGHT and PIAZZA have been damaged in an amount in excess of $10,000.00, the exact amount of which will be proven at the time of the trial of this matter (Verified Complaint, p. 11).
II.4. Defendant Hsieh has hurt Front Sight’s business
26. As a direct result and/or cause of HSIEH’s intentional actions herein including, without limitation, engaging in a widespread pattern of spreading lies and other falsehoods about FRONT SIGHT and/or PIAZZA via the Internet, the economic relationships which FRONT SIGHT has or had with its students, customers, clients, and investors, and/or otherwise was actually interfered with or disrupted and FRONT SIGHT has lost, in whole or in part, the economic benefits and/or advantage of the relationships in an amount in excess of $10,000.00, the exact amount of which will be proven at the time of the trial of this matter (Verified Complaint, p.6).
27. At all times relevant herein, HSIEH has acted with malice, oppression, recklessness or otherwise with the intent to cause FRONT SIGHT to suffer great economic damages and/or loss or reputation and as a result thereof FRONT SIGHT is entitled to recover punitive damages against HSIEH in order to punish said improper conduct and to help ensure that HSIEH does not engage in said improper behavior in the future (Verified Complaint, p. 6).
35. HSIEH caused that multiple false, derogatory and defamatory written or printed communications concerning and/or relating to FRONT SIGHT’s operation, products, quality, and/or business be published to third party’s [sic: parties] over a many week period when HSIEH knew or should have known that the communications were false and/or defamatory and that said publications defamed FRONT SIGHT’s business, products and operation, or HSIEH acted in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of her statements pertaining to FRONT SIGHT, said defamatory and/or derogatory communications constituting trade libel in that they did injure and/or tend to injure FRONT SIGHT’s relations with its actual and/or prospective students and with its referral base of persons who refer FRONT SIGHT classes to FRONT SIGHT students and/or prospective students and/or investors (Verified Complaint, pp. 7-8).
Having identified four areas of complaint by Dr. Piazza, I then attempted to determine whether Defendant Hsieh actually said and/or did what he purported. If I determined that his claims were accurate, then I attempted to determine whether defendant Hsieh was acting reasonably and fairly. I made these latter determinations by relying heavily upon Internet sources, since these sources were ones about which Hsieh herself knew (or likely knew), and ones which Dr. Piazza could have found himself through simple ‘google’ searches.
III.1.a Did in fact Defendant Hsieh describe Scientology as an “immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization,”
The answer to this threefold question is “yes.” The phrase comes directly from an e-mail that defendant Hsieh sent to Dr. Piazza on October 26, 2002 . This e-mail, which is an exchange between the two and contains the text of Dr. Piazza’s answer to a previous response to her. Dr. Piazza had written, “As I have already stated, I have personally had Scientology services and will most likely continue as I feel appropriate.” Defendant Hsieh replied, “You have the freedom to make that choice. However, your reputation-and therefore Front Sight’s reputation-is being and will continue to be damaged by this connection to Scientology, even though the Gamburd lawsuit [a previous legal action involving Dr. Piazza and a former employee] has been settled. No organization, particularly not a firearms training institute, can afford to be associated in any way with the immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization of the Church of Scientology ” (Hsieh, 2002: 2).
III.1.b. Was it fair and reasonable for defendant Hsieh to refer to Scientology as “immoral”?
Defendant Hsieh is only one of a number of people to refer to Scientology as “immoral.” A “google” search for the terms, “Scientology, immoral” turned up eight hits. Checking those hits, the strongest statement in which someone of repute referred to Scientology as immoral was the 1985 British child custody decision written by Justice Latey in the Family Division of the Royal Courts of Justice (also known as the Old Bailey). This case involved a custody dispute between a mother and step-father (both ex-Scientologists) versus a natural father who was still a member. In his conclusion, Justice Latey stated:
Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. Mr. Kennedy [who was the barrister for the mother] did not exaggerate when he termed it “pernicious”. In my judgement it is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit and has as its real objective money and power for Mr. Hubbard, his wife and those close to him at the top. It is sinister because it indulges in infamous practices both to its adherents who do not toe the line unquestioningly and to those outside who criticise or oppose it. It is dangerous because it is out to capture people, especially children and impressionable young people, and indoctrinate and brainwash them so that they become the unquestioning captives and tools of the cult, withdrawn from ordinary thought, living and relationships with others (Royal Courts of Justice, 1984: 21).
Critics of Scientology are very familiar with Judge Latey’s decision, especially because of the strong language that he used to describe the organization.
Another instance exists of a judge using the term, immoral, in the context of a Scientology case. It occurred in a 1991 Norway case, also reported on the Internet. In this instance:
The Norwegian Church of Scientology was recently ordered by an Oslo civil court to return $20,000 to the estate of a woman who spent the money for the organization’s courses and associated materials during a several-month involvement with the group, which the judge said used immoral methods to physically and emotionally exhaust her (Sandvand, 1991).
This case appeared in a Norwegian newspaper, then reappeared in the news bulletin of a British counter-cult organization, and finally wound up on the Internet.
Even based upon these two court cases, defendant Hsieh’s allegation that Scientology was immoral is in line with what judges in England and Norway also had concluded. Her use, therefore, of the term, “immoral,” was fair and reasonable.
III.2.a. Was it fair and reasonable for defendant Hsieh to refer to Scientology as “cultish”?
Again, I turned to the Internet and did a ‘google’ search to see if I could find reputable sources that spoke of Scientology as a cult. The term, “cultish,” is an unusual word in English, and the suffix, ‘ish,’ diminishes the negative implication that the ‘cult’ term carries. A ‘google’ search on “cultish, Scientology” turned up five hits for three different sites, so I decided to eliminate the qualifying suffix and see if any search results showed up for a harsher “cult” association with Scientology. Consequently, I decided to search on a phrase the incorporated the ‘cult’ term, but made that term even harsher: “destructive cult.” Searching, therefore, on “destructive cult”, I got 5,940 hits. Seven of the first 100 hits specifically referred to Scientology or one of its front groups simply in the ‘google’ summary of the citations. Within the actual articles, however, many more references exist.
Among the most interesting references is a statement made by a Swiss state attorney in Basel as it dismissed a criminal complaint against a politician filed by a Scientologist. It concluded, “[a]ltogether Scientology can be regarded as an untrustworthy, destructive cult [vertrauensunwrdigen destruktiven Kult] with the significance of, at most, a quasi-religion” (Basel-City Attorney’s Office, 2001: 3). The dismissal appears in both German and an unofficial English translation. The term, “untrustworthy, destructive cult” is far stronger than the term that Dr. Piazza objected to.
Other references to Scientology as a destructive or otherwise harmful cult appear in various media accounts. For example, a Boston newspaper did a story on the chairman of Boston University ‘s board of trustees, Earle Cooley, who apparently is a Scientologist. Reporter Dan Kennedy wrote, “[w]hat is interesting is that Cooley, one of the leading strategists for a church denounced by critics as a dangerous mind-control cult, is also the chairman of the board of trustees of Boston University” (Kennedy, 1996: 1).
Of course, the best known media example of a reporter calling Scientology a cult remains Richard Behar’s 1991 cover story article for Time magazine on Scientology entitled, “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power” (Behar, 1991). On the web site where this article resides, a link goes to another (but very brief) article entitled, “Time Magazine wins approval of libel suit dismissal.” The article (from January 13, 2001 ) reported:
Time Inc. and another unit of AOL Time Warner Inc. have persuaded a federal appeals panel to uphold the dismissal of a libel suit brought by the Church of Scientology International . The lawsuit stemmed from a 1991 cover story in Time magazine titled ”Scientology: The Cult of Greed,” which called Scientology ”a ruthless global scam.” The 7,500-word story by journalist Richard Behar said the church survives by ”intimidating members and critics in a Mafia-like manner,” and called Scientology a ”ruthless . . . terroristic” cult. The church sued Behar, Time and Time Warner for libel, claiming that these and other statements were defamatory (Atlanta Journal Constitution, 2001).
Defendant Hsieh’s description, therefore, as “cultish,” understates what others (including a Swiss state attorney’s office) have said about the organization. Again I must conclude, therefore, that her description of Scientology as “cultish” was fair and reasonable.
III.2.b. Was it fair and reasonable for defendant Hsieh to refer to Scientology as an “apparently criminal organization”?
I did another web search, this time on the phrase, “criminal organization.” The ‘google search indicated 26,600 hits, and five of the first 100 mentioned Scientology in the web site summaries. One of the five hits was to a site entitled, “Scientology’s History of Criminality,” written in 1995 by someone only using his or her e-mail address. The article is a detailed and multifaceted account of court cases and related documents, Scientology policies, and other sources in an effort to portray Scientology as an organization with a history of criminality that uses religious claims as its cover. As the author concluded:
Those who seek constitutional protections for their participation in an establishment of religion and freedom to practice its beliefs must not be permitted the special freedoms this special sanctuary may provide merely by adopting religious nomenclature and cynically using it as a shield to protect them when participating in anti-social conduct that otherwise stands condemned (gr0nd, 1995: 3).
Much of the essay discussed what s/he considered to be fraud within the organization.
Another site that discusses issues related to Scientology and criminality is entitled, “Is Scientology breaking the law?” The site contains a chart containing seventeen categories alleging criminal activities, which I reproduce here:
alse imprisonment 25 reports 1968 – 1996
assault 14 reports 1978 – 1998
practicing medicine without a license 5 reports 1975 – 1995
threats 5 reports 1978 – 1995
fraud 18 reports 1975 – 1998
extortion 9 reports 1978 – 1996
invasion of privacy 11 reports 1975 – 1994
child neglect 8 reports 1975 – 1991
coerced abortions 2 reports covering several cases 1975 – 1993
weapons violations 1 report 1991
conspiracy to murder 2 reports dates unknown but probably 1970s
commission of criminal acts 2 reports one from 1987
interference with the US Mail 2 reports one from 1978
slander, libel, and defamation 2 reports dates unknown, one from the 80s
falsifying information or conditions to deceive inspectors 2 reports 1978 and 1982
obstruction of justice 2 reports 1989 and late 1990’s
violation of labor laws 11 reports 1973 – 1996
(Taken from Wachter, 1999a).
The number of links to supporting information totals 121, and the site has not been upgraded since May 8, 1999 . A related site entitled, “Scientology’s Crimes,” lists another nineteen cases that either were current at the time or had occurred in recent years (Wachter, 1999b). Even though some of the cases listed on this site subsequently were dismissed, and even though most of the cases cited refer to Scientology members (rather than the organization), it does link to the 1992 Canadian criminal conviction of the Church of Scientology of Toronto and several former high-ranking members for having breached the public trust. (The organization had run a massive spy operation on various governmental and law enforcement agencies).
In a recent article I discussed the breach of trust conviction ( Kent , 2003: 12), and it might be useful to reproduce it here:
A Canadian branch, however, of . . . Scientology, does have a criminal conviction-two breach of trust convictions against the Church of Scientology of Toronto in 1992 and upheld in appeal in 1997 (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 1, 143). These convictions stemmed from an extensive spy operation that Scientology ran in (often successful) attempts to steal Scientology-related documents from various Ontario government and law enforcement agencies between 1974 and 1976. These agencies included the Ontario Provincial Police, the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Metropolitan Toronto Police (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 11). “Scientologists secured employment with government agencies perceived to be enemies of the Church, and signed oaths of secrecy as public officials,” and then removed documents that related to the Scientology organization (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 1). This policy of planting Scientology agents in key organizations developed after a Scientology official decided that its previous policy of burglary was too risky (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 11-12). Worth reading are the appellate judge’s comments when he ruled against Scientology of Toronto’s attempt to appeal the conviction and sentence of a $250,000.00 (CDN) fine:
This conduct represented a deliberate attempt to undermine the effectiveness of the law enforcement agencies. The acts struck at the integrity of the public service. This was not simply an intelligence-gathering exercise. The appellant had planted its agents in these agencies so that they would be able to anticipate and counter the efforts of these agencies to enforce the law (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 137).
As has always been the case when trying to explain the actions of the Guardian Office, the Scientology organization refused to accept responsibility for these illegal actions:
The appellant at no time admitted responsibility for these offences or expressed remorse for its involvement…. [T]he evidence was clear that the appellant stopped this kind of activity because the risk of discovery was putting the appellant and the Church of Scientology in jeopardy. In the years leading up to the commission of these offenses, the Church had tried various illegal means in a misguided effort to protect itself from those agencies, organizations and individuals that it perceived to be its enemies. When the risk of detection became too great, a particular technique would be abandoned in favour of some better or different method. The various actions such as the ‘amends programme’, which forced the individuals to accept personal responsibility, were mechanisms by which the appellant distanced itself from the acts committed on its behalf (Court of Appeal for Ontario 1997: 139).
I am not aware of any other criminal conviction of a “religion” in Canada .
At least two other courts have found “churches” of Scientology guilty of crimes– one in France , and the other in Denmark . In mid-May, 2002, the Associated Foreign Press carried an article that reported:
The Paris branch of the U.S.-based Church of Scientology was found guilty Friday of breaching France ‘s laws on confidentiality in a decision that opponents hope could pave the way to its ultimate dissolution.
The Spiritual Association of the Church of Scientology of the Ile-de-France (ASESIF) was fined 8,000 euros (7,320 dollars) after being sued for continuing to send out unwanted literature to former members. Its head Marc Walter was personally fined 2,000 euros (1,832 dollars) (Associated Foreign Press, 2002).
The Danish case was more serious. On January 10, 2003 , the Associated Press reported:
A Danish court fined the Church of Scientology on Friday for publishing defamatory remarks about an [E]ast German filmmaker and a Danish journalist described by the church as having links to the former East German secret police….
The [defamatory] article was published after the Church of Scientology tried to stop [journalist Joergen] Pedersen from making a television show critical of the church, which is not recognized as a religious organization in Denmark (Associated Press, 2003).
In conclusion, because criminal convictions exist against churches of Scientology in at least three countries ( Canada , France , and Denmark ), I must conclude that defendant Hsieh’s labeling of Scientology as an “apparently criminal organization” was fair and reasonable. Dr. Piazza may disagree with her determination, but defendant Hsieh has evidence to back up her statement. Other critics have been far more blunt than was she.
IV.1.a. Did defendant Hsieh provide Internet links to hateful, bigoted, and untrue statements about Scientology?
This claim by the plaintiff is perplexing, since, in his Verified Complaint, Dr. Piazza does not specify exactly the Internet links to which he was referring. Consequently, it is next to impossible for me, and I suspect the court, to evaluate the merits of his assertion. Moreover, no evidence exists that he read any of the web sites to which defendant Hsieh referred him. In deposition, when the defendant’s attorney, Mr. Watson, asked Dr. Piazza whether he had read any of the articles/websites to which defendant Hsieh had referred to him in e-mail correspondence on October 26, 2002, Dr. Piazza replied, “Um, I don’t remember if I did or I didn’t” (Deposition of Ignatius A. Piazza, II, 2003: 42 l. 2). Similarly, when the defendant’s attorney, Mr. Watson, asked Dr. Piazza, “Do you understand that there is quite a body of websites on the Internet criticizing Scientology?,” Dr. Piazza replied:
A. Whether I’m aware of it or not, what difference does it make?
Q. Are you aware of that?
A. I don’t go through these websites, so there may be hundreds of them, but I’m not aware of what they are or I don’t read them…. (Deposition of Ignatius A. Piazza, II, 2003: 64, l. 13-20).
Then Dr. Piazza’s attorney, Mr. Morris, objected. The objection aside, I cannot determine how Dr. Piazza concluded that defendant Hsieh provided Internet links to hateful, bigoted, and untrue statements about Scientology, since he did not (or did not remember) reading any of them.
V. Did Defendant Hsieh conspire to disparage and/or defame Front Sight and/or Piazza by alleging an association between the business, him, and Scientology?
Foundational to an effort to determine the veracity of this claim is the exchange between defendant Hsieh and Dr. Piazza in which he acknowledged, “I have personally had Scientology services and will most likely continue as I feel appropriate” (Dr. Piazza, quoted in defendant Hsieh’s October 26, 2002 e-mail posting). In essence, Dr. Piazza verified for defendant Hsieh that he had an association with Scientology, and that the relationship likely would continue. Since Dr. Piazza seems to be the central figure in the Front Sight business (see, for example, his picture, personal testimony, and signature on Front Sight’s web site at: <http://www.frontsight.com/pages/about.asp>), it then seems reasonable to associate that business with Scientology. It might only be the case that Dr. Piazza uses the profits that he makes through his Front Sight business to pay for Scientology courses, but even that arrangement would establish a link between the business and Scientology (via Dr. Piazza himself). Defendant Hsieh’s “allegation,” therefore, of an association between Front Sight, Dr. Piazza, and Scientology is fair and reasonable.
VI. Has Defendant Hsieh hurt Front Sight’s Business?
Once again, from the information provided in both Dr. Piazza’s Verified Complaint and in his deposition, I cannot determine whether this statement is accurate and true. No specific examples-involving names, dates, amount of damage associated with individuals, etc.-appears in the Verified Complaint, so I looked in Dr. Piazza’s deposition for this information. In the deposition, Dr. Piazza told defendant Hsieh’s attorney, Mr. Watson, that “I haven’t personally done anything” to investigate the financial harm that he believes defendant Hsieh’s statements have caused him. Apparently his attorney handles this matter (Deposition of Ignatius A. Piazza, II, 2003: 28, l.20-23). While he indicated that people had stated that “they would no longer come to Front Sight as a result of her allegations” (Deposition of Ignatius A. Piazza II, 2003: 29), Dr. Piazza could not put a dollar amount on the damage.
It seems unlikely that the court EVER will be able to make an objective assessment of the impact of defendant Hsieh’s statements, since Dr. Piazza indicated that Front Sight has a privacy statement, and he is “not comfortable” giving out names of clients to the defendant’s counsel (Deposition of Ignatius A. Piazza II, 2003: 31). Without this information, however, it will be impossible to determine if in fact Front Sight suffered financially, or for that matter whether Front Sight benefitted financially! One can imagine, for example, that Scientologists, personal friends, and others would have given Front sight business in an attempt to offset any damage that defendant Hsieh’s Internet postings may have caused. Alas, without names of clients and financial information related to them, no one ever can know what impact, if any, defendant Hsieh’s postings had. Without names, dates, and relevant financial records, therefore, it is impossible to make an objective assessment of damages, which may not even exist.
Although I am hired as an expert for defendant Hsieh, I attempted to evaluate Dr. Piazza’s allegations against her as fairly as I could. Consequently, I relied heavily upon Internet sources, since these are ones with which defendant Hsieh was most familiar and ones that Dr. Piazza could have accessed with just a few clicks of his computer mouse. Based upon readily available evidence, I conclude that defendant Hsieh knew from Dr. Piazza himself that he had taken Scientology courses and that he likely would take more. Her description of Scientology as an “immoral, cultish, and apparently criminal organization” has sufficient backup in socially respectable sources (such as court cases, media accounts, and thoughtful critics) that she cannot be held libel for using the phrase. Moreover, the plaintiff, Dr. Piazza, fails to specify to the court exactly what are the Internet links that supposedly are hateful, bigoted, and untrue statements about Scientology, so this allegation is not actionable. Furthermore, defendant Hsieh made an association between association between the business (Front Sight), Dr. Piazza, and Scientology that was fair and reasonable, which means that no conspiracy existed by any of her statements that linked these entities. Finally, Dr. Piazza has failed to provide evidence that any of defendant Hsieh’s statements have hurt his business. I must conclude, therefore, that Dr. Piazza’s lawsuit against defendant Hsieh has no merit.
For preparing this report I have been compensated at the rate of $200.00 per hour, and worked eighteen-and-one-half hours on it.
Submitted by Stephen A. Kent (Ph.D.)
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