Three weeks after opening statements began, Danny Masterson’s rape retrial rested today. Yet, with the former That 70’s Show actor once again facing a trio of sexual assault charges and potentially years behind bars, the Church of Scientology is back in the courtroom spotlight.
After the prosecution ended its case early Friday and the defense called no witnesses, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo said closing arguments would start Tuesday. That could see the jury deliberating behind closed doors by Wednesday and a verdict in the following days.
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However, partially overshadowing those deliberations might be a very serious sharing of information.
Somehow a lawyer representing the David Miscavige-led church, which is not a defendant in this criminal case, has come into possession of a large swath of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office’s discovery material in this matter. Going off like a legal landmine, the revelation might see the prosecution referring the leak of sorts to the LAPD and perhaps even the state bar.
This all came to light two days ago when Deputy DA Reinhold Mueller told the court that the George Gascón-led office had received an email on May 2 from attorney Vicki Podberesky criticizing the way the church had been referenced in the retrial that began April 27. Stunningly, attached to that email, which had the subject line of “False reports of stalking and harassment by the Church of Scientology,” were 12 files containing the discovery material.
Whether the attachment of the files with the DA email from Podberesky was an oversight, an unintended consequence, a shot across the bow or just a dumb mistake, only the prosecution, the defense and the court are supposed to have such documents.
First arrested in 2020 over the alleged attacks that occurred between 2001 and 2003 in his Hollywood Hills house, Masterson faces up to 45 years in state prison if found guilty on all three rape counts this time round. The actor, who quickly was fired from the Netflix comedy The Ranch at the end of 2017 as assault claims became known and has been excluded from the That ’90s Show revival, always has said that sex with all the Jane Does had been consensual.
In court every day, as he was in the five-week first trial, prominent Scientologist Masterson has been free on $3.3 million bail for the past three years.
The discovery material that Podberesky and perhaps her client possess contains personal emails, texts and more from the three Jane Does to police and others, some of which were used in the previous trial and this one, plus more “recently obtained” information.
The possession of that material by the Scientology-hired lawyer could constitute a violation of California’s Marsy’s Law, among other things.
More formally known as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, Marsy’s Law is intended to ensure that victims are “to be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.” In testimony and in a civil case that names both Masterson and the Church of Scientology as defendants, the Janes Does — all of whom are former members of the church — and family members have spoken about being stalked, harassed and intimidated because of having reported the alleged rapes to law enforcement.
Along with the discovery material becoming public, and subsequent Leah Remini tweetstorm, it turns out that Podberesky recently met with LAPD Chief Michel Moore and filed complaints with the department on behalf of Scientology over “numerous unsubstantiated and false reports by the Masterson-complaining witnesses in which they allege the church has harassed them.”
In the previous trial, which resulted in a deadlocked jury on November 30, after more than five weeks of often-harrowing testimony from the Jane Does, Cohen repeatedly tried to dampen or get tossed out any reference to Scientology, its practices or policies. Judge Olmedo resisted those requests but did caution Mueller and fellow Deputy DA Ariel Anson to be specific to the matters at hand in their mentions of the Church.
With the jury out of the ninth-floor courtroom at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center today after the retrial rested, defense attorney Shawn Holley told a clearly displeased Judge Olmedo that neither she nor her colleague Phillip Cohen provided the material to Podberesky. Previously, Cohen, who also was Masterson’s defense lawyer in the first trial, denied that he had handed over the documents.
Former O.J. Simpson and Lindsay Lohan lawyer Holley then tried to shift focus by stating there never was a protective order in the case and invoked the name of former Masterson defense attorney Tom Mesereau. Stating that “Nothing untoward has occurred, and Ms. Podberesky is willing to come to court to say so,” Holley also suggested that the material could have emerged out of the currently paused civil case – which seems unlikely but still is not permitted.
Issuing a preservation order Friday, Judge Olmedo indicated she’ll be setting aside time while the jurors deliberate next week to discuss the discovery material matter further. With jurors released this morning until Tuesday, lawyers for both sides and the judge spent the rest of Friday going over jury instructions. They wrapped just before 4 p.m.
No one in the DA’s office replied to request for comment on the discovery material issue, nor Podberesky or did reps for Cohen or Holley. If or when they do, this post will be updated.
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