A Marin judge yesterday found former San Anselmo resident Gerald Armstrong in contempt for his long-standing war of words against the Church of Scientology. Marin Superior Court Judge Vernon Smith ruled that Armstrong, a former Scientology archivist, violated an earlier settlement agreement that he stop criticizing the church and discussing the experiences he had within the organization.
Smith also issued an arrest warrant for Armstrong, who did not attend yesterday's court hearing. Reached at his home in British Columbia, Armstrong said he intentionally stayed away from court for fear he would be thrown in jail. "It would have been stupid for me to come down there," he said.
Armstrong said he also has no intention of curbing his criticism, which most often takes the form of writings he posts in Internet discussion groups. "I'm absolutely disappointed, but then again nothing has changed," said Armstrong, noting that three warrants have been issued for his arrest since Marin Judge Gary Thomas ordered him in 1995 to halt his barbed criticisms of Scientology. "This is about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, the whole gamut. I will fight this to the ends of the Earth."
A spokesman for Scientology said yesterday that Armstrong's proclamations about personal freedoms are a smokescreen. "This isn't about free speech. This is about a settlement agreement in which he was paid a big bunch of money and agreed to bury the hatchet and end his attacks," church spokesman Jeffrey Quiros said. "Armstrong took the money and went out and began attacking the church again."
The feud between Armstrong and the church is in its third decade. Armstrong split with Scientology in 1981 after more than 12 years as a researcher and archivist for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. In 1986, the church paid $800,000 to settle a civil suit filed by Armstrong, who claimed he was being harassed by church leaders. The settlement required Armstrong to stop divulging information he gained as a high-placed church insider.
In 1992, the church sued Armstrong over his remarks in a CNN interview and a sworn statement he gave to another group suing the church. In 1995, Judge Thomas ordered Armstrong to pay $100,000 to Scientology for violating the settlement. The judge also issued a permanent injunction ordering Armstrong to honor the settlement and quiet the criticism. Armstrong said he never paid the money. He also said he believes Thomas' order was moot, because church officials made statements critical of him to newspapers and court filings.
"The minute they spoke out about me, they waived any right to enforce their settlement agreement," he said. In making their case for a contempt order against Armstrong, attorneys for the church submitted a sheaf of messages Armstrong had posted on the Internet between March 1998 and last July.
Judge Smith said there was ample evidence to warrant a contempt order. In a curt, four-paragraph ruling, he said Thomas' earlier order was valid and that Armstrong intentionally violated it. The judge said he reserved his right to issue fines and order jail time for Armstrong if he is ever brought back to court. Quiros, the Scientology spokesman, said he isn't crossing his fingers. "We'll probably never see a dime from Mr. Armstrong," he said. "And I doubt he'll do any jail time because he will probably never come back to California."