The Church of Scientology wants a restraining order against critic Robert Minton.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
St. Petersburg Times, published November 30, 1999
ST. PETERSBURG -- After a nine-hour hearing Monday, a judge said he needed more time to decide whether one of the the Church of Scientology's most vocal critics can continue to picket in front of church properties in downtown Clearwater.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr. said he will rule Thursday on the church's request that Robert S. Minton, a New England millionaire, be permanently ordered to stay away from Scientology buildings.
Minton, who crusades against Scientology, was arrested Oct. 31 on a misdemeanor battery charge after he pushed his posterboard picket sign into the face of Richard Howd, a church staffer who had followed him all day with a video camera. Scientology lawyers said it was the third time in the past two years Minton had behaved violently toward Scientologists.
In 1998, he was arrested after a similar encounter in front of Scientology's Boston headquarters, but the misdemeanor battery charge was dropped. Also last year, police in Sandown, N.H., where Minton owns a farm, investigated when he fired a 12-guage shotgun into the air after Scientologists came on his property. No charges were filed.
Monday, Minton's attorney, Denis deVlaming, told Penick that Minton was the target of dirty tricks by Scientology staffers trying to stifle criticism of the church in violation of Minton's First Amendment rights.
DeVlaming said there was a pattern in which church operatives exaggerated minor physical contact with Minton and other Scientology critics, then called police to report a battery in hopes a judge would enjoin them from going near church property.
Minton and deVlaming downplayed the severity of the incident involving Howd, who fell to the pavement in front of Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel and lay prostrate after Minton pushed his picket sign at Howd, causing scratches above and below his left eye. Howd was taken to Morton Plant Hospital on a stretcher.
Minton called Howd's reaction "dramatic," adding a reference to a top Scientology celebrity: "I thought it was worthy of John Travolta." He said he was calling police at the time because Howd had jostled him on the sidewalk and placed his camera lens within two inches of his head.
Church lawyers Paul Johnson and Michael Hertzberg said Minton had forfeited his right to picket church properties in Clearwater.
"He's got a short fuse," Johnson said. "A very short fuse."
The lawyers said Scientology's fears about Minton were heightened by his postings on the Internet, which they said were threatening. DeVlaming called the postings "harmless bantering." -- This is the cosmedia list for notification of current & future media attention on the CoS. Send alerts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Admin to email@example.com