Two lawyers formerly representing That ’70’s Show actor and convicted rapist Danny Masterson were financially sanctioned by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Wednesday.
Judge Charlaine Olmedo ruled Masterson’s ex-defence lawyers, Tom Mesereau and Sharon Appelbaum, leaked sensitive trial information to the Church of Scientology about the women who accused Masterson of rape.
Masterson, 47, is a practicing Scientologist. Last week, a Los Angeles jury found the actor guilty of rape after nearly two weeks of deliberation.
The three women who accused Masterson of sexually assaulting them have for many years claimed the church has stalked and harassed them since they defected from Scientology.
The confidential discovery material from Masterson’s rape trial was sent to another Church of Scientology lawyer, Vicki Podberesky, and it contained police reports from the victims and their personal information, including home addresses and banking details.
The leak to Podberesky was exposed during Masterson’s retrial last month, when Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said he received an email from Podberesky — who was not affiliated with the trial — that included an attachment of 570 pages of discovery material. It is unclear if the attachment was sent by accident.
“It’s extremely troubling that all of our redacted discovery we turned over to the defence is now in the hands of Scientology,” Mueller told the judge during Masterson’s retrial.
Podberesky tried to claim prosecutors were soliciting false testimony from victims in order to wrongfully convict Masterson of rape. Judge Olmedo said the allegation was “demonstrably false.”
Podberesky is leading the Church of Scientology’s defence for a separate civil lawsuit filed by the same women who accused Masterson of rape; the victims claimed Scientology officials threatened them for years after they reported Masterson’s abuse to police.
The Church of Scientology has denied all accusations of wrongdoing, and was not a party in Masterson’s trial. Podberesky told the Los Angeles Times she legally obtained the confidential trial documents but did not say how.
Mesereau and Applebaum represented Masterson in court until May 2022 when they were replaced by other Scientology-affiliated lawyers. Both of the experienced lawyers argued through their counsel in court Wednesday that Olmedo never issued an order barring them from sharing discovery.
Olmedo said Mesereau and Applebaum were told several times not to share discovery materials, and that to do so violates Marsy’s law, a constitutional amendment that grants equal rights to crime victims.
Both Mesereau and Applebaum were ordered to pay US$950 (about $1,270) each in sanctions.
Podberesky was not sanctioned because she was not a party in Masterson’s criminal retrial, and she was not present in court on Wednesday.
During his recent retrial, Masterson was convicted of raping two women at his Los Angeles home in the 2000s. He was found guilty for two out of three counts of rape, as the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict on the third count, which alleged Masterson raped his longtime girlfriend. They had voted 8-4 in favour of conviction.
The convictions come after last year’s original trial on the same three counts ended in a mistrial when a jury deadlocked. Prosecutors quickly moved to hold a retrial.
Masterson pleaded not guilty to all charges of rape against him in both trials. After the retrial’s guilty verdict was announced, a shocked Masterson was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and he remains in state custody. He now faces 30 years to life in prison.
Masterson has yet to be sentenced. His hearing is currently scheduled for August.
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