Attorneys are set to make opening statements in Danny Masterson’s rape trial Tuesday, as a jury is expected to be selected by early morning.
Last week, the initial pool of 225 judges was reduced to 85. On Monday, the defense and prosecutors began questioning potential jurors in open court — known as voir dire — in the first round of screening. From Judge Charline Olmedo.
One of the questions is how much the potential jurors know about Scientology. Masterson is a Scientologist and each of the three defendants was a Scientologist at the time of the rape. The accusers – now all former Scientologists – said they delayed going to the police for fear they might be dismissed.
At the beginning of the questioning, defense attorney Philip Cohen emphasized that Scientology was not on trial.
“Scientology is not a party (to the issue), but you’re going to hear about it,” Cohen said. Whether you feel strongly about your religion – or strongly against other religions – will be an issue.
In the past few days, several jurors have said they have seen or read something about Scientology. By far the most popular source of information is “Scientology and the Post-Maze,” an A&E documentary hosted by former Scientologist Leah Remini, a critic of the church. The two-hour finale of that show in 2019 included a discussion of the Masterson case. Masterson’s attorneys argued that Remini was a “victim’s advocate” for one of his accusers.
Most of the judges who claim to have seen the scene have been pardoned, although the reason for their resignation has not been disclosed.
The judges who knew the church were not asked to provide any details of what they saw or read, so as not to spoil the other judges. One of them said that he had read many articles about the church. Asked by the judge whether the articles were positive or negative, he said, “I don’t think I’ve read anything positive about the company.”
He was forgiven.
Many judges said they knew little or nothing about the Church. Few knew Tom Cruise as a Scientologist, but little else about the church’s beliefs and practices. Some said they had only heard the name “Scientology”.
“I have seen their magnificent building,” said one man.
At least one said she had read L. Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” or a similar book, and others said they had seen advertisements promoting Scientology. A couple says they’ve seen TV ads in which LA mayoral candidate Rick Caruso attacks his rival Karen Bass for appearing at a Scientology event.
Only two judges said they found a Scientologist. One of the He said he worked for a company in the 1990s where the owner and most of the employees were Scientologists. He said his colleagues did not talk much about their religion.
“I must have asked,” said the man. “It was a long time ago.”
That person is forgiven. Another judge said he had friends who left the church and complained about it.
“They saw it as a traumatic experience,” he said. I know it’s a restrictive organization.
The judge said it would be difficult to set this aside and be fair. By lunchtime on Monday, the man had apparently been pardoned.
But most jurors said they would be fair to Masterson regardless of his religion.
Speaking to the jury Monday afternoon, Cohen called Scientology “the elephant in the room.”
“Does Mr. Masterson’s past and present relationships and involvement and status as a Scientologist have any bearing on your view of the government’s burden to prove its allegations?” Cohen said. “This is something I really need to know.”
No one raised their hand.
The judges were also asked how they felt about the #MeToo movement. Someone long ago expressed skepticism about the allegations.
“Why does it take years for someone to come forward?” he asked.
Another person, who described himself as a feminist, said he felt inclined to support the defendant’s testimony.
“I think a victim who has the courage to take a stand – there can be some truth,” he said.
Asked if he could put aside his inclinations and follow the judge’s instructions, he said, “I personally think it’s hard to do.”
Cohen thanked him for his honesty.
“This is very difficult,” Cohen said.