Actor Danny Masterson, center, stands with his attorneys, Thomas Mesereau, right, and Sharon Appelbaum as he is arraigned on rape charges in Los Angeles Superior Court in Los Angeles, Calif. on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Pool Photo via AP)

Danny Masterson, at middle in 2020, is charged with raping three girls at his Hollywood Hills house between 2001 and 2003. (Lucy Nicholson / Pool Photograph)

The 2 sides agree on one factor: The Church of Scientology will not be on trial.

But, when prosecutors and actor Danny Masterson’s protection staff met in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom just lately for a remaining assembly earlier than Masterson’s rape trial, a lot of the authorized wrangling was over the function the controversial faith would play within the proceedings.

Masterson’s legal professionals needed Los Angeles Superior Courtroom Choose Charlaine Olmedo to bar any point out of Scientology all through the trial, which is predicted to start Tuesday. Reinhold Mueller, a prosecutor within the district legal professional’s workplace, argued that he ought to have free rein to invoke Scientology.

Masterson, a Scientologist, is charged with raping three girls between 2001 and 2003. The ladies allege he plied them with alcohol and sexually assaulted them at his Hollywood Hills house.

The ladies have been additionally members of Scientology and declare that church officers tried to cease them from reporting Masterson to police.

One accuser testified that when she reported the rape to Scientology officers, she was advised “to not use the ‘R-word.'” One other testified {that a} lawyer for Scientology got here to her house and warned that she could be expelled from the church if she went to authorities about Masterson.

“We’re going to work out how one can not lose your daughter,” the legal professional advised the lady’s father, in line with her testimony.

“The trial will not be about Scientology. The trial is about Danny Masterson. However that being stated, the info of what occurred, why sure issues occurred, who was concerned … it’s so interwoven that sure components of the trial will essentially must contain Scientology,” stated Brian Kent, who represents Masterson’s accusers in a civil lawsuit they introduced towards the church and Masterson.

Masterson, who gained some degree of superstar for his function within the widespread sitcom “That ’70s Present,” faces a long time in jail if he’s convicted of raping the ladies.

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At a preliminary listening to final yr, every of the ladies testified, recounting the alleged assaults in graphic element. One claimed Masterson threatened her with a gun as he raped her whereas she pale out and in of consciousness.

“You’re not gonna f—g inform anyone,” she recalled him saying.

One other accuser stated she had awoken to Masterson, her boyfriend on the time, penetrating her. When she tried to cease him by pulling his hair, he hit her within the face, she testified.

The Instances doesn’t title victims of alleged sexual assault except they select to determine themselves.

Scientology practices have been scrutinized in the course of the preliminary listening to. Masterson’s accusers testified a couple of vary of matters, together with the faith’s “Worldwide Justice Chief,” described because the church’s final authority, and “wog-law,” a time period the church makes use of dismissively to check with the secular world’s police and courts.

However that was not in entrance of a jury.

With impressionable jurors set to find out Masterson’s destiny, his legal professional Phillip Cohen argued on the listening to earlier this month that the actor’s proximity to the much-maligned faith shall be used to color him as responsible by affiliation.

“It’s disingenuous to say the federal government will not be inserting Scientology on trial,” Cohen advised Olmedo. He added that being compelled to battle over Scientology doctrine will make the trial an unfair “struggle on two fronts” and urged the choose enable solely nonspecific references to “the church.”

Prosecutors countered that Scientology, based by L. Ron Hubbard within the Fifties, is prime to all the pieces the ladies went by way of and ought to be talked about by title at trial.

“It is about their total life being wrapped up on this church,” Dept. Dist. Atty. Reinhold Mueller stated on the Oct. 3 listening to. “If they do not comply with sure insurance policies … they lose that total life.

“It isn’t simply so simple as not speaking about Scientology,” he added, saying jurors could be confused if the prosecution referred to Scientology merely as a church.

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Prosecutors additionally sought the choose’s permission to have a former Scientologist testify as an knowledgeable witness in regards to the construction of the group and the way it operates.

Olmedo struck a center floor in her ruling.

Saying the church’s “tentacles” undeniably attain into many aspects of the trial, she excluded the prosecution’s proposed knowledgeable, however discovered that the faith is related. She rejected Cohen’s argument that it shouldn’t be named due to destructive views jurors might have.

“Proof introduced in legal instances typically contain topic issues that lots of the public view with disdain, together with gangs, weapons and violence,” Olmedo stated. “The truth that any particular person has a destructive view of any specific material doesn’t, per se, render that individual unfit to function a juror.”

The accusers can clarify how Scientology led them to delay reporting their sexual assaults to police, Olmedo stated. She added that they may inform jurors about their perception that church coverage prohibits reporting crimes dedicated by different Scientologists to regulation enforcement.

The Church of Scientology declined to touch upon the pending legal matter, however claimed that the faith has no coverage towards reporting crimes dedicated by Scientologists to regulation enforcement.

“Church coverage explicitly calls for Scientologists abide by all legal guidelines of the land,” spokeswoman Karin Pouw stated.

The courtroom is performing a balancing act, letting in references to Scientology the place it’s essential to provide context, whereas not permitting the case to devolve right into a trial inside a trial, stated Lou Shapiro, a protection legal professional and former public defender in Los Angeles County.

“Judges are reluctant to let trials go down rabbit holes,” Shapiro stated.

Olmedo in contrast the case to the 2011 rape prosecution of Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. The tenets of the Mormonism offshoot have been admitted at trial to supply context for why a 15-year-old woman and a 12-year-old woman submitted to rapes by the hands of Jeffs, Olmedo stated.

In response to an inventory of potential witnesses filed in courtroom, prosecutors plan to name Brie Shaffer, an actress and high-ranking Scientologist who has defended Masterson on social media prior to now. Additionally they might name Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis Presley’s daughter, a Scientologist who reportedly left the church in 2014.

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Mike Rinder, a former high-ranking member who left the church in 2007, stated Scientologists concerned in different legal instances have been relocated by church officers outdoors a courtroom’s jurisdiction to maintain them from testifying.

“There are particular individuals who apparently are very integral to the occasions … and I ponder if they’ll seem on the trial,” Rinder stated.

The three girls alleging Masterson raped them are additionally plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed towards the Church of Scientology in 2019. They are saying they have been harassed and stalked by Scientology after reporting Masterson to police. The go well with will transfer ahead after the legal trial.

The ladies declare that representatives of Scientology adopted them, got here to their houses and went by way of their trash in an try and intimidate them.

One claims within the go well with that her canine might have been poisoned to demise by representatives of the church.

Masterson’s legal professionals fought to maintain the allegations of stalking and harassment from the civil case out of the legal trial.

“We’re speaking about allegedly killing folks’s pets,” Karen Goldstein, one other legal professional for Masterson, stated on the listening to Oct. 3. “The one factor the jury may use this proof to actually think about could be emotional bias to convict Mr. Masterson primarily based on the conduct of this alleged, uncharged co-defendant of the Church.”

Goldstein famous that prosecutors had turned over to the protection a photograph of the “admittedly … very cute little canine.”

Olmedo dominated there was to be no point out of the canine. The ladies, she determined, can converse usually phrases in regards to the alleged harassment or stalking, however that they can’t go into element of particular incidents.

Instances workers writers James Queally and Matthew Ormseth contributed to this report.

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Instances.

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