There were two state prosecutors at the trial of Scientology: Christophe Caliman, who had followed the investigation for more than a decade; and Jean-Pascal Thoreau, who as well as handling high-profile cases in also acts a media spokesman for the federal prosecutors office. So far, Caliman had taken the lead and he did so again with defendant Hilde N.*
Investigators had established that Hilde, as a Field Staff Member (FSM), had been receiving a 15-percent commission for the courses and materials that she had sold. Caliman asked her about the difference between a staff member and a Field Staff Member.
Not every Scientologist could make the commitment to be a staff member, as she had for a few years, said Hilde. But if you did want to spread the word about Scientology, you could sell Hubbard’s books and other materials to friends and family. “Mr. Ron Hubbard developed a system to reward people like that.”
Once she had completed her commitments as a member of staff, she became a Field Staff Member, “as anyone who wants to be can be,” she said.
In fact, when she herself had first got into Scientology, it had been via a Field Staff Member: the woman she had mentioned earlier in her testimony, the one she had met on the training course. It was she who had sold her her first books and training courses, she said.
Over the years, this woman had accompanied her during her progress in Scientology because that was also their role: it was a kind of “buddy” system, in which the more experienced Scientologist gave her protégé the benefit of her experience.
Earlier, said Caliman, she had spoken of consent forms. Why were they required? Hilde said she did not understand the question, so the prosecutor tried again.
“Why does the Church of Scientology seek the consent of persons and in what context?” he asked. Judge Régimont stepped in: this was a reference to the consent forms that members signed relating to the data gathered during auditing sessions. “Why do you sign consent forms?”
“I have to think,” she replied. “It’s been a long time.” Most of all, she said, it was to inform people. She mentioned her fellow defendant, Myriam Z, again. Her introduction of consent forms was one of the changes she had made to bring the situation into conformity with the law, acting on the advice of a team of lawyers
“We made sure that before people received religious courses, they had to know what they were getting and what their rights were, and it is normal that people know this,” she said.
The prosecutor continued: the defendant had said that people came to be helped, and that she herself had been helped; that everything was done on a voluntary basis and that one could accept or refuse auditing, as one wished. “Does Madame confirm this?”
It was a question of context, said Hilde. Auditing was for the benefit of the person being audited; it was not about collecting data, she said. So if she was being audited, it was not about the auditor wanting to learn things about her; it was her wanting to have a chance of seeing things in a different way.
But the prosecutor was not satisfied. “My question is not to know the aims of auditing, but if a person can refuse it. Yes or no?”
Her response was still not to the point, so the judge stepped in again. The auditor – “Excuse me,” he said, correcting himself – the prosecutor was asking a fairly clear question. “Can a person in auditing say ‘I am not answering that question’. Yes or no? I think the question is clear so I think the answer should be.”
“Yes,” said Hilde. “A person can say ‘No, I am not answering that question’.”
“Without being punished?” asked the prosecutor.
“That I don’t know,” she answered: she was not qualified in that area.
“Déloyale!” a defence lawyer protested.
The prosecutor Caliman, referring to a document, quoted a Hubbard Communications Office Policy Letter (HCOPL), one of those that Scientology’s founder Hubbard had written setting out punishments for offences committed within the Church.
Listed as a minor offence was refusal to tell your “overts” (things you had done wrong). And anyone who refused to confess, Hubbard had written, should be put in the hands of an ethics officer. In Scientology, ethics officers ensure that Hubbard’s rules are followed.
Caliman read out a series of numbers, the box and file references for this particular document, but there was consternation among the defence lawyers. There were mutterings of “Déloyale!” (unfair) and more than one lawyer stepped forward, in a bid to address the court.
One lawyer protested that this document, from the prosecutor’s vast stock of paperwork, had nothing to do with this particular defendant. His point seemed to be that two separate criminal investigations had been merged into the single trial: but this document appeared to be from the part that did not concern Hilde N.
Maître Pierre Monville stood up to express what a number of his colleagues on the defence side seemed to think. “The lawyers in the Cause Two are not concerned by the elements of Cause One,” he said.
This was déloyale, unfair, on the part of the prosecutor, he added, and he was giving fair warning that it was délicat – tricky – to rely on documents from one side of the case to prosecute the other. Neither the defence lawyers concerned, nor indeed their clients, had had sight of them. “And if he raises this in his closing argument, it is a problem.”
Judge Régimont intervened. He thought that the prosecutor had referred to this in another document that concerned Me. Monville’s case papers. He nevertheless noted the objection, without ruling one way or another. But it was clear to him, he added, that a defendant could not answer to something in the part of the case that did not concern them.
Judge Régimont dictated one of his regular memos to the court clerk to the effect that the defence formally objected to the document being attached to the file. “It is not as if he came to court with a document that is not known,” he added. But the defence position was that this document had no standing in this context. “I understand your reaction,” he told the defence lawyers. The defendant, Hilde N., could not be pulled into the other half of the case.
The defence had just fired a shot across bow of the prosecutor, warning him that they would attack him on procedural grounds if he tried to use this document against this client. Caliman was unrepentant. He had produced the text for the convenience of everyone, he said, waving it at them.
“Déloyale!” protested a defence lawyer.
He may only have quoted extracts of these documents, he said, but these texts existed and many of them appeared in Hubbard’s book Introduction to Scientology Ethics. The text was among the documents seized by investigators and had been entered into the record: “And this is what Scientologists spend their lives studying,” he added.
There were several more minutes of back and forth with that, as Me. Monville, for the defence, suggested, with the greatest possible respect of course, that Monsieur Le Procureur was trying to pull a fast one. It was not acceptable for the prosecutor to cherry-pick passages from Hubbard’s writings (in what was already a massive file) and try to impose his interpretation of what had been written.
“My aim is not to ambush the defence,” said the prosecutor.
This was an issue that affected all the defendants, he warned: the prosecution should take heed of their formal objection. And if he was going to quote any more such passages, the defence should be given the full references in advance.
Caliman raised his hands, almost as if to show he had nothing up the sleeves of his legal robes: “I have no problem with that,” he said. “My aim is not to ambush the defence.”
“I’m sure the defence will be putting its side,” said Judge Régimont. But again, he took note of the objections.
The message was clear on both sides: the prosecution would be making full use of the Hubbard letters that Hubbard had written and which had been seized during the police raids of Scientology offices. For him and his colleague Thoreau, these documents told a different story to the one the defendants had so far advanced.
For its part, the defence would be formally objecting to any attempt to bring documents from one half of the investigation over to the other as that would prejudice the right of their clients to a fair trial; and they would challenge any partial interpretation of Hubbard’s writings advanced by the prosecution based on selective quotes. Lines were being drawn in the sand.
Caliman resumed his questioning of Hilde N.
This time he referred to the notes from when Hilde N. had been questioned by investigators in November 2007. She had said then that she knew nothing about disciplinary measures taken against parishioners during her presidency.
And then he referred to another document from the thousands seized by investigators: in this one, the defendant had signed an ethics order putting staff in a Condition of Danger because its stats were down. (Caliman did not explain, but the Condition of Danger is part of the ethics conditions devised by Hubbard.) There was mention too of Overts and Withholds and a report to an ethics officer.
Caliman asked: Did these documents not contradict her testimony?
“I was not informed of that document and I don’t remember it either,” she replied. “and I want to add what M. [Vincent] G. said yesterday: we first of all need to put things in context.” She no longer knew what that context was, she said “...and for the rest, I no longer remember.” She was referring to the arguments about context advanced by her fellow defendant Vincent G. on the first day of the trial.
As he did for any point he thought especially worthy of attention, Judge Régimont had the court clerk record the exchange. “After a question put by the Prosecutor relating to an ethics order signed by Hilde N., the defendant no longer remembers what it is about, nor the context. Noté.”
“She is credible,” said her lawyer. “What she said then is what she says now.”
Now it was the turn of her lawyer, Maître Johan Scheers.
During the legal arguments earlier, Me. Scheers had been checking his files. He reminded the court that he had argued during procedural hearings in the Chambre de Conseil that preceded the trial that certain documents should have been translated from French to Flemish for her benefit. This latest dispute rather made his point for him, he suggested. But no matter: he had found the transcript of what she had told investigators and, contrary to what the prosecutor seemed to be suggesting, it matched what she had said in court.
Even then, she had told investigators that she could no longer remember, said Me. Scheers. So far as the BZ family was concerned – the family that the judge had asked her about earlier – she had seen them perhaps three times. It had been a French-speaking colleague who had taken care of them, she told investigators: just as she had said in court.
Earlier, the judge had raised the issue of her credibility, and her lawyer was addressing that question now. “She is credible,” said Me. Scheers. “What she said then is what she says now.” Perhaps the only thing she had added was her suggestion to the judge that she might have spoke to the family in English rather than French.
He had one question that he would like to put to his client, he said. Judge Régimont had no objection, and relayed the question: it was simply to establish that she had not been active on staff in Scientology in 2003: that she had written two letters of resignation at the end of 2002 asking to step down for health reasons. The defendant confirmed that that was the case.
And just so there was no misunderstanding, added Me. Scheers: did those health problems have anything to do with Scientology’s Purification Rundown? None, she confirmed. The question was important given that some of the defendants are on trial for the illegal practice of medicine.
Before she stepped down from the stand, she made a point of thanking her interpreters for their work.
* While Belgian law allows me to identify the defendants, most of the news media here choose not to do that. After consulting with local colleagues, I was told that the convention is to wait until the judgment. It seems only reasonable to respect that practice.