Tom Mesereau and Sharon Appelbaum, Danny Masterson’s previous lawyers before they were ousted from the actor’s defense team, have been sanctioned for leaking confidential discovery material to the Church of Scientology.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charlaine Olmedo on Wednesday found that Meseareau and Applebaum shared criminal discovery related to claims from Masterson’s accusers that they are being stalked and harassed. That discovery was shared with Vicki Podberesky, an attorney defending the church in a civil suit from the women who used the information to lodge a complaint against the lead prosecutors in the trial that they were soliciting false testimony to convict Masterson.
In the order, Olmedo also concluded that the church’s complaint was “demonstrably false.”
Before Masterson was convicted in May of raping two women at his Los Angeles home in the early 2000s, with the jury failing to reach a decision on another forcible rape charge in a split verdict, it was revealed that a lawyer representing the church in a civil case from the accusers who also tried to intervene in the actor’s trial had obtained criminal discovery material. The information included reports, photos and texts that showed the addresses and license plate numbers of the women, among other things.
In 12 letters from the church to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore citing the discovery, Podberesky also called for criminal inquiries to be opened into the detectives who investigated Masterson for allegedly failing to follow up on its claims that Masterson’s accusers filed false police reports. She also claimed their testimony was biased against the church. Attached to its complaint was a link to a folder that contained a bulk of the prosecution’s discovery that was provided to Masterson’s criminal defense team.
Philip Cohen, Shawn Holley and Karen Goldstein, Masterson’s defense team during the trial, denied that they were the source of the leak. Holley indicated that she believes it came from the actor’s prior legal counsel.
During a hearing on Wednesday investigating the source of the leak, Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller said that most of the discovery the church obtained was produced between March and December 2021, when Mesereau was Masterson’s lead counsel. He urged the court to impose sanctions, arguing the documents were turned over with the intent to intimidate law enforcement officers and the accusers.
Letting the conduct go unpunished, he explained, will have a “chilling effect” on accusers who come to law enforcement. “These are experienced lawyers. They know this,” he said referring to discovery procedure. “These are rules they’ve been around for a long time.”
The defense from Mesereau and Appelbaum was grounded in arguments that Olmedo never issued an order barring them from sharing discovery.
“The court made a number of statements without question saying that it would not allow certain discovery and that discovery didn’t happen,” said Edith Matthai, Mesereau’s lawyer. “What is being alleged as being shared is discovery that was allowed, and there was no order or statement that I’ve seen anywhere in any transcript that says that discovery cannot be shared for purposes of the civil actions.”
The judge, however, found that the defense’s position “flies in the face of both statutory and caselaw authority” and “thwarts Marsy’s law, legislative intent, governmental and privacy interests; and most importantly is contrary to this Court’s previous findings and orders.” Responding to assertions that she didn’t order a blanket prohibition on sharing of discovery material, she said she “made numerous statements during contested discovery hearings repeatedly telling the defense that the criminal discovery process would not be used for discovery in civil cases.” Her words, she explained, are “lawful orders.”
In April 2021 discovery hearings, Olmedo stated that “Scientology is not a party to these proceedings” and that “We are not going to litigate the civil case in the criminal case nor is discovery that is relevant or more relevant to the civil case going to be a basis for obtaining discovering here in the criminal case.” She’s also rejected previous bids by the defense to obtain discovery that could be helpful to Masterson and the church in the civil suit, including a demand for a number of items she found “had nothing to do with the criminal case.” She wrote in the ruling, which cites a transcript of the August 2021 hearing, “It appears to the Court that not only is defendant trying to obtain material that would be helpful in the civil case, it appears to the Court that defendant is using the criminal process to try to obtain materials that he would otherwise never be entitled to obtain in the civil case and thus, he is using the criminal process to another end than that it is to be used for.” Additionally, Olmedo stated of Masterson’s attorneys in the civil and criminal cases in a September 2022 hearing, “I am finding they are two distinct teams and have two distinct interests… So free flow of confidential information isn’t necessarily protected between the two.”
Lawyers for plaintiffs in the civil case against Masterson and the church asked for access to the leaked discovery materials to determine the information being used to harass their clients. They also moved for a court order barring parties from further sharing the documents.
While she had notice of the hearing, Podberesky didn’t appear. Olmedo said that she lacks the authority to compel her to do anything or sanction her because she’s not a party to the criminal case. Podberesky attempted to intervene earlier in Masterson’s criminal case as an “officer of the court,” arguing that the grand jury subpoena should be turned over to the defense since it could provide impeachment material. The bid was rejected. Lawyers at Podberesky’s firm have attended nearly every proceeding in the criminal case, according to Olmedo.
Mesereau, who also represented Cosby in criminal proceedings and secured an acquittal for Michael Jackson in 2005, declined to comment.
Masterson will be sentenced on Aug. 4. He faces 30 years to life in prison.