Editor Risks Jail Rather Than Pay Narconon Court Costs

The Associated Press,
4 July 1992


NEWKIRK, Okla. (AP): Local citizens have opened their wallets in support of a newspaper editor ordered to pay the costs a controversial drug treatment center incurred in forcing him to reveal information about sources for stories on the facility.

"Bob has gone out on a limb to make sure everyone knows what has transpired with Narconon and the Church of Scientology," said Newkirk Mayor Garry Bilger. "We really appreciate what he has done."

Citizens intend to pay the court fees, and already have collected $1,800, Bilger said.

District Judge Daniel Owens in Oklahoma County ordered Robert Lobsinger of the Newkirk Herald Journal on June 9 to pay $2,150.32 in attorney fees to Narconon Chilocco.

Narconon is fighting a state effort to close the unlicensed drug-treatment center, on Indian land near Kansas.

Lobsinger and his 1,500-circulation newspaper have done extensive stories on Narconon and its ties to the Church of Scientology.

The Oklahoma Press Association will defend Lobsinger if the editor asks for its help, OPA manager Ben Blackstock said.

"Narconon jumped in and tried to silence (Lobsinger) in my opinion," Blackstock said.

Lobsinger said he'll go to jail rather than pay Narconon's costs.

"I just cannot in good faith pay for this," Lobsinger said. "If they come and get me and take me to jail, I guess that's what will happen. But there's a principle."

District Judge Daniel Owens in Oklahoma County ordered Lobsinger on June 9 to pay $2,150.32 in attorney fees to Narconon Chilocco.

Oklahoma County District Judge Leamon Freeman in February granted Narconon's request to take Lobsinger's deposition on his interviews with state Mental Health Board members about the center.

"The next thing I knew, I was served with a subpoena asking for three years of my phone records, all my contacts, all my correspondence, videotapes and all my notes," Lobsinger said. "Frankly, it scared me."

Marie Evans, attorney with the Oklahoma City law firm representing Narconon, said her side did not mean the subpoenas to be invasive. "We never intended to ask for more than the production of the documents Judge Freeman outlined," Ms. Evans said.

Lobsinger cited the shield law, which protects journalists from revealing some sources, in refusing to give the deposition.

On a motion from Narconon, Owens directed the editor to give the deposition but said Narconon attorneys could ask Lobsinger only about the interviews with state Mental Health Board members.

Owens' June order directed Lobsinger to pay Narconon attorneys' costs of motions against Lobsinger and their car rental to drive to Newkirk to get the deposition.

"The time and expense involved in obtaining what turned out to be a fairly short and simple deposition was oppressive to the plaintiff and cannot be condoned by the court," Owens said in his order.

Lobsinger gave the deposition. He said the order to pay Narconon's legal costs was unfair, but he can't afford to appeal it.

Oklahoma's shield law has never been tested in court, Blackstock said. Lobsinger's case would have been a good time for the OPA to test it, he said.