by Dan Kennedy
(Hypertext links by Ron Newman and Thor Iverson)
"He's considered a good, tough lawyer. He loves being in the public eye," says Jerome Facher, a senior litigator for Hale and Dorr, who shared an office with Cooley from 1959 to '62. Facher remembers Cooley's wit and sarcasm, and says that Cooley used to perform a standup routine that was the highlight of Hale and Dorr picnics.
But Hale and Dorr couldn't give Cooley everything he wanted, Facher recalls: the firm wouldn't make Cooley's friend Harry Manion a partner, and it had a policy against hiring members' children, which meant Cooley wouldn't be able to take his son under his wing. So in the mid 1980s Cooley struck out on his own, starting the firm of Cooley, Manion, Moore & Jones. One of his earliest clients was his alma mater. He took on some of BU's toughest cases, and he's proud of it. The university's successful bid to prevent the faculty from unionizing. Its highly publicized battle to prevent Coretta Scott King from reclaiming Martin Luther King Jr.'s papers, a legal victory if not exactly a public-relations triumph.
It's a little past noon in Cooley's sixth-floor office, a couple of blocks from the Custom House. Although he's got to catch a plane to Alabama in a few hours to meet with a client in an asbestos case, he seems relaxed as he leans back in his black leather chair. He's a burly guy with a booming voice, an effect that's accentuated by his expressive blue eyes, which are behind wire-rimmed glasses.
To hear Cooley tell it, the Church of Scientology has been the victim of vicious discrimination and misunderstanding.
Yes, church leaders went to prison in the late 1970s, he says, but the current management has purged the organization and cleaned it up.
Yes, Hubbard made "hyperbolic" statements about "fair game" and the purpose of lawsuits, but those were meant to apply to internal church matters only. And besides, the "fair game" policy was revoked a year after it was announced. ("It is in force, and it is used with the same zeal with which it was used when it was first written," asserts Herbert Rosedale, a New York lawyer and president of the American Family Foundation, an organization that studies Scientology and other cults.)
No, Cooley says, the church doesn't practice "mind control," but it certainly does engage in "behavior modification."
"If there were a religion that didn't try to modify behavior, it wouldn't be doing its job," he says.
No, the church hasn't been sending out forged "cancel" messages, a possible violation of federal law, to erase copyrighted materials from alt.religion.scientology, an interactive discussion group that's part of the Internet's Usenet conferencing system. (Although the church did persuade Interpol last year to raid a Finnish "anonymous remailer" so that it could learn the identity of one of those posters. Some critics fear the church is planning more such raids in the near future.)
"I love Boston University, and I've worked very hard as a trustee for almost 22 years now," Cooley says. "My role as an attorney for the Church of Scientology has never once entered into the performance of my duties as a trustee, and now, as chairman of the board. I'm very sensitive to Boston University being a place of free exchange. I would never try to stifle anybody."
Cooley refuses to discuss whether he is himself a Scientologist, and his gruff, avuncular bluster assumes a harsher edge when he's asked about it.
"I have taken the position that I'm not going to answer that question at any time," he says, "because I've come to view it as a vicious question that one would not ask of anyone else."
But the evidence is pretty strong. A 1985 Washington Post story quoted Cooley as saying that he joined some months after being retained to defend the church because "I found it to be exactly what they had said it was, an applied religious philosophy that works in day-to-day life." And the July/August 1992 American Lawyer story on the church's legal tactics flatly stated that Cooley was a Scientologist. Although Cooley criticized the article in his letter to the editor, he did not dispute the claim that he was a member. Cooley now says he doesn't remember discussing his church membership with either publication. But the reporters who interviewed him -- the Post's Jay Mathews and the American Lawyer's William Horne -- say they distinctly recall his talking about why he became a Scientologist.
Indeed, so closely has Cooley been aligned with the church that Russell Miller, in "Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard" (Holt, 1987), reported that it was Cooley who handled the arrangements for the hush- hush cremation of Hubbard's body in 1986. (True to form, church lawyers accused Miller of copyright infringement in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the book's publication.)
On the BU campus, Cooley's work for the Scientologists has caused barely a ripple of controversy. Jennifer Booth, a student who wrote a lengthy, front-page article about Cooley's Scientology work last fall for BU's student-run Daily Free Press, says the paper received virtually no reaction. "Nobody seems to really care," she says.
Marsh Chapel dean Robert Thornburg, an expert on religious cults who was instrumental in expelling Boston Church of Christ (BCC) recruiters from the campus in 1987, is a critic of Scientology. "In many cases of young people that I know, it has been destructive in terms of mind control," Thornburg says. He adds he's long heard rumors of Cooley's membership in the organization, but says he has never seen proof.
But when asked whether he was uncomfortable with the possibility that a Scientologist is chairing the university's board, Thornburg took a position seemingly at odds with his previous statements. "No, not at all," he replied. "Throughout my whole career, my main concern is freedom of religion on campus. If he were a member of the Hare Krishnas or the Boston Church of Christ, I would be opposed. But lots of people have curious and interesting religious notions and principles." (As for why the BCC was punished while Scientology was not, Thornburg says the BCC is unique in the way it takes advantage of lonely, vulnerable students -- an assertion backed up by Michael Langone, executive director of the American Family Foundation, who says BCC recruiters have been banned from a number of campuses. Both Thornburg and Langone say Scientologists rarely recruit on college campuses, most likely because of the high cost of church courses.)
One of the few BU critics of Cooley's work for Scientology is Ramon Kolb, a graduate engineering student from the Netherlands who says he first became aware of the church's tactics against its Internet critics when he was still living in Holland. Kolb has started a World-Wide Web page that links to other Scientology-related pages, and he hopes to spark a debate.
"I don't want to say this Cooley guy should go, no discussion," Kolb says. "I just want there to be a discussion." So far, though, he admits he's received "zero reaction."
That's not going to change if John Silber, the university's mercurial president, has his way. And he usually does. In a written statement to the Phoenix, Silber made it clear that he's standing behind Cooley, calling it "a blatant violation of academic freedom and open inquiry to establish a religious test for members of the Trustees." And despite being shown Cooley's comments to the Washington Post, Silber wrote that "it has not been established that Mr. Cooley is a member of the Church of Scientology."
Still, Boyle is critical of the church's motives. "In general, I think that using copyright in order to withhold ideas and cut down on debate clearly runs against the goals of the system. I think it's clear that the Church of Scientology is using its copyright and trade secrets to make the debate uninformed and to silence its critics, and I think that's unfortunate." Ron Newman, a Boston-area on-line activist, has put together a massive archive of materials related to the Scientologists' legal cases on the World- Wide Web. Newman has not violated the church's copyright himself. But he essentially refuses to recognize that Scientology is entitled to any copyright protection. Although he doesn't use the phrase, a defense lawyer might call it a "necessity defense" -- the notion that the law must sometimes be broken because of the necessity of preventing a greater harm.
"To me, it's not ethical to use copyright law to keep things secret," Newman says. "If it's illegal, then the law should be changed. Because they're abusing it to keep secrets. That's not what it's designed for."
Despite its victory on copyright grounds in the Lerma case and in other cases, the church has been considerably less successful in protecting what it has been calling its "trade secrets." Trade-secret protection is potentially more sweeping than copyright protection, since it can be invoked to prevent dissemination of an idea; copyright protects only a specific expression of that idea. Scientologists are required to sign nondisclosure agreements when they are shown confidential documents, which has led the church to sue ex- members who talk about what they learned. But increasingly the courts have ruled that because church critics have succeeded in making those ideas public, then Scientology no longer has any basis for claiming them as protected secrets. Cooley argues that such rulings are a "terrible precedent" that reward "lawlessness."
And cyberlibertarian organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are fighting hard to make sure the church fails to establish another precedent it's pushing for: holding Internet-service providers liable for any copyright violations committed by their subscribers. The church sued the Internet services used by Arnie Lerma and by Dennis Erlich, a church critic based in California, claiming they had been warned of their members' activities. Mike Godwin, on-line counsel for the EFF, is hopeful that, ultimately, the courts will agree that Internet services should be held accountable only to the extent that phone companies are.
Back in Alexandria, Virginia, Arnie Lerma is still steaming. The materials he posted were taken from documents entered into the public record as part of a lawsuit brought by the church against a former member. "I was just putting the court record up there," he says. Yet earlier this year Judge Brinkema ruled that Lerma did, indeed, violate Scientology's copyright when he posted the documents on alt.religion.scientology. Lerma's legal defense cost FACTNet some $1 million.
Lerma also claims, in a letter written to Judge Brinkema, that shortly after Cooley left his home, one or more Scientologists doused his toothbrush with LSD. Lerma says he suffered only mild hallucinations because of his habit of thoroughly rinsing off his toothbrush before using it. The alleged motive: destroying Lerma's credibility at a videotaped deposition that was to be conducted several days after the raid. (Lerma provided a copy of his letter to the Phoenix. An official in the court clerk's office confirmed that Brinkema received it and that it has been made part of the public court record.) "Absolute nonsense," says Cooley: "a lie," "a fantasy," "crazy."
Whatever happened, Lerma believes he's involved in a religious war of his own -- a war to save other people from an organization that he says stole 10 years of his life.
"Once you agree to the Hubbardian cosmology, you become almost by magic a fascist," he says. "Hubbard is the only source of information in the entire universe, and everyone else is wrong. Your only rational choice is to destroy the enemies of Scientology. You become willing to die for the cause. I'm frankly willing to die for my cause, too."
Lerma, who says he's suffered for years from chronic-fatigue syndrome, admits to being deeply shaken by the raid, and says matter-of-factly that he's hardly worked during the past year and is probably going to have to sell his home. Nevertheless, he says, he derives considerable satisfaction from what he sees as his effort to expose Scientology for what it is, and he believes he and other critics will triumph in the long run.
"It's over," he says. "They can't stop it. These are just desperate actions. You can say, 'But you lost,' but we're making new law here. We're in uncharted territory. They might win a case. But they're not going to win against the Net. The truth will prevail."