February 23, 2015
Stephanie S. Abrutyn, Esq.
Vice President and Senior Counsel
Home Box Office, Inc.
Re: Cathy Bernardini
We represent Cathy Bernardini and the Church of Scientology International (”CSI”) with respect to this matter. We understand that HBO is screening a documentary by Alex Gibney that contains false and misleading representations about Ms. Bernardini including statements made by her ex-husband Mike Rinder who physically abused her.
Incredibly, HBO authorized the screening of these statements without making any attempt to verify them with Ms. Bernardini herself. Instead, it chose to rely solely on claims made by her abusive ex-husband, who five years ago physically attacked her so severely that he caused lacerations, bruises, nerve damage, and a shoulder injury that required Ms. Bernardini to undergo surgery. She still has not fully recovered. Now, HBO and Mr. Gibney are endorsing Mr. Rinder and giving him a nationwide platform to further attack, mentally and emotionally, his ex-wife with whom he has two children—falsely accusing her of being imprisoned, of mindlessly parroting and acting at the dictates of Church leadership, of having no free will of her own, and of lying for the Church. In so doing, this documentary fails to satisfy basic journalistic standards and perpetuates an ex-husband's cycle of abuse. HBO and Mr. Gibney cannot sanction Ms. Bernardini's ex-husband's false statements. They should immediately be removed from this film.
I will discuss briefly the relevant facts, which HBO and Mr. Gibney have apparently either ignored or failed to investigate.
Ms. Bernardini has worked for the Church of Scientology since 1970. She was married to Mr. Rinder for 36 years. She is the mother of his two eldest children. Mr. Rinder was removed from his position in the Church close to 15 years ago due to misconduct, and then years later, while on temporary assignment in London, abandoned his wife and family without notice. Ms. Bernardini was deeply concerned by his sudden disappearance, fearing that he had been injured or worse. She only later learned that he left her and the rest of his family deliberately. He then wrote her to demand that she join him; she wrote back refusing to desert her children or leave the Church.
Despite her husband's abandonment, Ms. Bernardini continued to reach out to him. When their son developed life threatening melanoma, she tried to visit him in Denver to discuss their son's condition. He refused to meet with her. Only after their son underwent several major, painful operations and radiotherapy did Mr. Rinder appear—in attendance with a camera crew, creating a scene at which point he was cited for trespassing and his son told the police he had no wish to see his father considering the circumstances.
In 2010, Ms. Bernardini traveled to Florida with their daughter, Mr. Rinder's brother, and several other people who had worked with him for years to see him. In response to Ms. Bernardini's attempt to reach out to him in person, Mr. Rinder screamed at her, calling her a “bitch,” and physically attacked her. He grabbed her arms, crushing them with his keys in his hand and twisting them so hard she thought her arms would break. He caused lacerations, bruises, nerve damage, and a shoulder injury to Ms. Bernardini that required painful physical therapy and eventually surgery. A physician who examined her injuries confirmed that they were consistent with physical abuse. Despite the surgery and years of physical therapy, Ms. Bernardini has still not regained the full use of her shoulder and suffers regular pain.
Mr. Rinder has not seen or spoken with Ms. Bernardini in the five years since he physically attacked her. Nonetheless, Mr. Rinder claimed as of very recently that Ms. Bernardini has been parroting claims from Church leaders, that she lives in a prison from which she may only come out of at the instruction of the Church to refute Mr. Rinder's claims, and that she robotically acts at Church dictates and has no free will of her own. None of these claims are true in the least.
In light of these facts, including Mr. Rinder's motive to justify his abusive behavior, and tendency toward showmanship (including bringing a camera crew to where his son was recovering from prolonged and painful cancer treatment), one would expect HBO and Mr. Gibney to skeptically investigate Mr. Rinder's self-serving claims about his ex-wife. In fact, they had the opportunity to do so. Ms. Bernardini and her daughter flew to New York to discuss these facts and her personal experience with the Church with HBO and Mr. Gibney. For three days their pleas were ignored. HBO and Mr. Gibney refused to speak with her, relied only on Mr. Rinder, and used a misleadingly edited clip from CNN with Mr. Rinder's false and misleading commentary in its documentary about Ms. Bernardini, a private individual.
Contrary to the claims in the documentary, Ms. Bernardini was operating of her own free will, is not imprisoned, and was not parroting something anyone told her to say. Mr. Rinder's false claims about Ms. Bernardini not only unfairly and wrongfully harm her reputation, but understandably have caused her emotional and mental anguish—a harm further magnified by the fact that Mr. Rinder physically abused her after abandoning her and their family without notice.
We therefore ask that HBO and Mr. Gibney remove these harmful and misleading claims about Ms. Bernardini from this film. These clips from the film are not only false and misleading, but perpetuate the cycle of harm against a private person by her ex-husband. There is no place for this in any “documentary.”
We are hopeful that we can avoid legal action in this matter. Please let us know soon whether HBO will address the issues I have raised here. We reserve all rights.
John C. Hueston
cc: Jay Ward Brown
Levine Sullivan Koch Schulz, LLP