Earle Cooley, the best friend anyone could ever ask to have, left this world in October of this year. During many of the hard times we went through together, Earle spoke to me half-jokingly about reaching Valhalla, the mythical Norse after-world where fallen heroes go. Earle used to describe it to me as he envisioned it – a jovial pub where warriors would smoke, drink and tell war stories. Anybody who ever had the privilege of hearing Earle tell a story knows how enjoyable that could be.
Earle Cooley was a warrior in the most honorable sense of the word. Honorable warriors have big hearts. Earle had a heart the size of a barn.
I hired Earle to work for the Church in 1984. In addition to being one of America’s most accomplished trial lawyers, his brand of insouciance was uplifting and infectious. In his gravelly, booming voice he seemed to always be able to sum up a situation with a witty line. In our very first meeting in Boston, Earle described a fellow opposing us like this, “You’ve got to understand, the man is no ordinary thief. He’d steal the stove and come back for the smoke.”
Earle lit up any room he entered and he went out of his way to cheer up folks – especially little or powerless ones. Here is a conversation – as best as I can recall – he had in Portland 1985 with a crestfallen cabbie who drove us cross town one evening.
Cabbie: Say, are you a lawyer?
Cabbie: I got a real problem, can you help me out?
Earle: Try me.
Cabbie: Some son of a bitch is claiming a right of way through my property and is using my land as a god damn driveway. I went to a lawyer, and got all sorts of run around.
Earle: I don’t do driveways.
Earle: But, I’ll tell you what, if you want to make sure the guy stays off your property, get yourself a Louisville Slugger (baseball bat) and next time he comes through, do what you gotta do. Then you might be facing an A & B (assault and battery) rap. That, I can sink my teeth into.
The cabbie almost ran the car off the road he was laughing so hard. He thanked Earle profusely for making the problem seem so ridiculous and lightening up his evening.
After Earle got the Christofferson case verdict nullified by winning a mistrial motion, he received perhaps the last handwritten despatch ever written by L. Ron Hubbard. In large sweeping script it read simply:
Earle always treasured that acknowledgment.
I never met such a stand up guy as Earle Cooley, never. No matter how bad the pressure from above, no matter how vilified by executives, no matter how easy it would have been on numerous heated occasions to blame a staff member for something that went wrong in a case, Earle would never do so. To the contrary, I saw him defend staff from executives many times and several times I saw him assert a staff member’s error to be his own just in order to prevent the staff member from receiving punishment.
It will likely take several chapters to give my experience with Earle the context and meaning it deserves, and I can’t do that here. But, I want to dispel one misconception that I know exists in the minds of many observers. Earle was hung with several major losses the church suffered in the courts, starting most notably with the Wollersheim trial and verdict of 1986.
Here is what really happened. Earle Cooley did an amazing job handling the plaintiff’s case in chief. For several weeks he worked around the clock preparing with staff and each day he did a masterful job of cross examination. So much so that at mid trial, when the plaintiff had rested and while the court entertained motions by the defense, Wollersheim and his counsel wanted to settle the case.
No case could be settled without Miscavige’s authorization. At the time, early 1986, Miscavige was consumed with jockeying Broeker out the cat bird’s seat and he was making himself scarce to me as Legal Exec Author Service’s Inc and Earle. Notwithstanding Earle’s great performance he never let his ego surpass his intelligence. He understood that while a very good record was being made, the jury was lost after having gotten weeks of testimony on Fair Game. Earle negotiated a settlement with Wollersheim’s attorney. The case would be dismissed for $500,000.
Earle, through me, proposed to Miscavige that we accept. Miscavige, without ever meeting or talking with Earle, said that we could settle it only if Wollersheim agreed to put in writing that Scientology is not a fraud. Earle and I both understood such a statement as part of a 1/2 million dollar settlement would be meaningless. Nonetheless, Earle dutifully carried out the client’s wishes. Sure enough, Wollersheim and his attorney flatly refused. Earle pleaded with me to use my best efforts to convince Miscavige to come off this arbitrary. He told me to make sure that Miscavige knew that Earle, who was scheduled for an angioplasty procedure, would not even be physically able to handle presenting the defense case and closing out the trial. I did my best, but Miscavige, in his inimitable style, would hear none of it. I’ll save the invective he directed at me and Earle out of respect for the latter. The rest is history. Without Earle at the helm we got hit for 30 Million dollars. Earle took the loss on his own shoulders never once attempting to shift the blame. In fact, Earle Cooley won the Wollersheim case in my book.
And the world should know that Earle Cooley in similar fashion won every other legal matter he handled for the church thereafter, even though the church took heavy public losses. It wasn’t Earle – it was the client, each and every time. Earle – being the professional he is – just kept serving up pearls before swine.
I’ll share one story that I believe captures Earle’s character. Once in the early nineties I sat at counsel table handling Earle’s files in a critical hearing. We were before Federal Judge Spencer Letts in LA bringing a motion to recuse Judge Ideman in the RTC, CSI vs. Mayo, et al case. The Mayo case was turning into a train wreck for the church, and I was under orders not to bother coming out of the courthouse without the recusal in hand. Earle knew I was under heavy pressure. Letts started out telling Earle he only had a given amount of time – and it was short and before he could complete his argument, Letts told him to sit down. Earle looked at me and I guess saw the desperation in my eyes, turned back toward the Judge and kept on arguing. The Judge ordered the Federal Marshalls to escort Earle out of the courthouse – one on each arm. I then stood and kept the argument going before Earle was out the door. I kept it up for several minutes before opposing counsel complained to the judge that I was not a lawyer. I too was escorted out by the Marshalls.
When I was released at the front door I mosied up to Earle who was sitting dejectedly on the courthouse steps. While offering me a smoke, he noticed how disappointed I looked, and said with his huge grin, “Marty, I saw you handling Letts. You could talk a cat out of a herring.”
The cheer up didn’t last long, because the inevitable phone call came demanding the debrief. I walked away so that Earle wouldn’t have to hear the profanities and denigration spewing out the ear phone. But Earle knew what was happening. When I returned to my seat on the steps beside him, we both looked into the street blankly. Then Earle patted me on the back and said, “don’t worry my friend, we’ll get to Valhalla yet.”
While my stories are necessarily personal to me, realize that Earle performed his herculean tasks out of love for LRH, the technology he created, and humanity as a whole.
To Jeanie, Chris, Eddie and Harry, if there is anything you need, I am at your service, 24/7/365.
Earle, save me a seat at your table in Valhalla. It may take me a while to earn it, but by then I’ll have many stories to share.