SFWeekly Feature
Sign of the Cult-Buster (Page 6)

In 2003, San Anselmo police pulled a political banner from the side of Ford Greene's law office. The sign supported a friend of Greene who was running for a seat on the Town Council of nearby Fairfax.

After Greene sued San Anselmo, saying his free speech rights were violated, the town passed a new sign ordinance. It declared that residents couldn't have more than one sign bigger than 6 square feet. Greene circumvented the law by stringing together a series of 16 "signs," inches apart, that, in sum, covered about 100 square feet. In a ruling favorable to him, a judge declared that the town could limit the size of signs, not the number.

San Anselmo officials insist that their response to the sign has nothing to do with Greene's provocative political messages. "We're being as fair to him as anyone else," Mayor Peter Breen says.

Yet the dispute clearly has political overtones.

A chief opponent of the sign, attorney John Newell, a partner in the San Francisco office of Latham & Watkins, has been openly critical of the content of its messages. In an e-mail to the San Anselmo Town Council earlier this year, he accused Greene of using the sign to "regularly incite people to commit violent acts," an accusation that Greene dismisses as "the ranting of an uptight Republican." Newell declined to comment for this article.

In August, Newell helped persuade the town's Planning Commission to revoke a previous variance it had granted to Greene to keep the sign in place. Since then, Greene and the town's elected officials, who acknowledge having spent $50,000 so far on legal fees in the dispute, have declared a temporary truce in hopes of working out a compromise.

As part of the cease-fire, Greene agreed to use only about half of the sign's available space for messages. Meanwhile, he has added his name to the list of candidates for the Town Council in November. As a prelude to his campaign, Greene invited the public to a "free speech soul party" at his place. About 150 people showed up. The invitation, as displayed on the sign, read "Eat an Oyster. Meet the Hoister."


In his anti-cult crusade, however, Greene exhibits little mellowness or tendency toward compromise. He wears the derision of his critics as a badge of honor. "It tells me that I've made a mark; that I've gotten to them," he says. In his usual work attire of blue jeans and a sweat shirt, he looks remarkably boyish, not at all like a 52-year-old lawyer who is due in court in a couple of hours. It's noon, his part-time assistant is at lunch, and he's sifting through stacks of legal briefs while recounting his most recent skirmish with the Scientologists.

The case involved a young San Francisco woman who sued the church after claiming that a former Scientology official in Mountain View used her as a sex slave with the knowledge of local church officials. The woman contended in a court declaration that she was raped and sodomized dozens of times over the course of a year after being ordered by her Scientology superiors to move into the one-bedroom apartment of the man accused of assaulting her. As part of a deal with prosecutors, the man pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery in 2003 and was sentenced to prison.

The lawsuit was recently settled, but a confidentiality agreement bars Greene, who represented the woman, from talking about it. He suspects (but can't prove) that his acceptance of the Mountain View case, his first legal tangle with Scientology in years, is linked to the Internet smear campaign that the Friends of San Anselmo have run against him. "They saw the chance to discredit me, and they took it," says Greene, who doesn't shy away from his controversial and colorful personal history.

In fact, he says, by throwing all his missteps onto the Web, his enemies have done him an unintentional political favor.

"I'm a man with no skeletons in the closet," he says. "They're all dancing around in public."

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Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360 ford@fordgreene.com