NEWS- Renier slapped: Judge sides with psychic's foe
After more than two decades of bickering, Free Union psychic Noreen Renier and Seattle skeptic John Merrell are about to either resolve their differences– or start squabbling anew with an unprecedented level of vigor.
The subject of the Hook's November 9 cover story, Renier successfully sued Merrell in the 1980s for libel, the only known instance of a psychic successfully beating a detractor in court. But on November 16, federal judge James L. Robart handed down a summary judgment supporting Merrell's allegations that Renier had violated the 1992 settlement agreement, an official ceasefire which had temporarily tamed the tempest.
The settlement had included a $25,000 jury verdict against Merrell, and both parties agreed not to further disparage each other in the media. However, Merrell took offense at Renier's memoir, A Mind For Murder, published in 2005, in which she repeatedly calls him a liar and paints a generally unflattering picture of him.
Noting that the judge tossed out Renier's counter-claims and ruled that she had indeed violated the terms of the truce, Merrell is claiming victory.
"Ms. Renier must be somewhat taken back," says Merrell. "Then again, perhaps her psychic abilities only work when the moon is full and broomsticks are at 70 degrees and heading into the wind."
However, it doesn't appear that buckets of money will soon be coming Merrell's way. In his 23-page opinion filed November 16, the judge dismissed Merrell's attempts to pocket the profits from the book on the grounds that the passages in question weren't long enough to be of much consequence, denied Merrell's attempts to snare Renier in a flesh-and-blood deposition, and revealed that he would entertain only a "nominal" damage award to Merrell.
Devoting two chapters of the book to the dust-up with Merrell in defiance of the ban on further disparagement didn't endear Renier to the judge, who quoted these lines in his ruling: "Merrell was trying to destroy my career and psychic reputation– my life– with his lies." And: "It was hell to sit there and listen to Merrell lie about me to a judge and
Since the judge believed these statements violated the terms of the 1992 truce, Merrell says Renier bears responsibility for the legal fees of both parties, a point he intends to press during the court-ordered mediation session that kicks off on November 21– just as the Hook goes to press.
Renier's attorney, Shelly M. Hall, concedes that there was a legal fees provision to that effect in the settlement, but she's not ready to suggest that Renier write a check. "The case is far from over," says Hall, looking toward the February 6 trial date.
The judge did dismiss Merrell's filing to depose Renier as a "comedy of errors," but Merrell says he's looking forward to trial and indicates his intention to collect the $25,000 he had to pay as part of the earlier agreement.
"The beautiful thing is we roll forward," says a jubilant Merrell, "if it's necessary, with no counterclaims from Noreen Renier."
When the Hook inquired of her about a month ago, Renier did not seem particularly worried about the lawsuit. "After I win," she said, "I'll be happy to talk to you, but at this point I have no comment."
This time, she directed inquiries to Hall.