Paul Morantz, lawyer once crossed with a rattlesnake, dies at 77

Paul Morantz, a California lawyer who battled brainwashing gurus, rogue psychotherapists and threatening cults, including one that nearly killed him with a rattlesnake, died Oct. 23 at a hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 77 years old.

Mr. Morantz’s death was confirmed by his son, Chaz Morantz, who declined to provide a cause.

Confronting Synanon, the Church of Scientology, the Peoples Temple run by Jim Jones and a self-help group whose therapists beat their clients, Mr. Morantz molded himself into a modern-day Davy Crockett, upholding righteous ideals even if his efforts put him in jeopardy.

Mr. Morantz, says his son, often quoted a maxim attributed to the folk hero Frontiersman: “Always be sure you’re right, then go for it.”

Fresh out of law school in the early 1970s, Morantz said he felt directionless and lived in Southern California on $90 a month. apartment so sterile that he was embarrassed to have guests. But one day in 1974, he received a phone call that tipped his life, he would later write, in “a direction I never would have suspected”.

The call came from a high school friend of his brother, a liquor store owner, who said he knew an alcoholic being held captive in a nursing home as part of a government control program . Mr. Morantz decided to investigate, speaking with nurses and others at several Los Angeles-area nursing homes.

Mr. Morantz discovered elderly alcoholics being sold for $125 to nursing homes by a man posing as a volunteer counselor with the county drunk court. Nursing homes sedated the “captives,” as the Los Angeles Times called them, with Thorazine and collected government checks for their stays.

Mr. Morantz filed a class action lawsuit and won a judgment of $300,000. At least two of those involved in the scheme have served jail time for wrongfully referring patients to a health care facility for profit.

The “captives” case, Chaz Morantz said, launched his father’s legal reputation. “My dad just hated bullies,” he said. “He wanted to stand up for people and help them defend themselves. He really resented sociopaths and other malevolent leaders who took advantage of their followers.

Mr. Morantz has been praised in the media for his meticulous investigation and relentless legal maneuvering. Soon customers were looking for him.

In 1977, he was approached by a man whose life had been destroyed by Synanon, a California drug addiction organization turned religious movement. Its founder, Charles E. Dederich Sr., considered himself a prophet and ordered his followers to undergo vasectomies and abortions and to physically attack enemies.

Mr. Morantz sued Synanon on behalf of several members who managed to escape. Three weeks after winning a $300,000 judgment, he dug through his mailbox at his Pacific Palisades home and a 4½-foot rattlesnake sank its fangs into his left wrist.

“I felt like I had my hand in a vise and it just kept getting tighter,” Morantz told The Times from his hospital bed.

He managed to run for help and shouted to a neighbor what had happened. The neighbor wrapped Mr. Morantz’s arm in a tourniquet while waiting for first responders.

While paramedics treated him, four firefighters beat the rattlesnake with shovels and cut off his head. They discovered that the snake’s rattles had been removed, meaning there was no warning sound to alert Mr. Morantz to the reptile in his mailbox.

The doctor treating Mr Morantz, then 32, said he had been “extraordinarily lucky” to survive.

Dederich and two members of the “Imperial Marines” squad were arrested a few days later for attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They all pleaded no contest, with supporters receiving a year in prison and Dederich, then in poor health, given probation. Dederich died in 1997.

A year after the attack, in a profile for The Times, Mr Morantz said he wanted to “know nothing about cults”.

“I have no desire to spend my life worrying about sects, groups or movements,” he added. “On the other hand, just because you don’t want to be involved anymore doesn’t mean you can turn your back when someone asks for help.”

Paul Robert Morantz was born in Los Angeles on August 16, 1945. His father worked in the meat industry; his mother was a housewife. There were signs during her childhood of her future outrage at injustice, especially in regards to religion.

“When I was 12, I listened intently during Passover services to the rabbi explaining that wine and matzo were to be left outside as a gift for the Angel of Death,” he wrote in his memoir, “Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults” “Apparently, when the Pharaoh refused to free Jewish slaves in ancient Egypt, God made a contract on the firstborn son of every Egyptian family and sent the Angel of Death to execute the blow The angel ‘passed’ over the Jewish homes, sparing these children.

That night, Mr. Morantz got his baseball bat and tried to sneak in to defend the kids. His parents caught him.

“I can’t believe you all were celebrating,” he told them. “I cannot accept the idea that God would murder innocent children. I go outside to hide, and when the death angel comes for his wine and matzo, I’m going to hit him so he’ll never hurt a child again.

Mr. Morantz settled down and led an otherwise contented childhood filled with sports and an obsession with the University of Southern California football team. After high school, he joined the Army Reserve and eventually enrolled at USC.

Mr. Morantz wanted to be a sports journalist and he got a job at the Daily Trojan, the campus newspaper. After graduating in 1968, the Times offered him a job, but his girlfriend convinced him to go to law school, which he did at USC, where he graduated. in 1971.

His first job was as a court-appointed lawyer. It wasn’t for him.

“I left,” he later wrote, “…not liking to shoot guys, I’d rather put in jail for a long time.”

Mr Morantz worked part-time in his brother’s office while pursuing freelance writing projects, including a Rolling Stone story about surf music duo Jan and Dean which he later helped fit into a TV movie called “Deadman’s Curve.” Then he got a call from a retirement home that changed his life.

Following the Synanon case, Mr. Morantz became a sought-after litigant for victims of cults and pseudo-religious groups.

He depicted a father who attempted to reclaim his son from Peoples Temple leader Jones, only to see those hopes ended in the band’s mass suicide in 1978. Early 1980s, he helped successfully sue the Center for Feeling Therapy in Los Angeles, whose “therapists” beat their patients in a procedure called “sluggo.”

Mr. Morantz also helped former members of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church in a case in which the California Supreme Court ruled in 1988 that religious organizations could be sued for fraud. His clients alleged that they were tricked by church recruiters into attending a camp where they were subjected to mind control techniques, including fasting and lecturing all night.

Mr. Morantz has had numerous disputes with the Church of Scientology, in court and in public.

In 1995, at a health fair in Pacific Palisades, Mr. Morantz was approached by a man who asked to talk to him about psychology. “He showed me a list of questions clearly displaying an anti-psychotherapy bias,” Morantz wrote. “Boy, did he choose the wrong guy.”

Mr. Morantz challenged him: “You are a Scientologist. The man denied, saying he was simply part of a group spreading information about psychotherapy abuse. The health show host tried to evict the group, but Mr. Morantz told her Scientologists would likely bankrupt her in litigation.

“Let me handle that,” he said. “That’s what I do.”

As the group performed a skit on electroshock treatment, Mr. Morantz addressed the crowd.

“People who speak here have the right to do so,” he said. “They also have an interest in exposing mental health professionals. They have that right. You have the right to know who is speaking. So I’m telling you it’s from Scientology. You can walk away or keep listening, but at least now you’ll know clearly what the source is.

Mr. Morantz’s marriage to Maren Ellwood ended in divorce. Survivors include his son and two grandchildren.

Despite his lifelong encounters with pseudo-religious groups and their prophets, Mr. Morantz never wavered from his belief that religion could be a force for good.

“Whether we worship single or multiple deities, Mother Nature or the Church of the Meatloaf Divine, our population seems hardwired to believe in a greater force,” he wrote in his memoir. “When groups use the power of peer pressure and brainwashing to control people and make them give up their autonomy, their money or their moral compass, I feel compelled to step in.”


Washington

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