WASHINGTON -- Threatened with imprisonment for failing to testify, the wife of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard is reluctantly answering prosecutors' questions about her alleged role in a church conspiracy to steal government files.
But three other high-ranking church members refused to testify Monday at the trial of two scientologists, despite an appeals court ruling earlier in the day upholding an earlier civil contempt citation against them.
U.S. District Judge Aubrey Robinson ordered the three -- Richard Weigand of Van Nuys, Calif., Gregory Willardson of Beverly Hills and Henning Heldt of Los Angeles -- to each spend 30 days in jail or face a $30,000 fine for criminal contempt.
Mary Sue Hubbard, wife of the science fiction writer who founded the church, also refused at first to answer questions at the trial of church leaders Jane Kember and Morris Budlong, extradited from England to face nine criminal counts.
But after the judge found her in contempt, her lawyer, Leonard Boudin, advised the court she had changed her mind and would testify. Boudin cited as the reason her hypoglycemia -- or low blood sugar -- and other medical problems that he said would endanger her health if she were jailed.
Mrs. Hubbard, who was among nine scientologists convicted in 1979 and sentenced to four- and five-year jail terms, testified for the first time since the government brought charges against 11 church leaders.
Kember and Budlong, the last to face prosecution, are charged with conspiring to infiltrate the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies to steal government documents pertaining to the church.
Mrs. Hubbard was evasive in answering prosecutors' questions about the church's 'Guardian Office' that she headed and where Kember and Budlong worked -- a unit designed to protect the church and combat enemies of scientology. The guardian office allegedly supervised the infiltration of federal agencies.
Robinson, who granted immunity to Mrs. Hubbard, Weigand, Willardson and Heldt to force them to testify, said at one point, 'It troubles the court when there is an abject refusal to testify,' adding, 'Can this organization (the church) decide for itself it's above and beyond the law?'
Mrs. Hubbard and the others were in an unusual predicament because they were asked to testify -- under threat of perjury -- while their own convictions are on appeal.
Robinson held the four in civil contempt earlier in the trial when they refused to testify. When the appeals court upheld that ruling, the judge noted that civil contempt would allow him only to jail the scientologists until the end of the now nearly completed trial of Budlong and Kember. He then found them in criminal contempt.