Paul Morantz

On this date in 1945, attorney Paul Robert Morantz, renowned for litigating against religious cults, was born in Los Angeles to Jeanette (Kates) and Nathan Morantz. His father owned a meatpacking business and his mother was a homemaker.

His skepticism started early, Morantz wrote in his 2012 memoir “Escape: My Lifelong War Against Cults.” He remembered listening when he was 12 to the rabbi during Passover services talking about leaving an offering outside the home for a biblical angel. His memoir recounted how he objected to his parents after they caught him leaving the house with a baseball bat: “I can’t believe you are all celebrating this. I can’t accept the idea that God would murder innocent children. I’m going outside to hide and when the Angel of Death comes for his wine and matzo, I’m going to bash him so he won’t ever harm a child again.”

After high school he served six months in the Army Reserves, then attended Santa Monica City College. Transferring to the University of Southern California, he studied journalism and covered sports for the campus Daily Trojan, graduating in 1968. Journalism was his true love but, encouraged by his father, he went on to earn a USC law degree three years later.

In 1974 he took on the case of Skid Row alcoholics picked up off the street in downtown L.A. and effectively sold to mental institutions. They were drugged to the point of incoherence so the facilities could fraudulently bill Medicare. He spent over two years winning a settlement for the victims. He really burst into public consciousness while successfully representing clients suing Synanon, a quasi-religious cult with a paramilitary wing. Founded by Charles Dederich as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Santa Monica, it would grow into an organization with adherents nationwide and overseas.

About three weeks after winning a $300,000 settlement against Synanon in 1978, Morantz opened his mailbox and was bitten by a rattlesnake, 4½ feet long, with the rattle removed. Dederich and two men he hired to place the snake were convicted. One was 20-year-old Lance Kenton, the son of swing band leader Stan Kenton. The judge called the attack an “aberration” and imposed light sentences due to Synanon’s history of helping addicts. Dederich received five years’ probation.

Morantz had learned that self-help guru Werner Erhard, the founder of Erhard Seminars Training (EST), was lobbying a small town to let him “train” its employees. Morantz intervened and turned the town against him. In 1978 he tried unsuccessfully to win the release of a client’s son from the People’s Temple, whose leader, Jim Jones, later led several hundred of his followers in a mass suicide in Guyana.

He represented 40 ex-followers of the Center for Feeling Therapy, a New Age movement that used “sluggo therapy” in which members beat each other, supposedly to release suppressed anxieties. He also helped ex-members of the Rev. 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. Scientology, Hare Krishnas, followers of swami Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, among others, felt the sting of his litigation.

Twice over two decades, he successfully went after psychologist/minister John Gottuso, accused of sexually abusing his female followers and even the daughters of the women. In another case, he helped bring to justice a psychotherapist who converted his patients to Hasidic Jews so he could become their rabbi and control their lives. 

He married Maren Elwood in 1984; they divorced in 1988. Their son, Chaz Morantz, was an engineer on the NASA team that built the Mars rover Curiosity, still operating as of this writing in December 2022 after landing in 2012.

All the while, Morantz wrote extensively about the cases he was involved in, along with a broad range of cultural and political topics, including jaundiced views of Donald Trump. They are archived at He died at age 77 at home. (D. 2022) 

PHOTO: Morantz in 2003 outside his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation