Nxivm hopes lawsuit will go to highest court

Halfmoon-- Critic dismisses controversial company's petition as a desperate attempt

Times Union/September 3, 2004
By Dennis Yusko

A human potential training company hired a high-powered law firm to take its critics to the U.S. Supreme Court. Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um) of Halfmoon and Colonie recently retained Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood to ask the nation's highest court to hear its claims that mental health experts improperly acquired the 265-page Nxivm manual from a former student and portrayed the company as a cult on the Web site of self-described "cult deprogrammer" Rick Ross of New Jersey.

On Aug. 18, the Washington, D.C., law firm filed the petition to be heard with the U.S. Supreme Court, according to court documents. The filing marks the third time Nxivm has tried to remove the critical postings from the site. Two federal courts already have rejected the injunction request.

"This is an era in which digital transmission of information has become the norm, in which piracy has become common, and in which pirated materials can be disseminated to the world with a click of the mouse. As such, it is almost child's play to obtain confidential materials, and when done with malicious intent, can be profoundly harmful to the copyright holder," the petition reads.

Eric Shumsky of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood would not comment on the case. The court could respond by November.

Albany attorney Thomas F. Gleason, who represents Ross, has filed a motion to dismiss the entire lawsuit, which is pending before U.S. District Court in Albany, and is scheduled to be heard on Sept. 28.

Ross dismissed Nxivm's attempt to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as a desperate attempt to make its case. "It's not even a Hail Mary pass," he said.

The petition means nothing unless the Supreme Court accepts it, Gleason said.

Nxivm, or Executive Success Programs (ESP), filed a $10 million lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany in August 2003 against Ross, former student Stephanie Franco and John Hochman, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles. The suit charged Franco issued Hochman and clinical psychologist Paul Martin a confidential Nxivm manual and the two caused the company irreparable harm by naming it cultlike on Ross' site.

U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy of Albany and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York City have called the critiques fair criticism.

Raniere and Nancy Salzman founded Nxivm in 1998 and started a training center on New Karner Road in Colonie. The company offers classes in Raniere's Rational Inquiry theory.

Incomplete plans to build Nxivm's international headquarters off Woodin Road in Halfmoon have drawn opposition.

Neither Raniere nor Salzman returned calls made to the Colonie office or answered messages left with Nxivm's lawyers.

The company, Raniere and Salzman have employed numerous local attorneys for its fight against Ross and company, among them, Arlen Olsen of Latham and Nolan & Heller of Albany. Neither would speak for this story.

Ross and mental health professionals say Nxivm classes stray into unsupervised and manipulative psychotherapy that can be harmful to people susceptible to stress.

In an unrelated case, Raniere, 44, paid $49,9744 to the state on May 19 to settle a 1993 civil suit filed by then-state Attorney General Robert Abrams that alleged Raniere operated a pyramid scheme. The suit was related to Raniere's former business, Consumers Buyline, which ceased operation in the 1990s.

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