Sue Happy

Metroland, New York/December 18, 2009

After years of battling NXIVM in court, a nationally known "cult deprogrammer" says the end is nigh.

This is the fifth lawsuit for Rick Ross. The New Jersey-based cult deprogrammer and founder of the Rick Ross Institute maintains a Web site that catalogues news coverage and allegations of cult activity, making him a target of what he calls harassment suits. While these legal battles can take up years of his life, he said, he's never lost a suit. And in some cases, he has been pleasantly surprised by the unintended outcomes.

Take, for example, the suit leveled against him by the Maine-based Gentle Wind Project. That suit, Ross said, backfired on Gentle Wind by drawing the attention of Maine's attorney general. Until that point, the authorities hadn't paid much attention to the odd little group. "But he did start paying attention to them after they sued [...]," says Ross, "and then he shut them down-literally liquidated them."

He was sued by Arizona's Church of the Immortal Consciousness, and by a woman in Florida who ran a ministry called the Pure Bride Ministries. He was sued by Landmark Education, who dismissed their own lawsuit, he said, "to get out from underneath it. As soon as they realized that they were going to lose they beat it-and quickly."

"And now we have NXIVM," Ross said, "who has lost at every juncture. They have just lost and lost and lost and lost."

Founded by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, NXIVM is the Capital Region-based corporation behind Executive Success Programs, which claims to develop and impart "programs that provide the philosophical and practical foundation necessary to acquire and build the skills for success."

As Ross is reporting on his site, Cult, "a motion filed by NXIVM to reinstate causes of action previously dismissed in June of 2007 has been denied. This included an effort to reinstate claims of ‘product disparagement' and ‘tortious interference' in a long-standing lawsuit filed against the Ross Institute of New Jersey."

"The motion by Raniere's lawyers," Ross told Metroland, "is a kind of Hail Mary pass. Their hope was to get these causes back in, because they realized if they didn't that the lawsuit had no hope whatsoever." These causes, he continued, "were the causes that had meat."

What remains, now, are deliberations over trade secrets violations and copyright causes. "It's as though the judge has turned off the life support" for NXIVM's suit, Ross said. "Now it's just going to wiggle to death."

He said that he believes in a year from now, the suit will finally reach its conclusion.

"This suit never had any substance to it. From its inception, it has never been anything more than a harassment suit," Ross said. He laughed at the length of time that the suit has lasted. "Seven years. That's an all-time record with me. Most of my adversaries, the various cults that have sued me, they don't last five years. Raniere managed to keep it going for seven. You gotta give the guy some credit."

While Ross maintained that it lacked substance, he added that the NXIVM suit "is probably the most significant lawsuit that I have been involved in from the standpoint of writing new law and establishing new precedent. The NXIVM v. Ross suit is now cited as an expansion of the First Amendment, as upheld by the United States Supreme Court, in regards to confidentiality agreements."

To protect what Raniere believes are the trade secrets behind the technology that the organization uses to train its students, NXIVM requires that students sign confidentiality agreements. Ross received copies of NXIVM's training materials from a former student who had signed such an agreement, which was ignored [sic] when Ross posted the training materials, along with analysis, on his Web site.

In 2003, NXIVM went to the courts to seek an emergency injunction against Ross' site, he said. The Albany court, where the claim was filed, ruled in Ross' favor. "So NXIVM appealed to the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan, and that court found that the confidentiality agreement was trumped by the public's right to know. NXIVM appealed that to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that this is unprecedented, that confidentiality agreements in the past have been upheld in proceedings, and that this confidentiality should be upheld." The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case. "And that gave the 2nd Circuit the leeway that they literally wrote new law. New law came out of this case."

Ross has been a consistent source for this paper in its reporting on NXIVM.

In a 2008 Metroland article, "The Stars Come Out in Troy," Ross was quoted discussing Raniere's previous business, Consumers Buyline Inc. Raniere later claimed that Ross was incorrect in his characterization of that company's legal issues and that Metroland had conspired with Ross to libel him and NXIVM.

This past spring, it appeared that NXIVM had attempted to sue Metroland for $65 million. However, the company that owns Metroland, Lou Communications Inc., was never served in that suit. Instead, NXIVM attempted to serve the now-defunct former owner of the paper, Metroland Magazine Inc.

The statue of limitations on NXIVM's potential claim against Metroland has expired.

As for Ross, he estimated that his legal expenses to defend himself in NXIVM Corp. v. Ross would have topped $2 million had he not received extensive pro-bono representation. As it stands, he said, he has spent less than $1,000.

Ross' countersuit against NXIVM is ongoing.

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