Landmark Education, a privately owned for-profit company that sells controversial large group awareness training programs to the public, has sued the Rick A. Ross Institute (RRI) for more than one million dollars.
The lawsuit was filed in New Jersey and is currently moving forward within the court of federal Judge John Lifland (Civil Action No. 04-3022 (JCL)).
RRI is a non-profit tax-exempted charity devoted to providing educational information to the public about destructive cults, controversial groups and movements through the Internet.
RRI is one of the largest single resources regarding this subject area on the worldwide web today. More than 15,000 individual unique users visit its database daily. And the RRI Open Forum message board has more than 1,300 registered members.
The lawsuit recently filed by Landmark Education claims that information posted through the RRI archives about the private for-profit company constitutes “product disparagement” and represents “interference with [its] ongoing business relations.”
Landmark Education is certainly a big business; it has 58 offices in 26 countries. And boasts that “more than 125,000″ people participate in its programs annually, which represents millions of dollars in profits for its owners each year.
This litigation appears to be an effort by Landmark to purge critical information about the company from the Internet.
RRI has archived articles, documents and personal testimonies about Landmark, which features a course called “The Forum,” that was earlier offered by a previous incarnation of this business enterprise known as Erhard Seminar Training or “EST.”
The titular head of Landmark Education today is Harry Rosenberg, but it was his brother “Werner Erhard” previously known as Jack Rosenberg, a high school graduate and former used car and encyclopedia salesman, who created the seminar “technology” touted by the company.
EST, something of a craze in the 1970s, drew endorsements from celebrities such as sitcom star Valerie Harper (“Rhoda”) and singer John Denver.
Forbes Magazine dubbed Werner Erhard a “millionaire guru.”
But the programs Mr. Erhard devised were soon associated with and/or linked to “psychiatric disturbances” and “psychosis.” Amidst extensive and unfavorable media coverage he sold EST in 1991 to employees, who then formed the current company Landmark Education.
Landmark then agreed to pay substantial annual licensing fees to Werner Erhard for his so-called “technology.”
No peer reviewed scientific study has ever been published by an objective scientific or professional journal to substantiate that the programs offered by Landmark Education produce any meaningful measured results, though what can be seen as its “mass marathon training” remains controversial.
An answer to the Landmark lawsuit was filed on September 20, 2004.
NXIVM, also known as “Executive Success Programs” (ESP), after two losses in court hopes to appeal before the US Supreme Court. Like Landmark, NXIVM seeks to purge critical information about its business from the Internet.
RRI is represented pro-bono regarding the NXIVM case by Massachusetts attorney Douglas Brooks of the law firm Gilman & Pastor and Tom Gleason of the law firm Gleason, Dunn, Walsh & O’Shea, in Albany, New York.
Public Citizen, a nonprofit, advocacy organization with 160,000 members nationwide, is assisting Mr. Brooks and Mr. Gleason regarding the possible NXIVM appeal pending before the US Supreme Court.
In another interesting case a group called “The Gentle Wind Project” located in Kittery, Maine, which hawks “healing cards” for “suggested donations” allegedly based upon plans from outer space, sued RRI for stating it is a “rather odd group” and for providing a link to a website critical of the organization.
RRI is also represented pro-bono concerning this action by attorney Douglas Brooks and local counsel William Leete of the law firm Leete & Lemieux in Portland, Maine.
Despite legal threats and later lawsuits filed by Landmark, NXIVM and The Gentle Wind Project, RRI has refused to be intimidated and continues to provide historical, analytical and/or critical information about these groups and other controversial organizations to the general public through its Internet database.
I have previously personally withstood frivolous litigation regarding my professional comments and/or providing website information in other notable lawsuits.
The “Church of Immortal Consciousness” founded by Steven and Trina Kemp sued me in 1995.
Judy Hammond of “Pure Bride Ministries” sued me for $15 million dollars in 2001.
The Kemp lawsuit ended after an appeal to the US Supreme Court failed and I was awarded costs. Arizona attorneys Paul Eckstein and Daniel Barr of the law firm Brown & Bain represented me pro-bono in that case.
In this “Information Age” the pubic increasingly has turned to the Internet for background about people, companies, organizations and movements.
The word “Google” has become a verb and is synonymous with this process—as Internet users frequently say, you can “Google” someone or something as a quick way to obtain whatever information is readily available.
Landmark Education, despite its name, seems intent upon making sure that essentially only self-serving promotional advertising and/or propaganda largely appears on the Internet about the company and its courses.
Landmark apparently hopes that it can somehow control its published history, either through legal threats and/or what can be seen as frivolous litigation.
However, instead the Landmark Education lawsuit is likely to become another landmark for freedom of information on the Internet.
Note: Cult expert Steven Hassan was also sued by the Gentle Wind Project. However, he was dropped from the suit after a negotiated settlement, which included him deleting all material and references to the group from his website.