Estate of Jack Slee vs. Werner Erhard – Death During Est Training. Set a Precedent for the James Ray Lawsuits?

After this original blog post months ago, I received a cease and desist letter from Werner Erhard’s attorneys.  Their letter appears at the end of this.   I’m not out to get anyone.  I figure if I don’t know something, that means a lot of people don’t know it, and this revised post is the chance to set everyone straight.

In the ongoing investigation of the James Ray Sedona Sweat Lodge matter, more survivors are coming forward to speak out, and more incidents are coming to light.  But these incidents are not particular only to James Arthur Ray.  They are reported to have happened before and are documented, notably in the case of Werner Erhard, founder of est.  An interesting book is Outrageous Betrayal: The Real Story of Werner Erhard from Est to Exile by Steven Pressman.  Note that attorneys for Werner Erhard say, “What Mr. Pressman wrote was taken from a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast about Mr. Erhard, which broadcast has been decertified by CBS News.”  Erhard’s est is now owned by Erhard’s brother and marketed as Landmark Education formerly Landmark Forum.

At Death during est training, Wikipedia tells us: Jack Slee paid $425 for the seminar, and attended the August 14, 1983 est training given at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Haven, CT. Hours before the incident involving Slee, emergency responders transported another est training participant named Thomas Kruh, age 31, to the hospital. Kruh blacked out and experienced a seizure during the est training, was attended to and revived by paramedics, and transported to Yale-New Haven Hospital where he stayed for one night. Witnesses to the incident told law enforcement officials that as Kruh fell to the floor he started screaming that he was dying. Firefighter William Seward stated that while attempting to respond to the incident involving Kruh, himself and his crewmember were instructed by two est officials that they were not to enter the ballroom where the est training was ongoing. Seward and his partner had to push past the est officials in order to gain access to Kruh. According to Seward, participants in the est training were seated and facing the stage while Krush was receiving medical treatment. “They didn’t stop the program. People were standing up telling stories. They were crying,” said Seward. Kruh later refused to discuss the incident with police, and his medical records were reported as missing from Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Jack Slee died during the est training seminar after participating in a 16-hour session. He fell backwards while standing on stage with other est participants, during a part of the training known as “the danger process” or “fear confront” which had started at approximately 11:30 P.M. that night. During this process, Slee was supposed to confront his fear of standing in front of a group of individuals. Individuals were known to collapse during the est training, and an est graduate whose role was called a “body catcher” or “people catcher” broke Slee’s fall and then went to get help.  Assistants in the est training discovered that Slee was not breathing, and attempted to resuscitate him.While individuals were attempting to revive Slee, est trainer David Norris yelled to those in the hotel ballroom: “This is all right. Don’t let this bother you. This has nothing to do with you.”

Responders and paramedics from a local New Haven fire department arrived at the hotel, but were held outside the emergency scene by est training assistants who were standing guard by the ballroom doors. Paramedic Daniel Dolphin stated that a woman met him and his crewmember outside the hotel and escorted them inside, but would not allow the room to attend to Slee. “People were laughing. They were crying. My first impression was that it was a comedy show and the guy who was lying on the stage was faking it,” said Dolphin in a statement to the New Haven Journal-Courier.The firefighters pushed past those guarding the doors, and found Slee did not have a heartbeat. Dolphin’s ambulance partner, Tony Deluise of the New Haven Ambulance Company, said to the Boston Phoenix that he witnessed odd behavior while responding to Slee: “They were all in seats, just sitting there and facing the stage, like an audience. Most were quiet; a few you could hear crying, a few laughing.”

Paramedics removed Slee from the ballroom prior to midnight, and transported him to Yale-New Haven Hospital. Meanwhile in the est training, instructor David Norris requested that participants “share” their thoughts on what had just transpired, and one of the trainees stated Norris had told est participants to think about the likelihood that Slee had “willed his own death“. At 1:03 A.M., Slee was declared dead by physicians at Yale-New Haven Hospital die due to “undetermined causes”.

Read further about the Police Investigation, the Response from est Officials and the Wrongful Death Lawsuit against Werner Erhard for the details.
### end of Wikipedia excerpt

In his book Outrageous Betrayal, Pressman details how Erhard became increasingly and obsessively megalomaniacal with not only the participants, but notably his staff.  Using techniques Pressman said he took from Scientology, Mind Dynamics and other group awareness trainings, he spied on his staff, psychologically abused them, physically abused them and under duress everyone became an automaton to do the personal bidding of Erhard.

The book even details that he took control of their sex lives, of which by the way they had to reveal the details to Erhard in the various mandatory audits and consulting sessions he demanded.  According to Pressman, Erhard was well versed in how to program someone’s mind, how to break them down and rebuild them as he would have them.

Sound familiar?  What also sounds familiar is how, even when during the est seminar victims where lying dead or dying on stage, the est officials assured everyone that it was business as usual, saying this has nothing to do with you. If this is true, it kind of reminds me of James Ray standing around after the sweat lodge victims had been dragged out of the lodge and were lying sick and dying on the grounds, some being attended to, some not, but all being watched over by James Ray, who did nothing to assist.  By witness accounts, he did not approach anyone to offer help, he simply stood there, watching, until he left the scene altogether.

I took est in the 1970’s, when I was very young, very naive and very impressionable.  I learned I am emotionally a very strong person, so I got a lot out of it and suffered no ill effects.  Not so with many of the attendees however.  It was nothing to see seemingly strong people broken down psychologically until they were lying fetal on the floor, screaming, blubbering and drooling, completely out of control, right next to me.  My husband at the time was one of them.  We were not allowed to sit together. We were directed not to touch them or pay attention to them.  In these cases, I just figured, as did all involved, that someone responsible would be in charge at the seminar so that no real damage was done.  This was not the case.  My husband was never the same and took his own life a few years later.

We can’t change the past but we can change what happens in the future by making sure that anyone doing any kind of work like this is fully qualified to do so.  And we can bring out into the open anyone who is not.

Everyone deserves a chance to clean up their act and clean up their karma.

Even James Ray. ###

3-11-10   After I posted the above, I received the following Cease and Desist letter from attorneys for Werner Erhard:

January 19, 2010

Dear Ms. de Michaelis:

This office represents Werner Erhard. Your article/blog post is defamatory to our client and actionable at law and we demand you immediately remove the article from your website.  You summarize, in a particularly slanted way, some of what Steven Pressman wrote in his book Outrageous Betrayal. What Mr. Pressman wrote was taken from a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast about Mr. Erhard, which broadcast has been decertified by CBS News.

In March 1991, CBS aired a 60 Minutes segment on Werner Erhard with scurrilous accusations of Mr. Erhard’s character. CBS acknowledged its 1991 60 Minutes program about Werner Erhard was inaccurate. The March 1991 segment and transcript of 60 Minutes was removed by CBS from public access.

You don’t have to take my word for this. It was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times in December 1991 that Scientology orchestrated an attack on Werner Erhard by using private investigators to generate and feed false information to the media, including to 60 Minutes. With the truth revealed about Scientology having engineered a campaign to undermine Werner Erhard’s character and reputation, by 1999 investigative journalists finally got to the truth about Mr. Erhard. There are several publications that reported that the allegations about Mr. Erhard’s personal character made in March 1991 CBS 60 Minutes broadcast had been recanted and proven untrue.

“The ’60 Minutes’ segment was filled with so many factual discrepancies that the transcript was made unavailable with this disclaimer: This segment has been deleted at the request of CBS News for legal or copyright reasons.1”

“Est, Werner Erhard, and the Corporatization of Self Help”, by Suzanne Snider, The Believer, Vol. 1, No. 2, May 2003, p.27 “…reports of tax fraud (which proved false and won him $200,000 from the IRS) and allegations of incest (which were later recanted).”

“The Best of Est?”, by Charlotte Faltermayer, Time Magazine, June 24, 2001 “His daughter recanted allegations of incest, and the Internal Revenue Service acknowledged that reports of tax fraud were false; Erhard won $200,000 in that case.”

“Soul Training”, by Alison Bass, The Boston Globe, March 3, 1999 “She later recanted her allegations of abuse, and the U.S. government ltimately paid Erhard $200,000 over statements the IRS made…”

“EST Is Back, More Popular Than Ever”, by Oliver Libaw,, August 13, 2002 “The allegations themselves – of tax fraud and incest – quickly faded away. In the aftermath he got $200,000 from the American taxman, and one of his daughters, who had accused him of abuse on the television programme 60 Minutes, later said she had been offered millions of dollars to lie.”

“The Story of Our Lives”, by Vanora Bennett, The Times Magazine (London), July 15, 2000 Following the disclosures of the inaccuracies made by independent journalists and as a result of their own investigation, CBS repudiated its 60 Minutes report and removed the program from public distribution because of these inaccuracies.

CBS took this action at their own initiation as a matter of journalistic integrity because the accusations made during the program proved to be false, and not as a result of any legal pressure from Mr. Erhard as has been falsely reported.

In addition, Mr. Pressman’s book is discredited by the review Google Books chose to include in its online library listing for Outrageous Betrayal. I quote snippets from the review (Editorial Review – Kirkus Reviews Copyright (c) VNU Business Media, Inc.):

“Mud-slinging expose… As his title makes clear, Pressman (a former writer for California Lawyer) makes no pretense to objectivity here… …dogged telling here of what, surely, is only half the story.”

Mr. Erhard did not take techniques from Scientology. Mr. Erhard is a life long Episcopalian, and has never been a Scientologist.

In fact, as by the Los Angeles Times, at the heart of the Church of Scientology’s 20 year campaign designed to destroy Werner Erhard’s reputation was Mr. Erhard’s refusal to have any association with Scientology. According to the Los Angeles Times, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, whose “hatred” of Erhard was passed along to his followers after Hubbard’s 1986 death, was jealous of the meteoric rise of est in the public perception in the 1970s. The allegation that Mr. Erhard was a Scientologist originated from Scientology itself as part of this campaign in an attempt to defame Mr. Erhard personally and co-opt Mr. Erhard’s work as Scientology’s.

Neither the est Training nor any other work of Mr. Erhard’s was based on Scientology’s beliefs, principles or ideas. His work is not religious in nature and in fact contains no belief system. There are independent studies and reports that verify this, and published retractions/corrections when publications were fooled by Scientology and after researching the facts had to “take it back”.

Mr. Pressman has no footnotes in his book; the book does not attribute to any person the statements made in the book (except when Mr. Pressman identifies 60 Minutes, and of course 60 Minutes has since retracted their statements); and without footnotes and attribution the book can only be seen as a novel and not a legitimate or believable biography.

As to the unfortunate event of Mr. Slee’s death, you paint a picture of responsibility lying with Mr. Erhard or his organization, and you purposefully do not say that a Court, listening to all the facts and the evidence, found that neither Werner Erhard & Associates nor the est Training were the cause of or responsible for Mr. Slee’s death. You say “it is not easy to find legal precedents to rely on”, and the one case you cite demonstrates that the est Training does not cause harm. Since there are no cases in which the est Training was found to cause harm, it is easy to find legal precedents – they are all in favor of Mr. Erhard and not your malicious point of view.

As to any connection between Mr. Erhard or the est Training and James Ray – there is none. James Ray’s own written documents show Mr. Ray distinguishing his techniques from Mr. Erhard’s. You can see this for yourself in “James Ray International document guaranteed to upset self help colleagues” by Cassandra Yorgey, January 10, 2009. Mr. Erhard has nothing to do with the “Sweat Lodge matter” or with James Ray, who is about to be charged with murder, and for you to say and imply that he does is both inaccurate and clear evidence of malice.

The statements in your blog post are what we lawyers call libel per se – the most serious form of defamation. Perhaps you have been misled, like others have been, by the vicious attack on Mr. Erhard by Scientology. Perhaps you have your own personal motives to defame Mr. Erhard. Perhaps there is another explanation. The outcome to you is the same. You are on notice that the statements you published are inaccurate, and to continue to publish the statements is clear malice. The solution is for you to remove your blog post immediately.

Please respond with the requested action and let me know you have removed the article/blog post by January 26, 2010.

Sincerely, Terry I. Giles

For your reference:
The Los Angeles Times article is available in full at:
The Time Magazine article is available in full at:
The ABC story is available in full at:
The Boston Globe article is available in full at:
The London Times article is available in full at:
The Believer article is available in full at:
The article is available at:

My initial response upon receipt of the letter was: Hello and thank you for writing.  Until I have time to review the matter more closely, I have removed the blog post. I’m not out to get anyone.   I think in the interest of the readers, however, it would help them to be aware of what you made me aware of, by allowing me to add your letter to the end of the blog post.  Let me know your thoughts.  Andrea

On 1-22-10, I formally responded: Hello, I’ve amended the blog post to read as follows below.  I was merely giving my opinion on what someone else wrote about a matter of public interest, and forming an opinion on corelations I noticed to a current matter of public interest. I was not defaming your client. I had no idea the information in the Pressman book was in question, nor the CBS interview.  If a fictional movie fit the same circumstances, I’d have referred to the movie.  There is no malice whatever, I assure you.

Since many people – like me – do not know the CBS story was pulled, I’d like to run your C & D email in the blogpost itself.  I will do so in its entirety, so all your links will be included.  In fairness, I want to give the opportunity to set the matter straight about your client on the same page as I present the Pressman material.  Unless I hear from you otherwise by the end of the month, I’ll assume that’s ok.

Thank you.  Andrea de Michaelis

Email and certified letter sent 1-22-10, no response as of 3-11-10, so the above is the revised post.

When Former Devotees Expose Fraudulent Gurus:
John-Roger, Werner Erhard, Carlos Castaneda
Updated Links for info about the James Ray Sedona Sweat Lodge

In case the FTC is wondering, I am not endorsing anyone.

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