Lawyers drop Gentle Wind; say group hasn't paid up

Foster's Daily Democrat (NH)/August 31, 2006

Durham -- The Gentle Wind Project's law firm is refusing to represent the organization any longer, citing nonpayment of legal fees.

The project now will represent itself in an ongoing lawsuit against former members.

Gentle Wind lost its nonprofit status this month as part of a legal settlement with the state of Maine after the state sued, alleging fraudulent and misleading business practices.

But the group, which focuses on spiritual healing techniques, has vowed to continue operating in other states through volunteers.

Gentle Wind is suing former members Judy Garvey and Jim Bergin, of Blue Hill, Maine, alleging defamation.

The former members, who are married, have compared Gentle Wind to a cult in postings on their website. Gentle Wind filed suit against the couple in January in York County Superior Court after a judge dismissed the first suit the group filed in 2004 in federal court.

Verrill Dana and attorneys James Goggins, Daniel Rosenthal, and Suzannah Pogue filed a motion dated Aug. 8 to withdraw from representing Gentle Wind.

"The clients deliberately disregarded an agreement with, or obligation to, the lawyer as to expenses or fees," the attorneys wrote in the motion.

Gentle Wind's board of directors - John Miller, Mary Miller, Carol Miller, Shelly Miller, Pam Ranheim, and Joan Carreiro - subsequently filed notices as individual plaintiffs for appearance "pro se," meaning they will represent themselves.

The group had lived together in Durham, N.H. The Millers are not related.

Gentle Wind was headquartered in Kittery, Maine, until the group agreed to dissolve this month. The Maine Attorney General's office, in an Aug. 14 statement, said Gentle Wind violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act with claims about its "healing instruments," which the AG said offer no benefits. The Attorney General also said the charity and its funds were mismanaged.

Gentle Wind claimed the instruments - principally hand-held laminated cards and plastic pucks - improve emotional, mental, and physical functioning. Maine's AG argued that there was no scientific evidence supporting such claims. In addition, the suggested donations the group received for the instruments were spent wrongfully on personal property, the AG alleged in the lawsuit.

Each member of the board of directors was banned from serving as fiduciaries or advisers for any other Maine nonprofit.

The remaining assets of Gentle Wind after civil penalties and costs were to be distributed by the Attorney General as restitution to their consumers and to a Maine charity whose charitable mission is to provide services to those with mental health disabilities.

The Gentle Wind website now lists an address of Sparks, Nev.

A recent posting on the website describes the project as an all-new, volunteer not-for-profit. They do not make any claims about the relief their instruments may provide, and they do not accept any donations for them, the website says.

"We are a group of people who want to make the world a better, easier place," the website reads.

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