Ala. Pol Can’t Trade on |Ex-Mayor’s Good Name

     BIRMINGHAM (CN) – An Alabama circuit court judge ruled that a state representative must stop trading on the good name and reputation of Birmingham’s first black mayor.
     Richard Arrington, Jr. was not only Birmingham’s first black mayor, but also the longest serving mayor in the city’s history, serving five terms from 1979 to 1999.
     During that time, Arrington says in a recent lawsuit, Birmingham went from a “racially divided city dependent on the steel industry to an economically and culturally diverse hub of the southeastern United States.”
     Now, however, a former member of the Alabama House of Representative is trying to carry out a “scheme to hijack the good name and good will” of the mayor and his grassroots organization.
     In a lawsuit filed on March 30 in Jefferson County Circuit Court, Arrington states that in the late 1970’s, while serving on the Birmingham City Council, he founded a grassroots political organization called the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition. The goal of the organization was to coordinate and organize predominately African-American participation groups throughout the city. According to the lawsuit, the coalition became “highly influential in election outcomes” by helping register voters and getting them to the polls. The organization distributed sample ballots on distinctive blue paper, known as the “Blue Ballots”, to show voters which candidates the coalition endorsed in elections and its “political clout” has been demonstrated through endorsed candidates being elected to the Jefferson County Commission, the Alabama legislature and various judicial seats.
     Arrington says that during his tenure as mayor, he was unable to stay actively involved in the organization and although its success and influence declined, the name of the coalition still had a positive reputation within the community.
     During this time, defendant Eric Leon Major was a state representative and he was elected for a two-year term as president of the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition, but did not win re-election.
     The lawsuit states that in 2009, Arrington and former U.S. Rep. Earl Hilliard wanted to reorganize and revitalize the coalition “with the goal of returning the Citizens Coalition to its former prominence.”
     Defendant Major was asked to attend the meetings, but he refused and instead began a “plot and scheme to usurp the legacy and historical good will of the Citizens Coalition” by creating a web site for a new group called the Jefferson County Citizen’s Coalition – an apostrophe in the name being the only difference from plaintiff’s organization’s name, the lawsuit says.
     The “fraudulent and misleading” website makes several deceptive claims, including that it has been organized since 1977 and that Major is the chairman of the group, the lawsuit says.
     The website also solicits donations and Major has used it to “defame, disparage and denigrate Dr. Arrington and others associated with the real Jefferson County Citizens Coalition,” the complaint says.
     The lawsuit continues by alleging that defendant Major “knowingly used a name for his new entity that is the same as or deceptively similar to the name of the existing Jefferson County Citizens Coalition in an effort to confuse and deceive voters and the general public.”
     According to the lawsuit, defendant Major is currently a run-off candidate for the Democratic nomination for the position of Jefferson County Treasurer and he printed and distributed to potential voters “misleading and deceptive” blue sample ballots that were designed to look like the official blue ballots from the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition.
     These “counterfeit” ballots contain an unauthorized picture of plaintiff Arrington and were designed to confuse and mislead voters into believing that defendant Major had received an endorsement from Dr. Arrington and the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition, the complaint says.
     The lawsuit makes claims under the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act, the Alabama Right of Publicity Act and the Alabama Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
     The temporary restraining order issued by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker prohibits defendant from making any reference to the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition, from using plaintiff Arrington’s likeness and from using ballots that are the “same color, shade, tone or type of the color blue” as used by the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition. Arrington is represented by Barry Ragsdale of Sirote & Permutt of Birmingham.

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