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PR Firm Sues Richie Ashburn’s Family

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A Colorado-based PR firm claims the family of late Phillies Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn "open(ly) and notoriously" interfered with its contract to help sell Ashburn-branded merchandise.

Ashburn, who died in 1997, still has a ubiquitous presence in Philliesland, with his name or likeness plastered on jerseys, a video documentary, and an entire section of the Phillies ballpark, dubbed "Ashburn Alley."

But despite this lionization, plaintiff Product Development Q (PDQ) says, Ashburn's estate "has not received any compensation from the Phillies since at least 2004 other than, upon information and belief, four free season tickets to Phillies' games each season."

So in January 2010, PDQ says, it agreed to forego its retainer fee and provide a year's worth of free work to the estate with the understanding that it would get commissions for royalties on Ashburn-branded products.

Durango-based PDQ is an LLC whose "sole member and owner" is C. Woodrow Browne, according to the complaint.

PDQ says that in November 2010 it entered into an agreement with the estate to "act as the exclusive license broker for the name and likeness of Richie Ashburn."

In exchange for negotiating with retailers on behalf of the estate, and for providing "advice, counsel and general assistance concerning the licensing and naming rights of the Richie Ashburn image and name," PDQ was to receive "a commission of 25 percent of the income the estate received from commissions, royalties, and naming rights and third party merchandising royalties from all 'Ashburn' themed licensed products made under any license or license renewals or extensions so long as the Estate received royalties on them," according to the complaint.

As part of the deal, PDQ would try to recoup income from retailers who had already sold such products without compensating the estate, and among those retailers was the Philadelphia Phillies, PDQ says.

The deal was supposed to remain in place until at least Nov. 30, 2011, but on Feb. 24 this year, after meeting with a senior Phillies executive to discuss money owed to the estate, PDQ got a letter from the estate's counsel stating that PDQ's proposal to the Phillies did not reflect PDQ's discussion with Ashburn's widow, according to the complaint.

PDQ says the letter informed it that "Mrs. Ashburn has elected to terminate the agreement and the relationship with the company [PDQ] effective immediately." (Brackets in complaint.)

PDQ claims: "Given the timing of the estate's termination of the agreement following PDQ's meeting with the Phillies, and given the personal relationships between and among the Phillies, [Phillies general partner] David Montgomery and [Phillies senior vice-president] Michael Stiles and the members of the Ashburn family ... the Phillies ... persuaded defendant the Estate to terminate the agreement with PDQ."

PDQ accuses the estate of "Not providing PDQ with information necessary to perform its work, falsely contending that PDQ did not perform consistent with agreed-upon instructions, directing PDQ to communicate with Ashburn family members on key issues even though there was a lack of consensus among Ashburn family members on the appropriate course to follow ... [and] terminating PDQ's services after it expended significant work yet before it could continue to perform and achieve results from the Phillies or other vendors of products bearing the Richie Ashburn name or likeness."

PDQ sued the estate and various members of the Ashburn clan, claiming breach of contract, breach of faith and fair dealing, and tortious interference with contract.

The Phillies are not named as a defendant.

PDQ, represented by Alan Frank of Elkins Park, Pa., requests an amount "substantially in excess of" $75,000 for actual and anticipated lost profits.

Richie Ashburn died in September 1997, two years after he was elected to the Hall of Fame. Known as one of baseball's best defensive players, he was twice the National League batting champion, 1948 Rookie of the Year, and had a .308 lifetime batting average and a .393 on-base percentage.

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