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Politics

Tea vs. TEA: Parties Battle in Court

June 22, 2010 - 6:00pm

Battling over names and rights, "tea party" groups sparred Wednesday in federal court in West Palm Beach.

"The defendant has overstepped his attempt at monopoly," attorney Frank Herrera told U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, contending that Frederic O'Neal had no exclusive right to the Florida Tea Party name.

O'Neal, who registered the Florida Tea Party with the state Division of Elections, countered that tea groups represented by Herrera could have registered the name with the state, but did not.

O'Neal further alleged that South Florida Tea Party director Everett Wilkinson, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, created "confusion" by identifying himself as "chairman of the Florida Tea Party" -- the title held by O'Neal.

Herrera replied that O'Neal's group had put a "stink in the air" over rights to the name.

"We don't need his permission (to use the name)," said Herrera, who identified himself as an attorney specializing in patents and trademarks.

In their lawsuit, the rival tea groups asserted that O'Neal's TEA Party "obtained gains, profits, and advantages as a result of their unlawful acts that they are the 'original' or 'authorized' tea party."

"Upon information and belief, the public is confused whether the Florida registered political party is indeed endorsed or associated with the 'tea party' movement," the suit stated.

The suit claimed that O'Neal's "registration of the political party 'Tea Party' in Florida would give him unfettered protection to stop any 'person,' 'group' or 'organization' that uses 'tea party.'

In seeking relief from the court, 33 plaintiffs from across Florida and the nation, asked in their initial filing that the TEA group "be required to amend their filings (and name) with the appropriate office of the State of Florida such that their registered political party currently registered as 'Tea Party' must include other terms in order to avoid public confusion that the Florida 'Tea Party' is somehow endorsed or approved by the plaintiffs."

Herrera suggested that one remedy could be for O'Neal's party to spell out the acronym and rename itself "Taxed Enough Already."

O'Neal, in his response, said the rival groups could themselves have formed a political tea party and registered it with the state and the Federal Elections Commission.

"But, for whatever reason, they chose not to," he said.

The Orlando attorney argued in his motion for dismissal that the lawsuit contained "political questions (that) have been held to be nonjusticiable" in court.

O'Neal further disputed the plaintiffs' contention that he had threatened rival tea groups in three e-mails. He stated in his court response that the e-mails had been "doctored."

"The suit never claimed they were threatened, only that they 'feared' such action," O'Neal wrote.

Judge Marra, who adjourned court without a ruling, closely questioned both sides, but appeared skeptical that an actual "controversy" had been proven by the plaintiffs or that his court had the necessary jurisdiction.

At one point, the judge asked Herrera if the attorney thought that the Republican and Democratic parties had infringed on the terms "republican" and "democratic."

Herrera responded that O'Neal did not "understand" trademark law and that the Florida statute governing party registration "makes no sense."

"It's so vague that I could start a Judge Marra Party," he said.

Herrera did not comment after the hearing, saying, "I don't talk to the press."

But O'Neal and fellow defendants Doug Guetzloe and Nick Egoroff had plenty to say.

Calling the case "the most bogus lawsuit I've seen," O'Neal said, "The judge had a good grasp of the issue. This suit was brought for purely political purposes."

Guetzloe, a TEA Party consultant and former Orange County GOP official, extended his criticism to Bill McCollum, whom Wilkinson accompanied Friday when the attorney general filed for the Republican gubernatorial primary.

"By identifying himself as chairman of the Florida Tea Party, Wilkinson distorted the political process. The attorney general perpetrated that lie and misrepresentation," Guetzloe said.

Wilkinson did not appear in court and was not immediately available for comment.

--

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.


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