NMMI vs. Alumni judge: ‘It all boils down to money’

October 15, 2013 • Local News

Court proceedings began Tuesday between the New Mexico Military Institute and its former Alumni Association, in a case that has pitted brother against brother in a bitter dispute over money and reputations.

At the heart of the issue is whether the Alumni Association can legally keep using the Institute’s name and logos to continue raising money and hold onto $5 million it has collected in the school’s name.

“It all boils down to the money, obviously,” said Eddy County District Court Judge Jane Shuler-Grey, during the proceedings as the Association was discussing the deteriorated relationship.

Shuler-Grey scheduled only one hour for a preliminary injunction hearing and a motion by the Alumni Association to dismiss NMMI’s legal counsel. But she delayed her other morning hearings to allow as much testimony as possible.

By noon, the judge recessed the case until further evidence could be heard. Shuler-Grey said she would make a ruling on the request to dismiss NMMI’s attorneys by the end of this week. Another court date could be [auth] set by the end of the month.

During Tuesday’s hearing, testimony reflected the sour divide that now exists between the Institute and its former fundraising and alumni support organization.

Testimony by NMMI President and Superintendent Gen. Jerry Grizzle and Alumni Association President John Phinizy included emails exchanges, Facebook postings and popularity of certain alumni members, allegations of strong-arming and controlling of board members by the Association.

The Institute ended its nearly 50-year relationship with the Association financial and management concerns that started in 2009, according to its lawsuit.

The Alumni Association filed its answer to the lawsuit July 31, spelling out its plans to fight allegations of past financial trouble, management turnover and assertions that the group’s function is to serve the school and its cadets.

One major focal point of Tuesday’s hearing was an agreement the Association signed with the NMMI Board of Regents in March 2012. The agreement specified that the Association could only use NMMI trademarks, logos, name and marks if the agreement was current.

That agreement was terminated in April.

“They are conveniently ignoring that agreement,” said NMMI spokesman Carl Hansen last week. “That agreement is not in place and it won’t be again. It has been terminated.”

The Association’s attorneys argued the group was “strong-armed” by the Institution into accepting the agreement.

“It was basically a done deal,” Phinizy told the court. “There was no discussion from the board. This is what Gen. Grizzle wants. We need to pass it.”

Grizzle disputed having any intentions of trying to control the Association, though the Association’s Attorney, Jeffrey Dahl, asked if he wanted to “get rid” of certain members, or “couldn’t stand” others.

“Everything depends on your perspective, obviously,” Shuler-Grey said.

Dahl argued that the NMMI letters, trademarks and logos were never registered by the state or federal agencies by the school. Therefore, the Association has as much a right to use them as the Institution, and the school cannot demand that the Association stop using them.

“They have not registered them either,” Dahl said. “Who has a better claim to the trademarks?” Dahl said, following the hearing.

The divide has had a ripple effect with Institute alumni across the nation, according to some testimony providing by NMMI—the fallout of a break-up of what continued to further tear apart the brotherhood of the Institution that has existed since 1891.

Upcoming Homecoming events are being held by both competing groups.

“The confusion exists with the Institution putting on its own activities and the Alumni Association not affiliated with it is putting on its own activities,” Grizzle said.

Grizzle also said further evidence that alumni across the nation are affected by the ongoing confusion caused by the Alumni Association’s decision to continue operating.

At a recent event put on by NMMI’s Office of Alumni Affairs, held in Overland, Kan., 50 alumni were expected to attend. But, only 15 showed, Grizzle told the court.

“The ones in attendance stated that they did not attend because of the confusion,” Grizzle said.

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