Judge: NMMI can keep lawyers

October 18, 2013 • Local News

New Mexico Military Institute’s ousted Alumni Association lost its first battle in what is expected to be a lengthy court fight against [auth] the school.

An Eddy County district court judge decided late Thursday NMMI can keep its legal counsel, denying a motion by the Association to disqualify the Institution’s law firm of Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor and Martin.

The Association asked Judge Jane Shuler Gray to disqualify NMMI’s counsel because Maryl McNally, an associate attorney with the same firm, represented the Association when she practiced law at the Mark W. Taylor law firm.

NMMI argued that McNally did not play a role in the current dispute between the Institute and the Association. Any conflict was waived by the Association and McNally was kept away from any contact with information related to the pending lawsuit, according to NMMI.

Although the Association’s attorneys objected, Shuler Gray interviewed McNally privately on camera during Tuesday’s hearing and determined that she knew nothing of the current lawsuit.

“Her knowledge of the Association’s relationship with the Institute was almost non-existent,” Shuler Gray found. “This Court cannot find that the representation by McNally of Association meets the requirements defining a ‘substantial relationship’ …”

The Association’s attorney, Jeffrey Dahl, said the decision was just one step in the process.

“We’re just going to go forward,” Dahl said Friday. “We believe the judge considered everything. That’s just part of the procedure of the case. We’re ready to proceed to more substantive matters.”

Court proceedings began Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by NMMI against the Association.

First filed by NMMI June 10, the suit asked the court to freeze all accounts held by the Association and transfer the monies to the NMMI Foundation, ban the group from representing the school and order the Association from using any Institute logos, trademarks or images.

Shuler Gray will first decide whether to place an injunction on the Association’s use of NMMI’s logos and trademarks. She will hear more testimony in the case Oct. 28.

Both sides provided testimony Tuesday about its use of the “stacked NMMI” logo, shields and other trademarks.

The Association argued that the school had never officially registered its name or logos with federal or state governments and therefore, the school could not demand that the Association stop using them.

“This is just the beginning of what will probably we a very lengthy process,” Dahl said.

NMMI ended its nearly 50-year relationship with the Association in April, citing financial and management problems that started in 2009. The Association was locked out of its on-campus offices and has since moved into the Best Western Sally Port Inn and Suites nearby. The relationship between the school and the non-profit was severed, though the Association continues to fundraise in the Institute’s name.

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