NMMI, Association conclude first arguments

October 29, 2013 • Local News

New Mexico Military Institute finished arguments Monday asking a judge to immediately order its former Alumni Association to stop using [auth] the school’s name and logos.

Eddy County District Court Judge Jane Shuler-Grey will decide in the next week or two whether to place a restraining order against the Association for continuing to use “NMMI” logos, crests, name and images.

NMMI asked the judge to hear this part of its lawsuit immediately as the Association’s continued use of the school’s name and logos was causing “irreparable harm.”

The Institute was tasked with providing testimony that the Association’s use of its name and logos caused confusion with alumni and permanent harm to the school, during the two-day hearing that started Oct. 15 and resumed Monday.

“We’ve been using the marks continuously for over 100 years,” said NMMI attorney Parker Folse, with the law firm Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor and Martin. “Whether it’s registered or not, is a red herring.”

NMMI attorneys stuck to the facts throughout the hearing that pointed to the Association’s Memorandum of Agreement, signed March 30, 2012. In this contract, the Association agreed to discontinue using the names, marks and logos if ties were severed.

NMMI’s Board of Regents cut ties with the Association, voiding the agreement, in April, following a failed negotiation over financial issues.

Per the agreement and after the Association voted to stop working things out with the school, the group was kicked off campus in April.

But, the Association regrouped and continued fundraising and using NMMI’s insignias.

Shuler-Grey asked whether the Association could rename itself and continue to raise money to give to students.

“No,” Folse said. “The Institute will no longer do business with them. In order for a state agency to receive those funds, there has to be a written agreement. That agreement has been terminated.”

The non-profit is now located at a hotel nearby and maintains more than $5 million in funds that are also in dispute.

NMMI has asked the judge to seize the $5 million in earmarked funds, meant for cadet scholarships, and an additional account the Association uses to operate. That issue will need to be heard at a later time, said NMMI attorney Richard Olson.

A fracture began within the Association following its banishment from school property and decision to fight the Institute. Some alumni continue to side with new Association President John Phinizy and its board, and others have pledged to remain loyal to NMMI.

Phinizy has spearheaded the defense in what he has called a “fight” against NMMI, in the Institute’s lawsuit.

The Association’s attorney, Jeffrey Dahl, argued that NMMI’s case was not warranted, and “harsh.”

“There really is no evidence here or irreparable injury,” Dahl told the court. “They are basing their case on the premise that they own this name, they own their trademarks and logos. They make the claim, they’ve been using it longer.”

Dahl said the judge needed to find a balance of equities and move forward to hear the entire case.

Shuler-Grey said it was her understanding that every university’s alumni group raises money to flow into the school, not to give back to its alumni organization.

“Frankly, with alumni relationships, the money really only flows one way,” Shuler-Grey told Dahl. “Really everything is going to hinge on that Memorandum of Agreement.”

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