News Item: (USA) Judge Refuses to Strip Biker Gang of Trademarked Logo
(Category: Biker News)
Posted by ace
Friday 01 March 2019 - 16:32:15

The Mongols motorcycle club Thursday won the latest round in its battle with the federal government, when a judge refused to carry out a jury’s decision to strip the club of trademarks it holds on its coveted logo.

LOS ANGELES — The Mongols motorcycle club Thursday won the latest round in its battle with the federal government, when a judge refused to carry out a jury’s decision to strip the club of trademarks it holds on its coveted logo.

Denying Mongol members, many of whom have been convicted over past decades for a range of violent crimes and drug offenses, the right to display the logo on their leather riding jackets and elsewhere would overstep the constitutional right to free expression embedded in the First Amendment, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive penalties, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter ruled.

“We are ecstatic that the Mongols motorcycle club has been able to win this First Amendment battle for itself and all motorcycle clubs,” said Stephen Stubbs, an attorney for the Mongols. “The government has clearly overreached into a realm that the Constitution does not allow. They tried to ban symbolic speech.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said, “We are disappointed in the ruling,” adding that prosecutors believe the law obligated Carter to order the trademarks to be forfeited.

The government is “definitely considering an appeal,” he said.

In December, after a lengthy trial, a jury convicted the Mongols as an organization of racketeering and conspiracy charges, finding the group shared responsibility for murder, attempted murder and drug crimes committed by individual members.

The verdict allowed prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office to pursue something they had long sought: a court order forcing the Mongols to forfeit the trademarks it owns over the image of a Genghis Khan figure in sunglasses riding a motorcycle beneath the group’s name, spelled out in large block letters.

Since the group was formed in late 1960s, the logo has been the foundation of the Mongols’ identity, which over the years has included involvement in drug dealing and violence by many members. Only those who have been admitted to the inner ranks of the insular group are allowed to stitch the large patches onto their riding apparel. And in the closed-off world of motorcycle clubs, built largely around rivalries and alliances with other groups, the logo confers authority on members.

Following more testimony and legal wrangling over the forfeiture issue, the jury voted unanimously that the Mongols should lose control of the trademarks, finding that there was a direct link between the image and one of the criminal charges the club faced — conspiracy to commit racketeering.

Calling the verdict the “first of its kind in the nation,” U.S. Attorney Nicola Hanna said seizing the Mongols trademarks would serve to “attack the sources of a criminal enterprise’s economic power and influence.”

But rather than order the trademarks forfeited, Carter set a hearing to examine, among other things, the First Amendment issues raised by the verdict.

When both sides arrived in court Thursday to make their cases for signing off on the jury’s decision, Carter — who during the trial made no secret of his concerns that the novel legal strategy crossed constitutional lines — had his 51-page order already written.

The government’s pursuit of the trademarks had struck experts as a dubious if innovative gambit. While it seemed clear that forfeiting the trademarks would cut off the stream of money that Mongols leaders collect from selling patches and other merchandise to members, it was far less certain whether trademark laws could overcome constitutional questions and empower government officials to stop Mongols members from wearing any clothing with the potent Mongol image.

It was not the first time concerns over the First Amendment have been raised in the government’s pursuit of the Mongols. A decade ago, in an earlier case, prosecutors sought authority to seize clothing bearing the Mongols’ insignia. A member of the club sued, claiming his rights under the First Amendment were at risk, and prevailed.

“The plaintiff’s hardship in not being able to express his views and public interest in protecting speech outweigh the government’s interest in suppressing an intimidating symbol,” the judge in that case wrote.

The Mongols were formed in the 1970s in Montebello, east of Los Angeles, by a group of mostly Latino men who reportedly had been rejected for membership by the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, which has become the Mongols’ archrival. It has expanded over the decades to include several hundred members in chapters across Southern California and elsewhere.

The federal government has pursued the Mongols for years, along with several other biker clubs identified as “outlaw motorcycle gangs.” Despite their claims of being innocent social clubs, the groups, which include the Hells Angels, Vagos and the Outlaws, have long track records of warring with one another and, according to authorities, operate as criminal organizations that subsist on the drug trade.

In 2008, nearly 80 Mongols members were charged in a sweeping racketeering case that included an array of alleged murders, assaults and drug deals. The charges were the culmination of Operation Black Rain, an investigation that centered on paid informants and undercover agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who infiltrated the club’s ranks.

Prosecutors devised the strategy of stripping the Mongols of their trademarks in this earlier case. At a news conference announcing the charges, then-U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien laid out the strategy, saying that taking control of the trademarked insignia would give the government the authority to force Mongols members to remove the image from their riding jackets.

All but two of the defendants in the case pleaded guilty and a judge agreed the trademarks should be forfeited, but ultimately reversed himself after deciding none of the people charged in the case actually owned the trademarks.

That led prosecutors to try again with a second racketeering case that was largely the same as the first but which named only one defendant: Mongol Nation, the entity that prosecutors say is made up of the club’s leaders and owns the trademarks.

In his ruling, Carter granted the government’s requested forfeiture of weapons and other property agents seized during raids on Mongol offices and members’ houses.

Carter has not yet imposed a sentence on the Mongols in the racketeering case. The punishment could include monetary fines.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

Joseph Yanny, a criminal defense attorney who argued the case for the Mongols, expressed disappointment that the judge had rejected his requests that the verdict be tossed out altogether.

But he acknowledged that allowing the club to maintain control over its logo was a major win. Losing the trademarks, he had said during the trial, would have amounted to a “death sentence” for the Mongols.

The government’s case, he said, was an attempt to impose “collective guilt” on an organization for the crimes committed by some of its members.

“That’s never been the law in this country,” he said.

https://www.officer.com/investigations/news/21070405/judge-refuses-to-strip-biker-gang-of-trademarked-logo


This news item is from White Trash Networks
( http://www.bikernews.org/wtn/news.php?extend.18076 )