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Court Case Fails to Stop the Carnival

The legal dispute over the rights to represent Carnival on St. Thomas will not reach a resolution before this year’s scheduled events take place. The judge presiding over a preliminary hearing said Friday he would take at least six weeks to render a ruling.

The case is on, in District Court, over disputes involving Carnival. But preparations for this year’s fete are moving ahead.

The hearing that began on Thursday morning and wrapped up Friday afternoon examined one aspect of a civil lawsuit filed by the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee March 28. Through its lawyer — former V.I. Attorney General Terri Griffiths — the committee charged Department of Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte and two others with trademark infringement, unlawful taking of private property, and misuse of trademarked slogans in a way that could confuse those who read them.

After hearing arguments over motions made by Justice Department lawyers, District Court Judge Robert Molloy decided to limit the scope of the hearing to alleged violations of the 1946 Lanham Act, a federal statute.

Under Lanham, it’s illegal to use phrasing that’s similar to a U.S. registered trademark in a way that would confuse consumers. The trademarks at the heart of this week’s hearing are Virgin Islands Carnival and St. Thomas Carnival.

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Since the Festivals Division of Tourism began its operations in 2019 with the staging of the One Night Only showcase on St. Thomas during the pandemic year 2020, they have been promoting events under the moniker Carnival Virgin Islands.

A new promotion appearing on the Tourism website and over the internet lists four events set to take place between April 27 and May 1 in 2022, promoted as Carnival Virgin Islands.

As he appeared on the witness stand on behalf of the government, Division of Festivals Director Ian Turnbull said the phrasing Tourism uses in promotion is not an official term — but more like a generic one.

Griffiths called former Carnival Executive Director Caswil Callender as her first witness. Callender served on the committee in various capacities for 35 years. On cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Venetia Velazquez asked if the registered trademarks were sought after a 2004 court ruling that led to an audit of the committee’s financial records.

“There was no correlation between the two,” he said. The committee planned to file trademarks for the two identifiers prior to that year’s court case.

Lawyers also raised questions about when the terms Virgin Islands Carnival and St. Thomas Carnival first appeared in public. St. Thomas Carnival was first used in 1992, Callender said.

The judge also asked Callender if he knew of any other government entity that used the registered trademarks. The witness said no. The next witness for the plaintiffs, Alphonse Stalliard, produced a keepsake booklet he brought from home dated 1965 bearing the phrase Virgin Islands Carnival.

In testimony, Stalliard said he had been involved with Carnival events since 1952 when his father played in the Community Band and performed for some of the Carnival events. Molloy asked to see the booklet, which he examined carefully and then entered into evidence, promising to return it in good shape.

Former Carnival Committee director Halvor Hart III testified about his knowledge of registered trademarks. Hart currently serves as assistant director of the Festivals Division at Tourism.

He said he knew the Carnival Committee had trademarks and, on at least one occasion, remembered paying a renewal fee to the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office.

Turnbull appeared at the hearing Friday on behalf of the government. Assistant Attorney General Ariel Smith asked about budget allocations channeled through Tourism for the purpose of staging the Carnival.

On cross-examination, Griffiths asked how much money the division had collected in sponsorships to put on this year’s events. Turnbull said he could not give an exact figure since the division is still in the process of securing sponsorships.

Denise Johannes, from the Office of the Lieutenant Governor Division of Corporations and Trademarks, testified about an annual reporting requirement for entities like the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee. She also answered questions about one such report the committee filed with the division in 2002. Velazquez asked the corporations and trademarks director who submitted the 2002 annual report.

“I cannot tell you who submitted the report … It was represented as coming from the Virgin Islands Carnival Committee, and it was signed by various officers,” Johannes said.

At the end of the hearing, Molloy asked both legal teams to submit briefs to the court summarizing their arguments. He also said he would likely issue an opinion on the preliminary hearing, the briefs, and the motions within the next 40 to 50 days.

One of the motions has the potential to derail the committee’s case. Justice is challenging the names of those who were listed as defendants, citing legal procedures that say the head of the government — in this case, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. — and the head of Justice must be named as well.

Griffiths admitted at the hearing she did not name Bryan and Attorney General Denise George as defendants but did serve them subpoenas. The lawyer and former attorney general said she will argue that the case remains in good standing based on that service.

As the parties left the Ron de Lugo Federal Courthouse on Friday afternoon, Baker, the current Carnival committee director, said he’s looking forward to a favorable outcome.

“Things are looking good. To me, things are always looking good,” he said.

And as a side note, the late V.I. Delegate to Congress Ron DeLugo is noted as one of the people who helped organize Carnival on St. Thomas in 1952. In those days, he was a radio host at station WSTA-AM, broadcasting under the name Mango Jones.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to say that Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and the head of the Justice Department would be named as defendants in the lawsuit, not plaintiffs.

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