Ken Mackie continues to be an adversary of Fresno Unified School Board President Brooke Ashjian. The Merced-based attorney represents a group called Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding (FWEB). Or at least Mackie represented a group called that until Wednesday night (August 9).
As their name implies, the watchdog group, through Mackie, have been vocal critics of Ashjian’s business practices. They question whether he influenced any construction-contract votes during his tenure on the school board. Mackie first spoke to the school board questioning a contract in March 2016.
But a group linked to Ashjian is now making a claim on the name. A Sacramento attorney says that the name Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding is now under trademark and Mackie is no longer able to say he represents them.
“This letter is to notify you that my client has acquired a common law trademark in the name “Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding,” the cease and desist letter from Terry J. Martin of the firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP reads. “We demand that you immediately cease using the name.” The name of the client is not identified in the letter.
This does not neccesarily mean that this Ashjian opposition group must cease activities. They just might have to go by a different name.
The implications of this action bother Mackie. “They could wind up sending information about Mr. Ashjian to Mr. Ashjian, so that’s obviously a concern,” Mackie says. He is also concerned that potential donations would be diverted to an unintended source. He tells GV Wire he will consider fighting the trademark on behalf of his client.
Mackie tells GV Wire that he is unaware of anyone taking the steps to register FWEB as a trademark. However, there is a move in process to incorporate a group with that name as a non-profit.
According to the registration filed with the California Secretary of State’s office, the business address is 4237 W. Swift Ave. in Fresno. That is the same address of Seal Rite Paving & Grading, of which Ashjian serves as CEO. The Agent of Service of Process is Martin (it is not uncommon for an attorney to be listed in this capacity). However, Ashjian’s own name does not appear in the cease and desist letter nor the registration documents.
“It kind of begs the point that this other non-profit group traces back to his business address. Assuming it is him, why is he trying to usurp the name? Is it a way to try to shut me down? If so, it’s not going to work,” Mackie tells GV Wire.
While Ashjian was not available for comment for this story, his spokesman Alex Tavilan did speak. “Mr. Mackie is misrepresenting the Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding. The cease and desist letter speaks for itself,” Tavilan said. “Mackie needs to re-evaluate the strategy of pestering a board member.”
There remains an air of mystery regarding who the original FWEB group is. Mackie has cited attorney-client privilege from revealing who is behind the group to either Ashjian or the media. Any guess who is behind the group is just speculation. “All I can say is it is one or more individuals,” Mackie said.
As to why the registration address came back to Seal Rite? Tavilan did not have direct knowledge of this, but did concede it is possible. “We want to know who Mackie’s clients are. Who’s paying him and why?” Tavilan asks.
Mackie also filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission last October, alleging Ashjian failed to report numerous sources of income and has voted in violation of conflict of interest statues. FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga says the case is still open.
Appearing at the Fresno Unified School Board meeting on Wednesday, Mackie was one of 15 members of public to chime in on Ashjian’s recent LGBT comments made in the Fresno Bee. As Mackie stepped to the podium, a bespectacled man in a sports coat handed him a letter.
“This is for you,” said the man, who turned out to be Tavilan.
Mackie briefly delayed his presentation while he studied what has handed to him. “Forgive the pause. I was just handed a letter insisting I cease and desist using the name Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding. I will not be able to address that,” he said before addressing the board.
Twenty-five seconds after Mackie started, Ashjian interrupted Mackie after the first utterance of FWEB. “Mr. Mackie, you do not represent that group. We have…you have a cease and desist letter,” Ashjian said. After a brief back and forth, Mackie continued his thoughts on Ashjian and the LGBT comments.
Mackie says he will evaluate his options on challenging any trademark.
Though it currently cannot be verified that Ashjian filed the articles of incorporation himself, documentation identifying the officers and directors of this group must be filed with the Secretary of State by October 18.
Drew Phelps contributed to this story. Illustration: Hannah Reilly
As appeared in GVWire.