Stella Lohmann
Jury decides: Who owns "Tea Party Patriots"--battle over IP, Trademark Rights
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By Stella Lohmann
November 11, 2011

A Cobb County jury holds the fate of who controls and owns the rights to the "Tea Party Patriots" name in a trial between two recognized figures within the two and a half year old Tea Party Movement. At odds are two founders of Tea Party Patriots organization — Roswell, GA resident, Amy Kremer (currently Chairman of Tea Party Express), and TPP President, Jenny Beth Martin, of Kennesaw, GA — co-workers after CNBC reporter, Rick Santelli called for 'a tea party' in protest to a pending stimulus bill by President Barak Obama and Congress in February of 2009.

The Woodstock-based Tea Party Patriots Inc. alleges that Amy Kremer, who lives in the Roswell area of Cobb, wrongly retained control of the group's email list and intellectual property, including its trademark name and websites, after she was removed as a member of the group's board of directors in September 2009. — Marietta Daily Journal. Both sides are suing for punitive damages and attorney fees.

Now more than two and half years after the two women began working on tea parties together, Kremer sat on the witness stand telling her side of why in September following the 9/12 March on Washington that drew an estimated 1.2 million at the Capitol she was 'kicked off a board that I never agreed to be a part of."

"I was 'set up' by Martin and other initial organizers: Mark Meckler, a lawyer from Sacramento, CA; Rob Neppell who Kremer says became involved by 'default' when another initial organizer Michael Patrick Leahy of TCOT (Top Conservatives on Twitter), recommended Neppell's technical involvement; and legal counsel, Doug Chalmers, a political law attorney from Atlanta suggested by Martin in May of 2009.

Tea Party Patriots grew exponentially following the March on Washington in numbers of members and donations. Martin has given interviews nationally claiming millions of members and thousands of local groups under the umbrella of the corporation since then. Donations are solicited through its website, emails and other promotional pieces on a regular basis. Martin testified that early on she was the only one paid early on and Meckler added, "It wasn't based on the volume of work but the need...Jenny Beth couldn't remain working."

Kremer was paid $3,000 for her work for the month of August 2009 but not for June through September which became part of her countersuit for reimbursement of those expenses incurred on behalf of TPP for road trips to Washington with Martin and with her daughter, Kylie.

"How could they be squabbling over $134 food receipt when they are spending $150,000 in TPP donations to litigate this case against the woman that created it? The donors don't know that their money isn't going toward fighting for fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets — but rather for lavish buffets, high end hotel suites and near six digit salaries for Jenny Beth and Mark," said Toby Walker, a Texas tea party organizer and member of TPP. Walker was in town to support Kremer and sit in on the proceedings.

Billie Tucker, Co-founder of First Coast Tea Party of Jacksonville, Florida said after court adjourned that she was disappointed that the judge interrupted her testimony saying it was not admissible since she had never met Kremer and had only been told by other board members to reach a settlement with Kremer in September, but TPP filed a lawsuit instead. Tucker, a professional corporate governance consultant, resigned from the TPP Board of Directors due to concerns over the focus on the Kremer controversy and lack of transparency and governance by the board of directors.

On re-cross examination, Meckler was asked about his role as treasurer for TPP, Inc. and said, "It's about being good stewards over the donors' money." During closing arguments, he shook his head a number of times when Kremer's attorney said that both Meckler and Martin had a reason to maintain control — "the sound of money."

Meckler and Martin are said to earn salaries upwards of six digits and extensive expense accounts according to Scott Boston of St. Louis before closing arguments on Friday. "They used their accounts for everything."

"I believe Doug Chalmers saw this as a 'cash cow'" as he worked with the other board members to have me removed Kremer stated matter of factly. Why? "He knew this was becoming big...His August bill was outrageous...."

Deborah Ausburn of the Galleria-based Taylor English Duma firm, Martin's attorney played a taped recording that Kremer provided the court of the conference call where Meckler, Martin and Neppell agreed if Kremer remained on the board of directors' conference call that she is stating that she is part of the board to protect confidentiality. "Did you lie by remaining on the call indicating your were part of the board of directors?

Repeatedly Kremer explained she was protecting her interests and was afraid of if 'these people are capable of doing this, then what else can they do?"

Chalmers was the last witness to testify reaffirmed he signed the consent of incorporation listing Kremer as a board member after she said yes to remaining on the board of directors call that evening in her house.

Martin never contested Kremer's statements as fact that she indeed purchased and created sites using Tea Party Patriots name. Kremer's attorneys, Shaun Daugherty and Kevin Leipow of the Atlanta firm Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover entered receipts as evidence of social networking sites that she purchased as early as March 6, 2009 — teapartypatriots.ning.com and teapartypatriots.org and later .us, .net and .info domains. She also created a Tea Party Patriots group on the Smart Girl Politics website using the name of her personal website "Southern Belle Politics" name to direct traffic to tea parties being planned nationally for Tax Day Tea Parties (TDTP). "It had Southern Belle name I use and my picture," Kremer told Martin's attorney, when asked if her name was found anywhere on the created pages early on.

Tea Party Patriots became Tea Party, Inc. following an incredibly successful TDTP effort, led by Kremer as the Nationwide Coordinator, when it became necessary to incorporate in order to solicit donations. The legal process required establishing a nonprofit and the initial four organizers decided on a 50l C4 status in lieu of a PAC which could support candidates. That decision laid the foundation for a controversy surrounding Kremer's involvement with the Tea Party Express, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, that had received national attention with its promotional bus tour across the country — on its way to the Tax Day Tea Party in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2009.

Meckler was not part of the initial team of nationwide organizers and Kremer said Meckler had sent her emails wanting to be involved since he organized tea party efforts in Sacramento, CA. "I never would sit on a board with Mark Meckler and Rob Neppell, never. I didn't know these people." Meckler testified that he was the one who began talking with Martin and later was introduced to Kremer. As events unfolded Meckler would be the one to suggest Kremer accept an invitation to join the TPX bus tour representing TPP as well as the one to push for incorporation, the hiring of Doug Chalmers, and later with Martin and Neppell, Kremer's removal from 'the board.'

In testimony, Chalmers admitted he had researched 'how to remove someone from the board' the night before after having discussions with Meckler, Martin and Neppell. Kremer testified Chalmers never returned her calls the night before all three voted her to be removed from the board of directors of TPP.

Today, Kremer is Chairman of TPX and is seen regularly on all network and media outlet. In 2010, she was named The Most Influential Person in the Tea Party by a United Kingdom media outlet. Martin was listed among the Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine in 2010.

"I'm just a regular person who had never been active in politics but I was concerned about the direction my country was going in," explained Kremer. "I saw a void and I wanted to fill it."

Martin, mother of boy and girl twins, testified that she was also concerned and had spent countless hours 'tweeting' about what was happening in Washington. "I was one of its (Twitter) first adopters...'Mommy' blogging." A self proclaimed active participant in politics since age 14, Martin listed her involvement in campaigns and associations with elected officials as well as her technical business training from Reinhardt College '90 and University of GA '92.

"I heard (about Santelli's Rant) on Rush (Limbaugh) radio show," while cleaning houses at the time, explained Martin who had lost her home with husband, Lee in bankruptcy and foreclosure before the tea party movement began. She testified that she posted on the Smart Girl Politics internet site and was asked by its founders, Teri Christop and Stacy Mott to be actively involved.

It wasn't long before Kremer's and Martin's social networking crossed paths. Kremer credits Michael Patrick Leahy of TCOT as the one who got 'the movement' organized and set a conference call of 22 across the nation to decide how to move forward after Santelli's rant. Martin was one of those on that first conference call. She and Kremer would talk privately immediately after that initial call and determine to host a tea party at the GA Capital a week later.

The Atlanta Tea Party event was created Fox News made contact wanting to broadcast LIVE from the rally which drew more than an estimated 20 thousand, one of the largest of 48 held nationally that day. Martin credits her relationships with elected officials for their involvement at the rally and Debbie Dooley of Gwinnett County for securing the site permit and promotion on several media outlets. Both worked on the March on Washington in 2009.

Who knew behind the scenes of rallies, signs, and chants of 'fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets' — the principles promoted by TPP — that their efforts and friendship would lead to the civil court and charges of wrongdoing individually and corporately in counter suits.

"It's so sad. I thought she was my friend," Kremer told the court tearfully. When asked if Kremer was a friend, Martin responded, "No, she was a political associate."

"What would you do if you had ownership of Tea Party Patriots trademark again?" Ausburn asked ending her cross examination.

"It was never intended to be a money maker. I would return it back to what I envisioned at the beginning — a tool for others to connect and communicate in the movement."

© Stella Lohmann

 

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