Judge hears MoveOn billboard case

MoveOn.org overstepped constitutional free speech rights when it used the state’s tourism slogan on a billboard critical of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s rejection of Medicaid expansion, a state attorney argued in Baton Rouge federal court Wednesday.

“This is all about proper balance; not the First Amendment trumps all trademark rights,” said Dale Baringer, a Baton Rouge attorney representing the state Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism.

Baringer said the national advocacy group is using the state’s tourism slogan and trademark for its own political advocacy and fundraising. He said the state Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism “has a duty to protect that mark.”

But MoveOn.org’s lead attorney, Joseph Sandler, countered the group’s use of the registered “Pick Your Passion” mark is “an appropriate and constitutional use of parody.”

“The idea of the billboard is here the state promotes itself as a great place to live and visit yet we ... want to make a point that it’s not such a good place to live and visit because of health care policy decisions of the governor,” Sandler said.

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, said she had been poised to rule from the bench Wednesday. But, Dick said, “I’d be better served, and the parties, with a written opinion” which would come out early next week.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne went to court after a MoveOn sponsored billboard went up along Interstate 10 near Baton Rouge and the group refused to have it taken down.

Dardenne said the billboard created confusion among people who saw it and it detracted from the state’s tourism message.

On Wednesday, Sandler said “no reasonable person” seeing the billboard is likely to believe the message on it is being espoused by Dardenne, his department or any other state agency.

But Baringer said irreparable harm has been done and injury established.

“The danger to the actual (service) mark?” interjected Dick.

“And reputation of the lieutenant governor and the Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism. They go hand in hand,” Baringer said.

Baringer said the billboard uses more of the “Pick Your Passion” mark than necessary to accomplish the parody.

He said the harm to Dardenne cannot be questioned. “It puts ,words in somebody’s mouth that did not say those words,” he said.

“I understand that this could potentially be a slippery slope because of using the mark for political speech,” Dick said.

“ As a citizen of this state ... I wouldn’t like to see the state’s mark used in mud-slinging political campaigns,” she added.

But Sandler said the billboard is a “true parody.”

He said no one would logically believe that the state would have a billboard critical of itself.

“This is a noncommercial use of the mark,” Sandler said.