Nothing Says ‘Christmas’ Like a Lawsuit : Business


’Tis the season to be suing. Which is to say, it’s time for dispatches from America’s annual Christmas Wars.

Let’s start in the Arkansas, where the mayor of Eureka Springs (population 2,171) has reversed himself and decided to allow a Nativity scene to remain in a public park. Originally, the town had asked that the privately owned exhibit be removed, evidently because of a threatened lawsuit. Cooler heads prevailed. Because other “secular displays” are permitted, a religious exhibit is consistent with US Supreme Court precedents.

No, this isn’t theocracy on the march. The mayor was swift to assure news outlets that his town was the first in Arkansas to issue licenses for same-sex marriages, and among the first to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Sometimes we can all live together.

Or maybe we can’t. One lawyer who’d planned to take his children, ages seven and five, to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall was told his tickets were revoked. The problem? His law firm is suing Madison Square Garden, which owns Radio City Music Hall, on behalf of a man who was assaulted after a hockey game. MSG claims they can ban any plaintiffs’ lawyers from attending any of their venues.

Earlier this month, a judge issued an order allowing the lawyer and his family to attend the event. An unrepentant MSG huffed that it expects to win on appeal. Maybe. But law and public relations are two different things. This is the same company that five years ago banned from the Garden one Charles Oakley, a retired and beloved star of the New York Knicks basketball team, which MSG also owns. So nobody should be surprised that company is fighting for its right to play the Grinch.

Meanwhile, in federal court in Brooklyn the other day, a judge used a holiday theme while handing down sentence in a terrible crime. Shortly before Christmas of 2018, the defendant saw a man in red attire sitting in a car near her home. Alarmed, she called her boyfriend and told him that a member of the Bloods street gang was outside. The boyfriend shot the man in the back.

Only the victim wasn’t a gang member. He was an FBI agent, in the neighborhood on an unrelated matter. (He survived.) In rejecting a plea for leniency last week, Judge William F. Kuntz had this to say:

She witnessed her life partner shoot an innocent man in the back because that man had the temerity to wear a jolly red suit while admiring her outdoor holiday decorations two weeks before Christmas. She then repeatedly lied to the FBI about what she saw. She should not be shocked to find nothing beyond a lump of coal in her Christmas stocking. Santa Claus distinguishes actions between naughty and nice.

On a lighter note, there’s the Queen of Christmas saga. Last month, headlines trumpeted the Trademark Office’s rejection of Mariah Carey’s effort to obtain the exclusive right to use “Queen of Christmas” (and other related marks) for such varied products as fragrances, children’s stories, musical sound recordings, and — yes — “sanitary masks for protection against viral infection.”

Carey’s 1994 recording of “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a ubiquitous sign of the season. She was long ago dubbed Queen of Christmas by various media outlets. (She also once rejected the title.) But her effort to gain exclusivity over the term sparked objections, particularly by one Elizabeth Chan, who bills herself as “music’s only full-time Christmas singer-songwriter” and who’s also been called Queen of Christmas. (As has Darlene Love.)

But let’s be clear: Contrary to what I’ve seen in several headlines, the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board didn’t rule that Carey could not prove rights in the mark. The board denied the application because she never responded to Chan’s filing in opposition. Maybe she was too busy getting ready for her Christmas concert at — you guessed it! — Madison Square Garden. 

I wonder if any lawyers attended her concert.

Finally, let’s drop in on Dedham, Massachusetts, where the public library will be displaying a Christmas tree after all. A decision had been made — I choose the passive voice because media reports leave unclear who made it — to end the three-decade tradition, evidently because the presence of the tree made some people uncomfortable.

Its absence made others uncomfortable.

The ensuing social-media battle descended into what town officials called “the harassment and bullying of town employees.” Behavior of that kind “is not a true reflection of our commitment to lead with kindness and civility.” So the Christmas tree — excuse me, the town calls it a “holiday tree” — will stand.

The official statement closes with on an optimistic note appropriate for the season: “We strive to make Dedham a welcoming community for all, where differences can be celebrated, not attacked.”

A sentiment we should all try to carry into the New Year.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

• A Conservative Theory Too Extreme Even for This Supreme Court: Noah Feldman

• ‘ Reverse Discrimination’ Is a Concept With a Long, Ugly History: Stephen L. Carter

• Republicans Are Coming for ESG Investing: Ramesh Ponnuru

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. A professor of law at Yale University, he is author, most recently, of “Invisible: The Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster.”

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