Friday, February 08, 2008

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Sports Partners ordered to show cause
RED & BLACK SUIT: Judge wants Shultz to say why injunction should be avoided

A state Supreme Court judge has ordered Sports Partners Inc. to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be entered against it preventing the company's semipro football team from using the name Red & Black.

Greater Watertown Red & Black Inc., which bills itself as the "original" Red & Black, filed suit Jan. 31 against Sports Partners and its general manager, Thomas J. Shultz, claiming the company is misrepresenting its affiliation with the team and creating confusion among players, fans and sponsors as to who owns the right to field a team named Red & Black.

Judge Hugh A. Gilbert has now ordered Sports Partners to submit papers Feb. 28 showing why it has a claim to the name. Neither side needs to appear in court that day.

According to court documents filed Tuesday at the Jefferson County Clerk's office, Judge Gilbert made his ruling after reviewing affidavits supporting a temporary injunction submitted by James A. Burrows, a Watertown attorney representing Red & Black Inc.; George Ashcraft, its coach; David E. Burch, commissioner of the Empire Football League; and Samuel S. Verbeck Jr., a team trainer.

Red & Black Inc. is also seeking a permanent injunction against Sports Partners in an attempt to prevent the company from using the name it has operated under since its inception in 1896.

Ashcraft states in his affidavit that he held "preliminary discussions" with Shultz either in late 2006 or early 2007 about a potential partnership in which Sports Partners "might possibly" assist Red & Black Inc. with some of the team's routine fundraising and business activities.

"The discussions were preliminary and no formal agreement was ever reached," Ashcraft wrote. "The Corporate Board for Red & Black Football did not ever consider, nor adopt, any corporate resolution to contract with Sports Partners or Thomas J. Shultz."

He adds no rights or assets were transferred by Red & Black Inc. to Sports Partners and that no money was paid to the team by the company.

Mr. Shultz claimed Wednesday he came away from the discussions with an agreement with Ashcraft to transfer the team's ownership to Sports Partners. He said Ashcraft was present when he incorporated Sports Partners and when he filed a document stating the company would be doing business as Watertown Red & Black Football.

"Why did he shake hands and say we had a deal?" Shultz said. "I just want them to honor the deal."

Watertown attorney David A. Renzi assisted Shultz in setting up his corporation and said Ashcraft was present during these discussions, but said Ashcraft represented "just one member of a board for a not-for-proft organization" and "there was no authorization for George to do anything."

"Initially, they wanted to work together to better the program and maybe reorganize the program, but it fell apart very quickly thereafter," Renzi said.

Shultz said the matter is complicated over the question of whether the assets of a nonprofit organization can legally be transferred to a for-profit corporation. He described the matter as being in "legal limbo."

"A judge may say, 'Yes, Tom, you can operate the team,' or 'No, Tom, you can't operate the team,' but either way, I'll field a team next year," he said.

Sports Partners has received approval from the Northeastern Football Alliance to compete in its 15-team league using the name Watertown Red & Black. The original Red & Black plays in the Empire Football League.

Burch, commissioner of the EFL, said in an affidavit that Shultz's claim to the Red & Black name has "created a great deal of confusion and uncertainty in regard to the ownership and operation of the team," specifically as to which entity the league should be communicating with in regard to the team, its programs and schedules, both during the 2007 season and the upcoming season.

He said he has been "informed" that neither Sports Partners nor Shultz are the owners or operators of Red & Black and that "the organizational structure of Red & Black Football remains intact." However, he said information on Sports Partners Web site continues to "create confusion" for the upcoming 2008 football season.

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