Court Battles Over Bill Monroe’s Name May Be Over

Bluegrass & the LawThe Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky, Inc.(JRF) - has informed Prescription Bluegrass that on September 18, 2013 the Supreme Court of Kentucky refused to reconsider a January 11, 2013 decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals in the Foundation’s favor, ending a lengthy legal battle over the right to use the name, “Bill Monroe.”

But Campbell Mercer, executive director of the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky Inc. — formerly the Bill Monroe/Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky Inc. — said Wednesday that there's still one more legal hurdle to go.

That matter has to do with the case filed in Tennessee by James Monroe, the executor of the estate and son of Bill Monroe.

"We still have to go back to Tennessee and ask the judge to lift the injunction," Mercer said. "There's a little more legwork. He (the Tennessee Judge) said in the past that he would give deference to the Kentucky courts. So, we're hoping when we show him the Kentucky Supreme Court decision that this will all be over."

The Court of Appeals decision reversed a September 12, 2011 Judgment of the Ohio Circuit Court, Hartford, Ky., involving the right to use the name and related intangible intellectual property associated with an important figure in country and bluegrass music, Bill Monroe, “The Father of Bluegrass Music.”

Monroe was born at Jerusalem Ridge, near Rosine, in Ohio County in 1911. He died in 1996.

In the now-reversed judgment, Judge Ronnie Dortch had declared that the Ohio County Industrial Foundation, Inc. (OCIF) a Hartford-based civic organization, and Ohio County, rather than Jerusalem Ridge Foundation , was legally entitled to use the name, image and other intellectual property associated with Bill Monroe. In his judgment, Judge Dortch ruled in the Jerusalem Ridge  Foundation’s favor on a counterclaim by Ohio County Industrial Foundation that it was owed $162,500 advanced to it by OCIF for use as a down-payment by JRF relating to a 2001 agreement between JRF and Monroe’s son and heir, James Monroe, to purchase Monroe’s valuable mandolin. OCIF did not appeal that part of the judgment and it was not an issue in the appeal.

In 1999 OCIF acquired the Bill Monroe intellectual property rights from Monroe’s son and executor, James Monroe, for $250,000, using part of county funds appropriated from state coal severance tax funds for the renovation of the then-dilapidated Monroe home place and converting it and surrounding county-owned acreage into a bluegrass music park and tourist attraction. Under the 1999 agreement, OCIF obtained the right to transfer the Monroe name and intellectual property rights to a yet-to-be-formed non-profit foundation that would operate the park, provide daily tours, produce an annual multi-day bluegrass music festival there and generally build upon the Bill Monroe heritage in the County.

In April, 2001, a group of OCIF’s directors and officers incorporated the Foundation and gave it the name “The Bill Monroe/Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky, Inc.” Dr. F. Campbell Mercer, a bluegrass musician with substantial ties to the bluegrass music industry, who had a weekly national bluegrass music television program seen on a national cable and satellite network, was hired to run the Foundation. The television program is now available in over 60 million homes nationwide.

By 2004, personal differences between Dr. Mercer and the Foundation, on the one hand, and the leadership of the OCIF, on the other, led to OCIF’s denial that the Foundation possessed the legal right to use the Bill Monroe name and related intellectual property. In 2005, OCIF assisted James Monroe in obtaining a temporary injunction in a Tennessee state chancery court prohibiting the foundation from using the Bill Monroe name and other rights. That order caused

the Foundation to temporarily change its name to the “Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation,” under which it has operated since.

In 2007, the Foundation and Ohio County filed suit in Ohio County, Ky., seeking a declaration that the actions of OCIF in incorporating it, giving it the Bill Monroe name and acquiescing for several years in its use of the name amounted to a legal assignment of the name and related rights to the Foundation. Ohio County later settled with OCIF, switching sides and joining OCIF as a defendant. The Kentucky Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions finally resolve the intellectual property issue in favor of the Foundation.

Since 2001, the Foundation has continued to operate under the leadership of Dr. Mercer an a board of directors separate from OCIF. In has continued to operate the park near Rosine and, through volunteers, to conduct daily tours of the home place. It also has held the annual bluegrass festival each Fall, which regularly draws 25,000 fans from every U.S. state and several foreign countries. The festival is listed by the state of Kentucky as one of the state’s top ten tourist attractions. In 2007 the festival was highlighted on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Travel section.

Given the appellate courts’ rulings, the Foundation will now be able to reassume the Bill Monroe name and to use it to further the tourism and economic development interests of Ohio County, its citizens, the surrounding area and the entire state of Kentucky.

About the Foundation

Originally named “The Bill Monroe/Bluegrass Music Foundation of Kentucky, Inc.,” JRF was established in 2001 to further the legacy of Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass Music,” in Ohio County and throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky, United States and world.

It is headquartered at the Bill Monroe Home Place Park near Rosine, Ky., and operates daily tours of the home place as well as an annual bluegrass music celebration attended by over 25,000 people each year representing all 50 states and several foreign countries.

The 2013 festival, the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Celebration, is scheduled for October 3-6, 2013 near the Bill Monroe Homeplace Park, Rosine, Kentucky.

Mercer said the foundation's board will have to vote on changing the name back to Bill Monroe/Bluegrass Music Foundation. There's not enough time to change it before the next Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration scheduled for Oct. 3-6. But he said he expects Monroe's name to be on the 2014 bluegrass festival at Jerusalem Ridge.

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