Mongols Clownie, of West Covina, and Magpie, of Salem, Oregon, greet each other as motorcycle club members rally Saturday, March 29, 2013 at The House Lounge in Maywood in support of the Mongols who are facing a federal trial seeking to take away their trademark patch. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz/Pasadena Star-News
MAYWOOD >> Members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club joined with thousands of bikers from throughout the region Saturday at a rally to garner support and funds to combat a lawsuit brought by federal authorities seeking to take control of the Mongols’ trademarked logo.
The U.S. Department of Justice last year filed a lawsuit seeking to seize control of the trademarked logo of the Mongol Nation Motorcycle Club LLC, arguing that the Mongols are a criminal organization and that the mark is used for intimidation.
But the Mongols and their attorneys argue that the government is overstepping its bounds with the lawsuit, which they said would infringe on the rights of club members.
“They’re trying to destroy the right of men to associate and indicate their association,” said Joe Yanny, an attorney representing the Mongols. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
The trial, previously scheduled to begin last week, has been postponed to late September.
Guests at Saturday’s rally at the House Bar and Grill in Maywood sported patches from dozens of motorcycle clubs, ranging from the Vagos to Christian biker clubs.
Hundreds of roaring Harley-Davidsons lined the streets outside the jam-packed venue, where bikers ate, drank and listened to music.
The rally represented,“a show of support from basically all the motorcycle clubs in Southern California,” Yanny said.
Federal prosecutors, following an October 2008 operation dubbed “Black Rain,” in which 80 Mongol members rounded up from six states ultimately agreed to plead guilty to a host of charges, have labeled the Mongols an “outlaw motorcycle club.” Prosecutors allege the group is involved in crimes ranging from murder to drug dealing, and the government therefore has the authority to take control of the Mongols’ logo.
In addition to being a violation of club members’ free-speech rights, Yanny said, “more importantly, it’s a due-process issue.”
The government is attempting to punish the entire club of more than 700 members for the actions of a small fraction, he said, adding that those involved in the 2008 criminal case are no longer club members.
“They want to paint the whole group as bad because of it,” Yanny said. “These men are decent men.”
Many Mongols are former military members simply seeking camaraderie, he said.
The club’s constitution takes a zero-tolerance stance toward criminal activity, he added.
But U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials have maintained that the club is a criminal organization, and that taking control of the logo was a measure intended to prevent violence.
Mongols President David “lil Dave” Santillan has said the club has been working hard to improve its image in recent years.
He thanked guests for their support at Saturday’s rally.
From a legal standpoint, it remained in question whether the federal government has the authority to seize the trademark, Yanny said.
The lawsuit breaks new ground in terms of trademark law, the attorney said, adding that it may end up at the Supreme Court.
Unlike a business trademark controlled by a single entity, the Mongols’ logo is a “collective membership mark,” Yanny said.
“It’s legally owned by one entity, but held in trust for the members,” he said. It’s the votes of club members that ultimately determined who is allowed to wear the club’s patch.
The Mongols have also filed a motion to have federal Judge Otis Wright II removed from the case, alleging bias. Yanny said he filed an additional writ in support of the argument Friday.
Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, previously declined to comment on the motion to have Wright replaced.
Wright, who ruled in favor of the Mongols in a 2008 lawsuit brought by a member whose patch was taken by law enforcement, has made statements indicating he is prejudiced against the motorcycle club, the Mongols’ attorneys argued. Additionally, Yanny said it was Wright who first suggested to prosecutors back in 2008 that they could go after the Mongols’ trademark.
“That’s why he shouldn’t be sitting on the bench in this case,” Yanny said.
If the Justice Department’s lawsuit should succeed, Yanny said it would eventually affect more than just the Mongols.
“They’ll go after all of the motorcycle clubs,” he said.