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January 27th, 2005:

Round One for Star Bock

StarBock beer has survived a motion for summary judgment in the trademark lawsuit filed against it by Starbucks.

U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Kent issued his decision over the weekend and filed his response with the court Monday, denying all of the requests by the global coffee corporation.

Starbucks delivered a massive, 7-pound volume of legal paperwork to the judge on Dec. 23, citing myriad examples from other well-known trademark cases, and asking him to declare a partial summary judgment or summary adjudication.

The case pits the Seattle-based company against Rex Bell, owner of the Old Quarter Acoustic Café. Bell sells Star Bock Beer from a draught keg at his Galveston bar, a product that Starbucks claims infringes on its well-known worldwide brand.

Bell received approval from the federal trademark office for his beer, but Starbucks opposed the ruling, saying it had subsequently filed its own trademark request regarding its plan to sell coffee-flavored liqueur. Bell’s lawyer countered that move in November 2004 by formally opposing Starbucks’ own distilled spirits trademark.

Kent’s ruling puts the onus on Starbucks to clearly prove in court that Bell’s beer infringes on their trademark.

“Defendants (Starbucks) have not produced evidence of actual economic harm,” Kent wrote in his decision. “The issues of trademark dilution and trademark infringement present nuances of fact best left for trial. Because genuine issues of material fact remain as to each claim, summary judgment is not appropriate.”

One for the good guys. Fight on, Rex.

“Oh, no, there goes Tokyo”

Go, go to see Godzilla, this weekend at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The original Godzilla returns to the big screen in this restored print featuring 40 minutes of previously unseen footage. When the sea erupts, a Japanese steamer sinks in flames, a rescue ship disappears, and a few incoherent survivors babble about a monster! This first Godzilla is truly terrifying—a 30-story Jurassic behemoth intent on destroying the city: an exquisitely detailed miniature Tokyo created by special-effects genius Eiji Tsubaraya. Godzilla is one of the great films by sci-fi master Ishirô Honda (Akira Kurosawa´s close friend and occasional second unit director).

Looks like Pete may have picked the wrong time to go to Sundance.

Another step forward for the Grand Parkway

The expansion of the Grand Parkway from a little state highway in Katy to a zillion-mile mega-loop took another step forward this week.

Despite pleas from Spring residents who oppose the road, Commissioners Court gave the Harris County Toll Road Authority permission Tuesday to spend $5.6 million to plot the route of a possible toll road in the north part of the county.

The county has not committed to building the road, which would be part of the Grand Parkway, a 182-mile super loop around Houston that has been planned for decades.

Before we go any further on this, the phrase “It’s been in the works for years” has been used to brush aside opposition to outlandish schemes like this one many times. Usually what that means is that the developers, speculators, owners of otherwise-worthless land that would need to be bought up, and anyone else with a piece of the pie at stake has been what-iffing about it for years, and now they’ve finally got a sympathetic audience with the powers that be.

The county is looking at a possible 52-mile tollway from Interstate 10 on the west side to U.S. 59 near Porter. The expenditure approved Tuesday was to plot 40 miles from U.S. 290 to U.S. 59.

Most opposition involves a 14-mile section between Texas 249 and Interstate 45, said Commissioner Jerry Eversole, whose Precinct 4 includes much of the area where the road would be built.

One plan calls for this section to be built through the Forest North and Mossy Oaks subdivisions in Spring. The highway would pass within about 1,000 feet of Klein High School and cut across Northwood Catholic’s ball field.

Opponents say the toll road would do little or nothing to alleviate congestion on local roads.

Of course it won’t alleviate congestion on local roads. That’s not what it’s designed to do. Look at the map – it’s designed to get people from Katy to the Woodlands and thereabouts. If you’re in Spring and want to get to one of those places it ought to help you, but getting around Spring itself? Forget it.

Anne, who lives in Spring, is unhappy about this proposal, and points to some useful discussion of alternatives that might actually benefit Spring. She also notes that the folks in my neighborhood got better treatment from the County Commissioners after the ridiculous Heights toll road idea was floated. True enough, but remember, we’ve got other road-expansion threats to deal with as well.

(UPDATE: To be clear, Anne’s criticism was aimed County Judge Robert Eckels. I don’t think I had conveyed that notion properly.)

I’m actually amazed at how many grassroots opposition groups there are to this project. It’s got to be a bit tough to do, since this monster road passes through so many areas, with so many politicians to lobby about it. More info can be found in this Houston Architecture Forum thread.

One last thing:

County officials rejected state Sen. Jon Lindsay’s offer to work for the county as a consultant who would try to persuade north Harris County developers to donate land for the project.

Lindsay, a Republican who represents much of the area where the segment would be built, has long supported the Grand Parkway.

He said he met last year with 14 developers who own land between Texas 249 and I-45. About 10 of the developers agreed to donate land to the county for the toll road, Lindsay said.

With that land, the toll road could have been built without traversing as many Spring residential areas as called for under TxDOT plans, he said.

Lindsay said he met with [Commissioner Jerry] Eversole and other officials in the fall and tried to sell them on hiring him as a consultant.

He would have asked the county to pay him about $5,000 or $6,000 a month for his services, Lindsay said.

“I told them I was not going to do it gratis. It was too much work,” he said.

County officials balked at the proposal, saying it could appear to be improper for the county to hire a state senator to lobby developers who were his business acquaintances or friends and who would benefit from the highway’s construction, Lindsay said. “I did not understand where the conflict of interest was, just because I was a senator,” he said.

Most politicians have the grace to leave office before they cash in on their connections like that. You almost have to admire Sen Lindsay’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Testimony begins in Heflin-Vo case

It’s showtime today in the Heflin-Vo election contest, and you can add Select Committee on Election Contests Chair Terry Keel to the list of Republicans making reasonable public statements about the whole thing.

“You are going to have to have a high level of commitment to integrity and fairness and honesty, and your pursuit of those duties is likely not to ever, in any instance, make people happy,” said Keel, a legislator since 1997. “It’s more likely to always make somebody unhappy.”

[…]

Activists from both parties tried to influence lawmakers, but Keel said there’s too much at stake for those efforts to work.

Some questions have been raised about Keel’s role as chairman because he was the treasurer of the Stars Over Texas political action committee, which raised money last year for Republicans in tight election contests. The committee did not give money to Heflin’s campaign, though Heflin once gave money to the group.

Keel said his connection to the group should not cause concern because members regularly help their parties win seats.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, said he’s confident Keel will be fair because he knows him well. But he said Craddick should have appointed a committee chairman who did not have such visible ties to a group such as Stars Over Texas. “Why set up a situation where these are questions that can be asked?” said Dunnam, who is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

[…]

Keel said the House rarely calls for a new election and usually decides to seat the person who was declared the winner on Election Day. But he said history will not determine what happens this time.

“The integrity of the House is the bottom line here,” he said. “Consideration of party label or friendship or any other feelings on this matter have to give way to the law and evidence and the standards that we operate under.”

Actions speak louder than words, Terry. That’s ultimately how we’ll judge you.

Discovery Master Will Hartnett is also joining the chorus.

“I’m concerned about the use of the word fraud based on what I have seen so far,” Hartnett said, adding that he views fraud as intentional misdeeds by individuals seeking to thwart an election. “I’m going to be emphatic on determining what evidence there is of fraud.”

If actual fraud is the standard, then there’s just no way Heflin wins. We’re talking about 200 or so apparently honest mistakes in an election of 40,000 votes cast, which is to say one half of one percent of the votes. Remember, even Andy Taylor has said there wasn’t any fraud. What else is there to say?

Well, there’s this:

Amy Wong Mok, an Austin businesswoman and community activist, says Asians here and abroad are closely following this case. The outcome, she believes, could have long-lasting effects on the overall political landscape of Texas – home to the fourth-largest Asian population in the country. “If they take away Hubert Vo,” said Mok, “Asian-Americans are going to be very angry for the next two generations. It would be a slap in the face.” Mok, a former candidate for Austin City Council who leans Democratic, says the state GOP will have a hard time justifying itself to those Asians who traditionally vote Republican. “Many different Asian organizations are united behind Hubert Vo,” she said. “As we see it, this is about arrogance … it’s about not accepting defeat gracefully.”

Gracefulness has been markedly absent so far, that’s for sure.

Three further items. First, from the Chron story:

Michael Baselice, an Austin-based Republican pollster, will testify as an expert witness for Heflin. University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray and Waco economist Ray Perryman will testify for Vo.

Baselice isn’t just any Republican pollster, he’s Rick Perry’s pollster. Consider that another strand of evidence as to where Perry stands on this issue. The AusChron article says that some people believe Perry would be happy to have the election contest derail school finance reform so that the courts have to do the dirty work (and get the blowback for it). Make of that what you will.

Speaking of the AusChron story:

“I have no numbers to back this up, but the ‘Rs’ have already been hurt in Texas by this effort to seat Heflin,” said Kelly Fero, chief strategist for Take Back Texas, a sister organization of the state Democratic Party. Fero points out that Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Texas Legislature, is herself vulnerable and could lose her next re-election bid – “with help from the Asian community.” Rep. Joe Nixon, another Houston Republican, could also draw a challenger, already identified as attorney Robert Pham, a Vietnamese-American with a compelling success story like Vo’s, Fero said.

I’ve heard a rumor about a different potential challenger to Nixon, also a person of Vietnamese heritage. That’s all I can say at this time.

Finally, The Red State notes that today is also when committee and committee chair assignments will be announced. This is where Democrats will pay the price for last session’s Ardmore walkout. Regrettable, but not unexpected.

UPDATE: Greg tunes into the webcast of the hearings and commences banging his head against the wall.

Martin Frost DNC interview

Whether you’ve got a favored candidate in mind for DNC Chair or not, I highly recommend this interview with Martin Frost. Frost gave what I think are the right answers to these questions, and though he certainly could be telling us what he knows we want to hear, his stock has risen in my eyes. If nothing else, his promise that Texas won’t be forgotten by the national party means a lot. Southpaw gives it a thumbs-up; Annatopia will offer her thoughts later. Check it out.

It’s your turn, Jacksonville

Oh, Jacksonville. We here in Houston feel your pain.

Via Banjo Jones. It still puzzles me how a city with as many topless clubs as Houston could fail to appeal to a bunch of sportswriters travelling on expense accounts, but there you go. Who knew they were all such aesthetes?