Thursday, February 21, 2013

This Week In Pseudo-History: Ma Bell Sues Ma Barker


By William G. Muir
In 1925 it was billed as the bout of the century, even though it took place in a court room and not the boxing ring. The telephone conglomerate know affectionately as Ma Bell filed suit, in the federal court against Ma Barker for the infringement of the trademark Ma. The trail lasted nine months with heated arguments going back and forth.

Tension ran so high during the trail, everyday the courtroom had to be checked because of the constant bomb threats that were being reported on a daily basis. This case became widely know as the first ever courtroom to employ full body search for everybody that entered the court. Even the lawyers themselves had to be patted down to make sure they carried nothing deadlier then their supposition.


At one point during the trail Judge Henry Waxfield received on average fifteen death threats a day. An investigation was launched into was behind these threats. It was widely believed that members of the infamous Kapris-Barker gang, who was thought to be led by Ma Barker, was the ones behind these threats. Though there was never any evidence to link them the threats. Although a senior vice-president for Ma Bell was suspected to have played a roll in the death threat. He was later cleared of any wrong doing and the whole ordeal was said to be a misunderstanding.

It was stated legal briefs filed by the plaintiff (Ma Bell) that anytime people heard about the action of the defendants (Ma Barker) criminal children they would think of the defendant; because of  her rumored status as boss of the gang. That the moniker Ma Baker was associated with criminal activity, and that anytime that people thought of the name Ma they would not think of their law-abiding phone company. Instead they would associate the name with outlaws.

Ms. Barkers attorney argued that the plaintiffs had no grounds to sue his client. It was others that had given her the nickname Ma Baker, that it wasn't a name that she had given to herself.

Despite the continued death threats to the judge and the daily security checks for weapons of any kind; the trail proceeded. For nine month witnesses for the plaintiff and the defendant took the stand. A trail that should have lasted no longer than a week was stretched far beyond that as each side tried to pad out their witness list, hoping that the other side would give in at some point. The plaintiff's lawyers even went so far as to call head of the Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover to take the stands; just to put extra added leverage on Ms. baker to settle the case.

After nine long months of trail the case was eventually dismissed when it came to light that Ma Bell had never trademarked the name. That legally the only trademark they owned was AT&T. Judge Waxfield was furious that the courts valuable time had been wasted on such trivial matter. He ordered that AT&T pay a fine of $9,632.52, the court cost, and Ms. Baker's attorney's fees as well.

When asked for her reaction to the judge Waxfield's decision to throw the case out of court Ms. Barker smiled and said that she had family business to get back too.

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