The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock followed a series of actions by Golf Entertainment chief operating officer Jim Bolt and the penny stock company's general counsel, John Dodge, that ABPG President and Publisher Jeff Hankins described as "truly bizarre."
"In short, Jim Bolt, John Dodge and someone called Juan Gomez have filed papers of incorporation with the Secretary of State for companies they call Arkansas Business Publishing Group Inc., Arkansas Business Journal Inc. and Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Inc.," Hankins said.
"While it was a clear violation of our trademarks, we considered it little more than a nuisance until they began threatening to sue the Internet service providers that host our Web sites. We couldn't allow that sort of interference with our business and our vendors, so we really had no choice but to file suit."
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages and attorneys fees, also accuses the defendants of:
• making libelous statements about ABPG;
• interfering with ABPG's contractual relationships with its Internet service providers; and
• trying to convert ABPG's trademark property for their own exclusive use.
The suit was filed by Arkansas Business LP, which is the legal entity that has used the Arkansas Business Publishing Group name since January 1996. It seeks a permanent injunction — and an immediate injunction pending a full trial — that would prevent Bolt, Dodge and Gomez, the registered agent for the new corporations whose identity is otherwise unclear, and the three companies from continuing to make false claims of ownership to the names of ABPG, Arkansas Business and the Business Journal.
The business practices of Golf Entertainment, which also uses the name Sienna Broadcasting Corp., and its relationship with its majority shareholder, an entity called Genesis Trust, have been the subjects of in-depth reporting by Arkansas Business and the Business Journal, beginning in August.
In September, the Arkansas Securities Department issued a cease-and-desist order preventing any of Golf's stock from being traded in the state. However, no action has been taken against the company by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In February, a trustee of Genesis Trust, Mel Robinson, filed a $12 million libel suit in Washington County Circuit Court against ABPG, the Business Journal and three company employees. He sought an injunction preventing ABPG from making any changes to stories that appeared on arkansasbusiness.com, but that request was denied in a bench ruling by Circuit Judge Michael Mashburn on April 22.
Mashburn said Robinson and his attorney, Teresa Briggs, failed to prove that he had suffered irreparable harm when ABPG corrected two incorrect headlines that had appeared on the Web site and failed to show that Robinson was likely to win his case in a trial on the merits.
"This latest round of nonsense seems to be directly related to Judge Mashburn's ruling," said Hankins, who was the only witness called by Briggs during the hearing. "Jim Bolt was in the courtroom that Tuesday. Before the end of the week, he had listed himself with the Secretary of State as president of Arkansas Business Publishing Group Inc., Arkansas Business Journal Inc. and Northwest Arkansas Business Journal Inc."
Hankins said he wasn't aware of the new incorporations until Tuesday, when Dodge — identifying himself as attorney for the new companies — faxed a letter to the editor of the Business Journal, Jeffrey Wood, which accused Hankins of lying on the witness stand when he identified himself as president and publisher of ABPG.
"... as you and Mr. Hankins well know, 'Arkansas Business Publishing Group,' at the time of Mr. Hankins [sic] testimony, did not exist," the letter said.
Also on Tuesday, Dodge faxed a letter to Olivia Farrell, CEO of Arkansas Business LP, demanding that the company stop using the name Arkansas Business Publishing Group.
On Wednesday, Dodge sent letters to Aristotle Internet Access of Little Rock, which hosts arkansasbusiness.com, and to Arkansas.net of Fayetteville, which hosts a corporate Web site at abpg.com, ordering them to remove all references to the ABPG name from the Web sites. The letters threatened lawsuits if the Internet service providers didn't comply with the demand by 2 p.m. on Wednesday.
Neither ISP complied.
"We realized that these individuals were highly litigious before we ever printed a word about Golf Entertainment. After all, these are the guys who have sued state securities regulators," Hankins said.
"But I honestly never expected the kind of ridiculous, truly bizarre shenanigans we've seen this week."