Andy Griffith’s Suit Against Andy Griffith Dismissed

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Last fall I reported on a campaign by Andy Griffith to become the new sheriff of Grant County, Wisconsin.  Griffith had formerly been William Harold Fenrick, but changed his name to Andrew (Jackson) Griffith so that he could run for sheriff as "Andy Griffith."  Griffith came in a distant third, but still got sued by Andrew (Samuel) Griffith, the actor, who alleged that Griffith had harmed Griffith by taking the similar name and by making comparisons between Griffith and the character Griffith had played on "The Andy Griffith Show."

Griffith the Elder claimed that the Candidate Formerly Known As Fenrick had violated trademark and copyright laws, and infringed on Griffith’s privacy.  Fenrick/Griffith apparently did not make explicit comparisons between himself and the TV sheriff — just ran for sheriff as "Andy Griffith" — but he did slip up once when responding to a reporter’s question about speed traps in Mayberry R.F.D., saying "They never did unethical stuff like that in Mayberry."  Fenrick/Griffith told me that this was the only time he explicitly referenced the show or the character, so that my earlier suggestion that his candidacy "was entirely based on the claim that he is every bit as honest and ethical as a fictional television character was portrayed as being, on the grounds that he now has the same name as the actor who played that ethical character because he took a fake name in order to make that comparison while running for office" was not accurate.  I’m glad, because that logic had given me a serious headache.

New Griffith also says he was running a protest campaign of sorts and did not really expect to win, and personally I would have voted for him for that reason and because of the name, but New Griffith had no such luck with U.S. District Judge John Shabaz.  Last week, Shabaz dismissed Old Griffith’s case (or at least his federal Lanham Act claim), saying that New Griffith had not used the name in a commercial transaction but rather to seek elective office, so that his use of the similar name was political speech entitled to full First Amendment protection.  Shabaz also did not find any danger that the public actually thought Old Griffith himself was running or sponsoring the candidacy, or that he had suffered any damage to his reputation or income because of the campaign.

Fenrick/Griffith reportedly plans to run again for sheriff in 2008, and he says is writing a book about his experience that should be out sometime before that campaign.

Link: AP via