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CHICAGO-The National Conference for Community and Justice, a nearly 80-year-old organization that has tried to bridge racial, ethnic and religious divides, is at war with itself, suing about half of its U.S. offices over use of the organization’s trademarked names. The Willowbrook, Ill.-based organization’s national headquarters is suing 12 of its regional offices, including those in Boston and Detroit, for refusing to pay fees for the use of NCCJ’s name, logos, programs and copyrighted materials, according to a federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois last month. The regional offices last week sought to have the lawsuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that they don’t do business in Illinois and that the parent is really based in New York. Since its founding in 1927 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Charles Evan Hughes and Chicago activist Jane Adams, among others, the organization in recent years has run into financial difficulties. Last year, it asked the regional offices to become independent not-for-profits, still affiliated with the parent, but handling their own budgets, staff and programs. The parent also asked the offices to pay about 3% of their fundraising income for use of the brand. When some offices balked, the national headquarters sued. “We regret that we came to this impasse that we had to file this lawsuit, but we are certainly concerned about confusion in the marketplace,” said Matthew Griffin, an attorney with the trademark practice firm Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson in Chicago who is representing the parent organization. Confusion a concern The organization isn’t suing 15 offices that are paying the fees, and is concerned that volunteers and donors may get the different organizations mixed up, Griffin said. In addition, it’s unfair to force some offices to pay the fee and let others shirk it, he said. Also named as defendants are the offices in Charlotte, N.C.; Fort Worth, Texas; Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Nashville, Tenn.; New Brunswick, N.J.; Cleveland; and Santa Barbara, San Jose and Long Beach, Calif. When the breakaway offices didn’t respond to cease-and-desist letters, the parent filed the lawsuit last month, alleging, among other things, trademark infringement, unfair business practices and copyright infringement. The defendants have retained Baker & McKenzie to fight the lawsuit. The firm, through a spokesman, declined to comment. For their part, the dissident offices have tried to distinguish themselves from the national organization. For instance, the Silicon Valley Conference for Community and Justice in San Jose has changed the names of some programs and states on its Web site to show that it’s not affiliated with the national organization. “We are not related to them. We are not affiliated with them,” said Bart Charlow, president of the SVCCJ. Like other offices, he declined to comment on the lawsuit. The work of the organization, which the filing says was formed to combat a 1920s rise in xenophobia, the Klu Klux Klan, anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism, has been supported over the years by presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Bill Clinton. Today, the regional offices hold events to promote dialogue among different ethnic, religious and racial groups; sponsor school programs to do the same; take children to resorts to help them bond across those lines; and provide services for victims and witnesses of crimes in low-income areas. The U.S. headquarters doesn’t provide direct services, but supports the offices with technological aid such as Web-site and other marketing assistance and program materials for nationwide events such as the Walk As One Walk-a-thon.

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